Journalists need|don’t need to learn programming

There’s a minor meme going around right now that goes like this: Let’s teach programmers journalism. But I’m a journalist and want to learn, where’s my scholarship? Journalists don’t need to learn to program. Yes they do. No they don’t.

William Hartnett does a pretty good job of getting at some of my feelings on this but here’s one more: Journalists don’t need to learn how to code if all you think journalism can be is words/pictures/video.

Not to sound like Morpheus in the Matrix talking about what is real here, but what is journalism? And, given the Matrix-like qualities of the web (some rules can be bent, some can be broken), do you believe that words or pictures are all there is to journalism in this place, at this time?

The whole journalists need|don’t need to code meme ignores a couple of fundamental truths about journalism today. I’ll pick on Dan Gillmor’s post (I bought his book, so hopefully that buys me forgiveness): Journalists should work with programmers. Ideally, yes. Try and find one in your newsroom. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Can’t find one? Surely you must be hiring them? What’s that you say? You’re not hiring anyone? Shame. What are you going to do now?

That said not all journalists need to learn how to code, any more than all journalists need to learn how to edit video, create Flash interactives, blog, etc. For a good many, coding would be a horrid waste of time and talent. Yes, it’s a new world and we all need new skills and new ways of thinking (read this). But Writers, with a capital W, probably shouldn’t learn to Program, capital P, or program, small p. But there are few Capital W Writers in the newsroom, and there are even fewer Capital P Programmers in newspaper companies. Specialization isn’t a bad thing. If you try and train people at cross purposes though, you end up with a Great Writer who writes junk code and a Great Programmer who writes crappy stories. Who, again, is served?

But there are people, like myself, who live in newsrooms and have made a living writing stories who should learn to code and are learning to code no matter who thinks we should or not. The idea is to create new forms of journalism with whatever tools we can, and if they don’t exist, create them too. At this time of transformation, should anyone in journalism be discouraged from doing something enterprising? Anything entrepreneurial, no matter what skillset it involves or how far afield of words on page it gets?


Not even no but hell no. Journalism needs all the innovators it can get.

By: Matt Waite | Posted: June 7, 2007 | Tags: Journalism | 0 comments