I took part in a BBC Academy podcast about data journalism last week, along with The Guardian’s Helena Bengtsson and the BBC’s Daniel Wainwright and John Walton, in the wake of the BBC’s annual plan and three-year strategy which included a focus on the “interrogation of data”.
Among other things we talked about why data journalism is increasingly important, what skills are needed (including the role of code), why I’m launching an MA in Data Journalism, and what sorts of stories can be done with those skills.
For the last 18 months I’ve been talking to people across the industry, reflecting on the past 7 years of teaching the MA, and researching the forthcoming second edition of the Online Journalism Handbook. Here, then, are the key conclusions I arrived at, and how they informed the new course design:
Recently I read some feedback about a book proposal. The proposal included some chapters on coding for journalists, which prompted one of the reviewers to write:
“I think coding is moving [students] away from the core role of journalism — which is content creation not platform creation”
The debate about coding for journalists has been rumbling for some time now, and my own opinion on the issue has changed over that time. The attitude embodied in that quote is not uncommon among journalism lecturers — but the quote above has helped me realise something that, for me at least, strengthens the ‘journalists should code’ argument.
Let me rephrase it to show how:
“I think publishing is moving [students] away from the core role of journalism — which is content creation not platform creation”
Journalists writing code. Shorthand image by Mike Atherton
Is data journalism teaching repeating the same mistakes of online journalism teaching? It’s a genuine question: I don’t know the answer, but I’m seeing some parallels, and I’d welcome a proper debate.
Let me explain what I mean: a decade ago teaching online journalism was problematic: few lecturers were able to teach it. Journalism faculties were full of print and broadcast experience, but very few who had worked online. Continue reading →
The last 2 months of 2014 saw a return to regular blogging after some quiet periods earlier in the year
2014 was the 10th anniversary of the Online Journalism Blog, so I thought I’d better begin keeping track of what each year’s most-read posts were.
In 2014 the overriding themes for this blog were programming for journalists, web security, and social media optimisation. Here are the most-read posts of the year, plus one surprisingly popular new page with some background and updates. Continue reading →
If you’re looking to get into coding chances are you’ll stumble across a raft of jargon which can be off-putting, especially in tutorials which are oblivious to your lack of previous programming experience. Here, then, are 10 concepts you’re likely to come across – and what they mean.
Variables are like boxes which can hold different things at different times. Image by Wolfgang Lonien.
A variable is one of the most basic elements of programming. It is, in a nutshell, a way of referring to something so that you can use it in a line of code. To give some examples:
You might create a variable to store a person’s age and call it ‘age’
You might create a variable to store the user’s name and call it ‘username’
You might create a variable to count how many times something has happened and call it ‘counter’
You might create a variable to store something’s position and call it ‘index’
Variables can be changed, which is their real power. A user’s name will likely be different every time one piece of code runs. An age can be added to at a particular time of year. A counter can increase by one every time something happens. A list of items can have other items added to it, or removed. Continue reading →
Recently it has felt like data journalism might finally be taking a step forward after years spent treading water. I’ve long said that the term ‘data journalism’ was too generic for work that includes practices as diverse as scraping, data visualisation, web interactives, and FOI. But now, in 2014, it feels like different practitioners are starting to find their own identity.
Journalists already learn to code. In the UK they learn shorthand – possibly the most esoteric code there ever was. We also learn a particular coding language: English. This language is taught in schools and involves using a series of 26 characters to encode objects, actions, and descriptions. You may have a similar language you have to learn in your own country. What a drag.
Why do we learn these languages? To save time, and to improve accuracy – two things that should be important to every journalist. Continue reading →