My plan to stay relevant (and employed)

Over the past little while, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about a new type of media job: a hybrid position that some people are calling “programmer-journalist.” Witness, for example:

Just this past week, Jenny Carpenter sent me a link to a Guardian article: Will journalists of the future need to know how to code? From it:

Up until now, as a journalist you worked with information, researching facts and figures which then you passed on to the reader. However, in a digital world there are more platforms you can use to convey that information – think of maps or mobile applications, augmented reality. And to be able to do that you will have know how to code.

Now, I’m no programmer. Not a real one, anyway. Sure, I know enough HTML and CSS to tweak WordPress themes. I know a tiny little bit of PHP. Through school, I worked summers at a software company. And once upon a time, in the summer of 1998, I wrote a reasonably popular piece of (now-useless) Windows shareware in Visual Basic.

But really, I’m no programmer. Though I intend to become one.

“Why?” you ask?

I work in public radio, a business that’s experiencing a renaissance through digital technology, especially podcasts. There are lots of exciting things happening in places where the web meets the radio. Judging by the success of shows like Radiolab, and Planet Money, there’s an appetite for compelling stories told in new and interesting ways. A big part of that is happening online. For example, look at how simple yet compelling the Globe and Mail’s interactive map of Haiti is.

Companies like the CBC (my employer) need people who can build this kind of stuff. They need storytellers with programming chops, and programmers with storytelling chops.

I want to be one of those people.

So then, starting today, I’m embarking on a course of self-directed study. It’s my intention to become a sort of programmer-journalist, and I plan to blog about what I find here in this space. First step: learn Python.

I’d love to hear any thoughts or suggestions about where I should take this. Comments are most welcome.

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  1. Peter J. says:

    Dive Into Python is a must-read for Python 2; I'd imagine that Dive Into Python 3 is similarly relevant for the new release.

    The best way I've found to learn a language is to have a personally-interesting project to build with it. For C (a long, long time ago) it was a program that could conjugate French verbs. For Python there were two, a weblog ping server that would send me notifications of new blog entries over IM using XMPP (aka Jabber, aka the protocol behind Google Chat) and a tool that would read blog feeds and send their contents out as email.

  2. Gustavius says:

    I agree with Peter J.

    Do you have a specific project in mind?

    • Dan Misener says:

      I don't have a solid idea yet, but I'd love to create a simple MP3 -> M4A chapterized podcast tool for Spark. I'd feed it a linear wav file, and chapter metadata, and it'd spit out multiple version of the show (regular bitrate MP3, low bitrate MP3, chapterized podcast, etc.).

      More generally speaking, I'm most interested in the "hooking bits of the web together in interesting ways" types of projects.

  3. Chad says:

    When Hacklab was having weekly tutorials on Python – Leigh was using this free textbook:

  4. What you're saying sounds a lot like some of what I heard Adrian Holovaty ( say at a conference once. You might find a little inspiration in his work.

    He mentioned this small project in his talk. When he was still at the Washington Post it was his team's attempt to put a face to every fallen soldier in Iraq because the names stopped being reported as the casualties mounted:

    He's most famous for his site Chicago crime which hooked bits of data from the Chicago police department into Google Maps. The project has morphed into the giant which takes "hooking bits of the web together" to whole new levels.

    Good luck with python!

  5. My suggestions:

    – Processing ( data visualization for appealing ways to present your stories

    – Automator (comes with Mac): is a versatile environment that can do the WAV > M4A workflow. You can embed some Python and other shell scripts into your workflow too.

    – Javascript and JQuery: if you want to build simple web-based interactive experience.

    p.s. I love Python too :-)

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