Journalists, Communicators & Code

I’m no programmer. Not by a long stretch. It makes me think of Math 20 when the teacher would write all these scribbly letters on the board and my eyes would go all wonky. I can get by – I can muddle through using a framework or fix something that goes wrong (provided it’s reasonably obvious), but I wouldn’t sit down to write pages of code from scratch.

Don’t get me wrong, it would be a fantastic thing if I could code, but I’ve got along not too badly so far. There are good programmers in the world, and we’ve been able to reach out for their help when we needed it for specific projects, so… I try not to let it get to me too much. I would like to give learning it a solid go, when I find the time. In the meantime, I’ll dabble via Codecademy, Lynda.com and the like.

There has been some debate on the web lately about whether or not journalism students should be taught to code. For example:

Should Journalism Schools Require Reporters to Learn to Code? No. (Salon.com) 

Getting past the ‘to code or not to code’ question (Inc.com)

Code to make a point; code to make change; on newshacking (Lisa Williams on Blogher.com) 

I teach a mix of journalism and professional communication students, and I think it’s more important on the p.com side, but what are the chances of a student leaving school and having this play out just exactly as they had planned? Slim. It helps to have some options, and I think there will be a fair bit of crossover from journalism to communications down the line, what with all the newspapers closing and magazines going digital, and crowdsourced news, and…and.

Basic coding skills, even if just HTML, CSS and the nuts and bolts of JavaScript will help just about anyone in just about any job – it’s not just about journalists. If you write for the web in any manner, it helps to understand what happens to your content. If you work in arts & culture or the nonprofit world where funds are tight and there’s no dedicated IT person, you can do some pretty great things with a CMS like WordPress and some HTML knowledge. Administrators, teachers, business owners, artists, researchers… code skills will benefit a huge variety of roles.

Not everyone is going to take it to expert level, but by learning the basics, you’ll still feel more confident in conversation with developers, helping you to be a better manager or team member. Certainly, to be a top-shelf coder requires dedication and passion for the subject – it’s virtually impossible to be highly-skilled at something if you don’t enjoy it.

I plan to work some coding essentials into my courses next term if I can, perhaps using tools like Codecademy. All I can hope for is that it gives my students a few more options and for a few, inspires a new interest.

Want to Learn? Here are some options…

Codecademy

Dash by General Assembly

Introduction to Computer Science (Harvard CS50x on EdX) 

So, what do you think? Should journalism and communications students learn to code? What’s the best way for them to learn?

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