Games lead to great careers in journalism

Sisi Wei is a news apps developer at ProPublica and previously was a graphics editor at The Washington Post. She was one of our fabulous guests at Journalism Interactive here in Gainesville in February.

This blog post (open it!!) links to three Flash games she created while she was an undergrad journalism student at Northwestern. She graduated in June 2011. You can see her resume (PDF).

The point is, making games can teach you a lot! (In spring 2011, we still used Flash. Now we don’t.)

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Other ways to learn Web stuff

CodePen’s Pattern Rodeo offers you a fun way to test your skills. The weekly contest ran for four weeks. Each week had a different theme. Check out the winners! When you click the winner’s name, you can see (and copy) his/her CSS and JavaScript.

CodePen is a website where you can view other people’s CSS and JavaScript and HTML. It’s a great place to explore. You can look around as much as you want without signing up for an account. Or sign up (it’s free) and play there yourself.

Another fun place to play around is Mozilla Thimble. Some of the stuff here is too simple for you now, but there’s lot’s of good HTML know-how here that might be new to you. For example, learn about CSS positioning by playing with zombies!

Another part of Codecademy is the APIs section. There are projects here that let you use Python. There are some other projects for JavaScript. In these projects, you can learn how to build apps. Yes, apps!

Tips for your Python work

I try to avoid making too many posts on the course blog, because I know some students find it annoying. Usually I will post only once a week, now that we are under way with the course — but this is an exception.

How to Properly Comment Your Code is a handout from an MIT course called A Gentle Introduction to Programming. You should look at it.

Python Comments

Comments in your code are not for me, the instructor. They are for YOU. When we learn a new programming language, we must figure things out as we go along. Writing clear, helpful comments will help you learn.

In professional code, comments are also useful for coders who come later and need to use or revise the code that someone else wrote. That will not be the case with your early code exercises, but you should know that comments are not only for beginners.

Why would a journalism student learn to code?

This is a good question. If you don’t know WHY people are urging journalists to learn how to code, you probably wouldn’t work very hard to do it yourself.

The biggest reason, maybe, is that code is what determines HOW journalism stories speak to people.

In this interview, the design director for BostonGlobe.com explained how code and design work together in journalism.

Later, that same design director (now in a new job at Northwestern University) explained why journalism schools must teach students to code.

When then New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said he wanted to learn how to code, the Internetz went a little crazy with reactions. Then there was this reaction to the reactions:

Six Reasons a Non-Computer Nerd Might Want to Learn to Code

I think a good perspective for journalists and journalism students to adopt would echo this statement by Zed A. Shaw, a programmer:

People who can code in the world of technology companies are a dime a dozen and get no respect. People who can code in biology, medicine, government, sociology, physics, history, and mathematics are respected and can do amazing things to advance those disciplines.

People who can code have something extra to offer. In a highly competitive job market, that’s a really good thing. Especially for a journalist!