“Coding is the new Latin”, says Alex Hope, the co-author of a report last year which urged the government to get British school children learning how to program.
But should coding become the new shorthand for journalism students? Most are currently required to spend hours practicing their shorthand to get up to the NCTJ-required 100 wpm. Would their time be better spent learning the basic logic of computer code?
So much news is being consumed on tablets and smartphones; so much newsgathering relies on complex search engines. Should journalists start thinking about how they can develop the digital tools they need instead of relying on programmers with no experience of journalism to do it for them?
It’s a hot debate at the moment so I’m keen to find out what the next generation of aspiring journalists thinks. Do you feel the need to be part of the new breed of journo- programmers? Should wannabehacks, erm, hack? Or should journalists concentrate on learning how to find and communicate great stories and leave the digital development to pure programmers?
I’m always interested in how we prepare students for the kind of journalism roles which simply didn’t exist when I started on the job. I’m fascinated by the innovation that’s going on in J-schools around the world as they try to make their courses relevant and attractive. One of the innovations I’m watching is combining journalism with computer science. Columbia University in the States is one of the first to offer a dual degree. “Embrace the digital revolution,” prospective students are urged. “The goal of the program is for its graduates to help redefine journalism in a fast-changing digital media environment.” So no pressure there then!
Personally, I love the idea that a young journalist could be researching a story at her desk then decide, “You know what, this search tool really isn’t doing quite what I need it to do. I’ll just play around with some code and design one that does the job better.” Wouldn’t that be great?
In reality, I’m not sure that’s going to happen very often (but I’d love to hear from you if you’ve done that!) But I still think that learning to code means that journalists could at least have a conversation with the programmers about the tools they want.
I guess the risk is that you dilute the amount of time given to journalism itself. Will these journo-programmers be more interested in creating new toys rather than developing the skills of investigative journalism?
So far this debate is being carried out by academics and experienced journalists. I think it’s time we found out what the new generation just starting out in the profession or still studying thinks. Perhaps you’re already coding ninjas? Perhaps you think it’s a dangerous fad which will only create journalists who can’t write and computer scientists who can’t code. Whatever your opinion, whatever your level of expertise, I’d be grateful if you’d take part in this quick poll and leave a comment.
Meanwhile, if you’re a complete beginner like me but are tempted to peek into the world of code, I’ve put together a Pinterest board with lots of resources and inspiration for the novice.
Liz Hannaford (nee Rowley) studied Russian at the University of Sheffield and then started work at BBC World Service radio as a Studio Manager. After a few years, she became a Broadcast Journalist at World Service News and Current Affairs where her Russian skills meant she spent a great deal of time working in Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Liz has also worked at Radio Scotland, the BBC Politics Unit and 5Live. She is now a freelance reporter and teaches radio journalism at the University of Salford. You can follow @LizHannaford on Twitter.
Image on homepage courtesy of cype_applejuice
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look