Thinking like a programmer

One thing I hope you will get out of this course is an understanding of how programming (and programmers) work. This is valuable even if you don’t actually do programming yourself.

I think the ability to mark-up some HTML and understand why <span>, <div>, classes and IDs are important for CSS and Javascript is essential for anyone publishing on the web.

But my answer is that no, journalists don’t all need to be able to write programs, but the ability to think like a programmer is an invaluable skill.

That quote comes from Do journalists need to learn to be programmers? Yes. And no. — a 2010 article by journalist-programmer Martin Belam.

More recently, Belam wrote about how two journalists described their newsroom at the Financial Times of London (this is the British Wall Street Journal) and how they handle data graphics and other interactives: “Data Journalism: not the job of one department” – Emily Cadman & Martin Stabe at Hacks/Hackers London.

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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!