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:
- From PBS.org in 2007: Meet the First Two Journalist- Programmers about Brian Boyer and Ryan Mark, both winners of Knight News Challenge scholarships
- From the Knight Foundation itself: 4th Programmer-Journalist Scholarship Winner Learns to ‘Think Like a Journalist’ about another Knight scholarship winner, Manya Gupta
- Mashable’s roundup of How Programmer/Journalists Are Changing the News
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.