Monday, June 11, 2007

Journalist Coders

Catching up on the reading, and came across a post by Dave Cohn at DigiDave following the announcement of the Knight News Challenge grant winners: "Where's the money to teach journallists how to code?"

Among the grants is one to Rich Gordon at Northwestern to teach computer programmers how to be journalists.

(See Cohn's follow-up post, too. The comments are especially fruitful and thoughtful reading.)

The entire idea of journalism intersecting with computer programming I think is going to be one of the tougher nuts to crack for today's journalism schools. There's a meme out there that says it's easier to teach programmers to be journalists than journalists to be programmers. I think there's some truth to that -- the mindset of the typical journalism student is not at the detail level of a programmer's (challenge me on that, but first teach several hundred students over a few years in an editing or reporting class where detail is important).

Then, of course, that opens the door to an age-old debate: Should journalism even be taught at the undergraduate level? Is it better, perhaps, as a graduate-level endeavor like law? More and more, I find myself thinking that way.
See a good roudup of the conversation by Robert Andrews of the UK. And more by Matt Waite.

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At 6/12/07, 4:03 AM, Blogger DigiDave said...

Hmm.... never occured to me that journalism should only be taught at a graduate level. It makes sense for a few reasons.

1. A lot of people who go into journalism (either straight into working or to grad school) didn't study it at the undergrad level. I know I didn't.

2. More importantly -- Journalism school is a rushed, fixed process -- At least, my experience of it was. I'm a part time student at Columbia's J-school, supposedly the best. Yet, I'm done and pushed out in just two years. The full time students are forced out after 10 months.

Other than a business network, what can you really gain in 10 months? Programming, hardcore multi-media skills -- ignored. Hell -- even solid lede writing is glossed over in that crunched time process.

Probably because it's assumed that you could have learned some of these things as an undergrad.

And then they give you an MS -- a Masters in Science..... science???

If it's a science -- let's treat it like one and at least have an agreed upon set of skills. Otherwise, let's call it what it is -- an MA.

At 6/12/07, 10:44 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

It also makes sense in a couple of other areas:
-- If we follow the push by people like Phil Meyer who want journalism more professionalized, a professional school actually seems to have a better place at the graduate level. I think the argument can be made that what we teach is more akin to law (how to navigate the system, how to apply critical thinking to breaking down a situation, how to do specialized research, how to effectively present, "written" and oral).
-- If we hew to the idea that journalists should have a broad liberal-arts education, it makes it easier to do that as an undergrad and then concentrate on the skill set as a grad, rather than having to fight the battle over hours allowed by accreditation.

But I also think there is a vein of opposition in part of the industry -- a fear that if they all come out with master's degrees, they'll want more money. There clearly is an anti-intellectual streak in part of the business, and this would just aggravate that.


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