Should Coding Be Added to the Journalists’ Program?

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Yes, journalists should learn how to program. No, not every journalist should learn it right now -- just those who want to stay in the industry for another ten years.

— PBS Mediashift's Roland Legrand

A major topic of discussion in the journalism industry is whether journalists should be learning how to code. The discussion represents the digital age as well as the evolution of the field itself. While there are arguments both in favor of and against having journalists learning to program, it appears the general consensus is that journalists should have at least a basic understanding of programming.

Poynter’s Steve Myers discusses this question in his analysis of Developer Jeff Atwood’s post, Please don’t learn to code. Atwood argues in his post that coding is not an essential skill to have for most people; instead of having people learn to code, Atwood says, they should focus on solving the problems they are charged with handling. (He uses the example of having the New York mayor focus on solving budget problems rather than developing code to solve them.) Myers doesn’t discount the whole argument, instead saying journalists should take a more balanced approach:

Some journalists should learn how to code; others should learn enough to communicate with the smart people in the office tasked with building news apps; more should take a data-centered approach to their work, and pretty much everyone should understand how computers and the Internet work so they can properly explain things to their audiences. -Steve Myers, Poynter.

Northwestern’s Knight News Innovation Lab’s Miranda Mulligan echoes this point in her discussion of the importance of journalism schools teaching students how to code. She argues for more learning of programming than Atwood does – she says it should be taught every semester, every year in a journalism program – to enhance a journalist’s online presence. Again, she does not argue for “fluency” in programming, but enough of a familiarity to know how browsers work and how to develop programs to solve problems.

For me, there’s only one response to this: Journalists should learn more about code.Understanding our medium makes us better storytellers. -Miranda Mulligan, Northwestern Knight News Innovation Lab

Finally, PBS Mediashift’s Roland Legrand makes the case that journalists should learn programming because more and more information journalists need and can use to tell stories is being digitized. Additionally, since people have less time to read a story, it becomes more important to grab their attention with interactivity. As we continue in the digital age, he says, these skills will become more important for journalists to have:

Yes, journalists should learn how to program. No, not every journalist should learn it right now — just those who want to stay in the industry for another ten years. -PBS Mediashift’s Roland Legrand

I found these arguments in favor of learning programming persuasive, but I’ll admit I’ve always been intrigued by programming. The skill appears to be a rare one among those looking to go into the news industry, and it’s my opinion that if one can invest time in learning a rare skill, that makes the person more valuable in a news operation, and provides them with greater job security, and compensation. Besides, our reliance on computers is only going to increase, so having a unique ability to work with them to solve problems is certainly going to become more important.

These are the articles cited in this post:

2 Comments

  1. Well, you exceeded the 500 word limit by A LOT, but your post is thorough, thoughtful, and well organized.

    • Chris Peralta says:

      Thanks…I knew the post exceeded the limit, but that’s largely due to the inclusion of quotes from the sources. I felt they added a lot to the post.

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