How important is it for journalists to learn code?

I recently read an article in The Atlantic written by one of its associate editors that seemed to argue against the need for journalism students to learn coding.

After reading this article, I am not quite sure how important coding is for future journalists. Being in this class made me think it is essential, but this article made the impression that you should learn it all or don't learn it at all. Knowing a little bit of code isn't worth much to this editor. One of the points she made was that there are already skilled coders out there who have a computer science background. These people, she said, are going to be the ones acquiring the web design and data visualization jobs required in newsrooms.

Although, she mostly negates the idea that journalists must know code, I think this article made me more inclined to continue educating myself in coding. She makes some valid points when she said traditional writing and reporting jobs may not require much code. However, there are a variety of job opportunities open to us after we graduate, so knowing code can't possibly hurt.

The author also wrote a follow-up piece about the most important skills future journalists should learn in j-school. I think the Merrill College definitely incorporates the topics this author listed into our four-year academic plan, but this article has inspired me to educate myself in these areas even more. The skills the author lists are: statistics, data, studies, pitching, civic issues, online writing and the Internet. A lot of these are covered in JOUR352 and other journalism courses, but what do you think we need to learn more about as Merrill students? And, how do you think coding will help your future careers? Prof. Harvey - what are your thoughts on the coding article? Do you think we should consider taking the next course in coding and web design in order to really develop these skills to make them beneficial? Is knowing the basics not enough in this competitive field?


Chris Harvey said...

Good questions. What I can tell you is that every time I bring a class to a professional Web newsroom (a couple of times a year), editors make a point to say that even students who want to become reporters should learn some basic html code, because they will be working in a content management system (or a blogging tool) in newsrooms. (The days of print- or TV-only publishing are long gone.) And if you hope to become a Web producer, having knowledge of beginnner/intermediate html and css becomes essential, along with having at least the basics in social media, mapping, and audio/video/photo shooting and editing. That is why we require JOUR 203 and 352. Having said that, a journalism specialty is still described as important by hiring editors. If you hope to be a reporter when you graduate, I'd take multiple reporting classes. (We require several, so we anticipate that many of you will head in that direction. Take more than we require if you're heading into reporting.) If you hope to be a videographer, you should take multiple video classes. If you hope to work in Web production, you should take the next coding class (which teaches some javascript, jquery and other interactive tools). In all of these newsroom jobs, knowing the difference between an important story and a nonimportant one (having news judgment), between fact and rumor, are essential. And internships and the clips and experience they bring are critical--which is why we require at least one, and urge you to pursue several. Lastly, being unafraid of new tools is cited over and over as critical. Which is why introduce you to some, and urge you to keep going. You have to become a self-learner after graduation, or you will quickly become obsolete. I recommend Lynda.com for its online tutorials after you finish this class, if you're interested in more coding skills. (I believe it's required in the next coding class.) Be sure to ask the folks at usatoday.com what they think you should include in your toolkit before graduation. Desair Brown Shaw, who is one of our hosts, is an alum.
See you tomorrow!
Best, Chris

Natalie Tomlin said...

Great! Thank you for the advice. I'm not quite sure where I want my career to go after I graduate, but I am definitely interested in taking the next coding class during my senior year next fall!