Journalism, coding, confusion

I’m going to add my voice to the chorus of confusion over reporters-as-programmers. Howard Owens says reporters should go for the gusto and get some coding skills, though fluency is not requisite. Matt Waite says something similar: “The idea is to create new forms of journalism with whatever tools we can, and if they don’t exist, create them too.”

I’ve bounced my situation off of very wise and patient folks like Ryan Sholin and Rich Gordon. They were both kind enough to give me some helpful insights.

Now, let me brief you on my background and let me know what you think.

If you read my bio, you’ll notice I spent two years at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. I was a very frazzled Fu Fighter. My major was computer science, I took intensive Java classes on top of an engineering curriculum of physics labs and high-level math like 3rd level calculus (which I flunked), discrete math (which I passed and loved), and ordinary differential equations (which convinced me to leave computer science).

So, yes, I have some programming and math under my belt. Before college I took a few classes in high school on C++, BASIC and Pascal, even. I tinkered on my own with HTML and was designing sites in Notepad by the time I was 12 or so—back when almost everyone used Geocities or Tripod. I still code HTML, CSS and PHP fluently, and now that I have access to my own SQL database, I’m tinkering with that as well. Javascript makes sense to me, I play with it, but I can’t really code it beyond the very basics.

So the on-going discussions about reporters coding confuse the hell out of me. I’m not sure where I fit, or where I should.
I love doing production-side work for fun and work—website tinkering and video editing are labors of love for me—and I’ve always wanted to learn more PHP and SQL so I can do neat applications. That’s why I get DigiDave’s post about coding for journalists. It’s grand that there will be programs on journalism for programmers, but seriously, what about the other way around? Should we just fend for ourselves?

There are a lot of geeky journalists. Way more than I thought there were at least a year ago, at least. And I’m glad to know that I’m not alone in my confusion about the future of geekery in journalism (i.e. journalism in general).

What’s next? I’ll keep plugging along, learning as much as I can about reporting—and I do have a lot to learn there—but there are a lot of conflicting messages out there about what freshly-minted journos should or shouldn’t be doing.

So that’s my long, boring, confusing story. Advice is always welcome and appreciated.

Categories : Journalism