Coding is part of the future of journalism

Crédit photo: Flickr/CC/dmitry-baranovskiy

Coding, the new spoken language flaunted nowadays in resumes, has been making an appearance in various schools’ curricula in the U.S. and France. In France algorithmic programming is now taught to 12th grade science majors—there was even a question on it in this year’s Baccalaureate. At Sciences Po School of Journalism, learning coding principles has become a pillar of the education of future journalists.

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Science Majors and Journalism Students…

Through a curriculum entitled “Language and digital development” spanning twelve weeks students are taught the structure of news sites and editorial apps from the inside. Even though they might not create interfaces, tomorrow’s journalists need to be able to grasp coding basics (HTML, PHP, CSS, Javascript, etc.). What’s the objective? To get familiar with the developer world in order to devise innovative publishing formats.

There is a pre-requisite, however: being able to interact with developers.

“Naturally journalists and developers do not speak a common language,” said Damien Van Achter, a journalist who teaches the course “Language and Digital Development” with Peter Romera. “This gap is in fact made manifest by the physical distance that separates editorial and technical teams. There’s been a long-standing disenchantment between these two professions fed by complex hierarchical relationships, diametrically-opposed short-term interests and immediate concerns. That said, it is precisely through this ability to repeatedly iterate based on the code of their respective platforms and lead with an innovative editorial policy that editors like the Guardian and the Huffington Post, for example, have made a difference in recent years.”

“If journalism students can arrive at an understanding, if not more, of the work of developers they will be even more able to turn their journalistic aims into a higher added-value for the user,” Damien Van Achter further noted. It is also not a coincidence that at The Guardian the reshuffling of divisions has been aimed at adding more developers than journalists. Where Alan Rusbridger, who runs The Guardian and was invited to give this year’s inaugural lecture at Sciences Po School of Journalism is concerned, the future of journalism necessitates that one understand coding. And he’s not alone in this thinking.

A course not so imaginary

On the other side of the pond Brian Boyer, director of NPR’s apps development, imagined a course he would teach journalism students, one that he considers essential in 2012. It is fictional—albeit quite realistic—but worth a look.

“The intent of this course is not to teach you all the skills necessary to program in a newsroom, but to lay a solid foundation for learning those skills”, he writes by way of introduction, before recalling the developer’s three DNA elements:

1. Laziness (what could I create in order to work less?)

2. Impatience (waiting drives me crazy)

3. Hubris (I program my computer to make it do what I want)

Proof, as if one was needed, that developers’ motivations have nothing in common with those of journalists. Neither laziness nor impatience nor hubris could motivate good reporting. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Alice Antheaume (Translation by Ali Naderzad)

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Journaliste, responsable de la prospective et du développement international à l'école de journalisme de Sciences Po, Alice Antheaume a été rédactrice en chef adjointe à 20minutes.fr après être passée par lemonde.fr puis Télérama.
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