Strong opinions, weakly held

Why journalists should learn to program

Financial journalist Roland Legrand argues that journalists should learn to program. He says:

All of this takes time, and maybe you’ll never find enough of it to get good at all this stuff.

Still, we must try. The good news is that it doesn’t matter if you become proficient at the latest language. What is important, however, is that you’re able to comprehend the underpinnings of programming and interactivity — to be able to look at the world with a coder’s point of view.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if most journalists would benefit more from learning how to crunch numbers, compile statistics, and derive meaning from them than they would by learning HTML and CSS. They should be reading this book, not this book.


  1. Imagine if journalism courses taught stats and how to use R.

  2. I came this close to mentioning R in the post, but then I didn’t.

  3. Call me pedant, but HTML and CSS are not programming languages, and understanding them will not acquaint a person with ‘understanding the world with a coder’s point of view’.

  4. However, I agree with the underlying premise. I think of the democratisation of programming in much the same way I’d think of spreading numeracy (and indeed literacy.) It would be good for all concerned.

  5. One of the key shortcomings we had in my interactive news days (sacbee.com/McClatchy Interactive) was that the organization was interested in hiring journalists and training them to be HTML jockeys. And that’s a worthwhile goal. But, what we could have used more of were more ‘Net savvy people willing to learn journalism.

    People who have the marriage of skills between tech / statistical analysis and journalism like the Everyblock guys, Nate Silver and Rob Curley are •rare• and while a lot of news orgs would love to have any of those folks working for them, they weren’t necessarily ready to take the organizational risks on developing that talent when the outcome wasn’t proven.

    The other issue facing newsrooms is right around the time the message finally got through that journalists needed to do more than think about print (when the ad market and the economy at large fell off a cliff) , the people who had the know-how to help them were largely moving on to other endeavors where they felt they could make an organizational impact.

    None of this means it’s too late, but the last 10 years held a lot of frustration by way of witnessing a lot of missed opportunities across the industry. UNC-CH seems to be developing journalism students who are familiar with the web and a recent grad, Andrew Dunn, was editing the Daily Tar Heel and had pursued coursework in Python.

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