Curiosity and some code experience essential for journalists

Tonight I was trying to think of ideas for this blog, which led me to two articles which consider the value of journalists being able to code. At that point I could have very easily written a blog based off the thought provoking articles, but instead I spend an hour on Codecademy. I earned this HTML Basics badge:

codeacademy

The time spent on Codecademy brought me back to some reflection on the articles I read earlier. The first article called, “Should journalism schools require reporters to ‘learn code’? No” by Olga Khazan at the Atlantic is a personal reflection from the writer, who learned to code thinking it would give her a leg up in the journalism job market. When the skill failed to do so, she came to the conclusion that learning to code was a waste of time. The second article called “Those required courses in journalism school are there for a reason” was written by journalism professor Robert Hernandez in response to the first article. Hernandez discloses that he was once Khazan’s journalism professor, which made comparing the articles especially interesting.

The two articles present two vastly different perspectives about code. Khazan writes about her very negative personal experience with learning code. She writes of her experience, “If you want to be a reporter, learning code will not help. It will only waste time that you should have been using to write freelance articles or do internships—the real factors that lead to these increasingly scarce positions.” Hernandez, in contrast, writes that though a journalist may not use code on a regular basis in a career, digital literacy and knowledge of some basics like HTML and web development are important. Learning code beyond HTML and CSS, however, are not necessarily essential for every journalist he writes. “A modern journalist needs to know how the web works, needs to be exposed to and respect all journalistic crafts (including code), and needs to know their role in working with others. And that role is an active role, not a passive one. They need to use these digital tools to produce relevant, quality journalism.”

I absolutely side with Hernandez after reading both articles. Journalism schools tend to allow students to pick specific areas of emphasis or areas of journalism specialization. For instance, I am pursuing an emphasis in Entrepreneurial Journalism. This means that I am required to take a few core convergence classes, in addition to 10 elective journalism hours and three basic journalism courses all journalism students take at Mizzou: Principles of Journalism, News and Multimedia. Mizzou’s j-school recognizes that having an area of expertise is important, but it also allows students to add relevant skills along the way. In today’s competitive journalism world, there’s no such thing as begin too digitally literate.

Earning the HTML Basics badge on Codecademy tonight was probably the highlight of my night. My work for Silicon Prairie News over the last few months has made me particularly interested in learning code. This weekend I finished up my article about Jim McKelvey’s new initiative, LaunchCode, which helps aspiring programmers get jobs with awesome companies. Not every journalist will be as interested in code, but it shouldn’t matter. The take away point for me reading these two articles is that the best journalists are the curious ones. Good writers compile the necessary amount of research article to article. The best writers are constantly striving to learn about anything and everything because they love to learn and want to teach readers something valuable. As Hernandez writes, code is tool that can help a journalist “produce relevant, quality journalism.” If learning code can help a journalist deliver content in a more meaningful way, why not learn as much of it as possible? This is the kind of question, a curious journalist – the best kind of journalist – asks.

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