Jeremy B. Merrill and Sisi Wei are a couple of young interactive news developers who gave a talk to students and recent grads about “getting a job in journalism code” at the NICAR 2014 conference. NICAR stands for National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting.
They’ve followed that up with a blog post collecting those questions and answers “as well as some of the best guidance we were given while looking for jobs or internships.”
Merrill is an interactive news developer for the New York Times who helped develop Tabula, “a tool for liberating data tables locked inside PDF files.” Wei is a news applications developer at ProPublica and the co-founder of Code With Me, which runs workshops for journalists to learn to code.
For me, and I think for a lot of people trained in journalism, talk about code is scary. It’s one thing to say, as I often do to students and early-career writers who ask me for advice, that it wouldn’t hurt to learn a little coding, because that’s an increasingly in-demand skill. But now that the rudimentary HTML skills I picked up in the ’90s have become obsolete, I don’t know the first thing about coding, including how to start learning about it.
The message from Merrill and Wei: Relax, stay curious and keep learning. A couple of highlights from the long, link-rich Q&A:
Q: This job listing says I need to know Python and ArcGIS and Responsive Web Design and videography and D3.js and R and FOIA and Ruby on Rails and statistics and WordPress. Should I still apply?
Yes. C’mon, literally no one knows all of those things and the people doing the hiring know it. The list of skills is their wish list, not their bare minimum requirements. Do not be discouraged from applying simply because you only know 4 out of the 12 things listed.
Rather than someone who has a minimal understanding of a wide variety of tools, an employer will appreciate someone who really knows their stuff in one area—regardless of whether that’s videography, public records or scaling databases. But keep learning. Because, after basic journalism (and, if applicable, programming) skills, what hiring managers really want to see is you demonstrating your ability to learn new tools …
Q: Okay, so how do I get started learning to code?
Learning how to code is all about taking is one step at a time and having a project in mind. Sisi actually wrote about this. Lisa Williams blogs about how to get started and puts up tutorials frequently. Lena Groeger wrote about how she learned to code in a year. There’s a lot you can read about this topic.
That last bit is huge: There’s a lot to read on this topic. Merrill and Wei make the point, in reference to whether real programmers copy and paste code from the internet, that “one key to being a good programmer is knowing not to reinvent the wheel.” If you don’t know anything about coding and want to learn, you don’t have to blaze a trail. Start reading.
In that post, Rosen, one of the leading media thinkers and critics in the U.S., spelled out what he expects his students to master in a class he teaches on “digital thinking.” He emphasizes that the concentration here is understanding the forces at work in the media, rather than mastering skills, an important but separate matter.
Since then, as is typical for Rosen, the conversation has continued in the comments of the piece, with Rosen proposing additions and amendments based on the comments of others. This kind of transparency and iterating in public is, itself, one of the concepts people who want to succeed in today’s media should understand.
Some of that feedback came from Steve Buttry, a journalist and journalism teacher I’ve cited often on the B/R Blog. Buttry addresses Rosen’s post point by point, adding his own thoughts on concepts such as “automation and ‘robot journalism,’ “data journalism,” “the shift to mobile” and more than a dozen others.
There are plenty of links on both posts, Rosen’s and Buttry’s, and I’d encourage you to take some time, click around and dig in. In the comments, Steve Woodward, who teaches journalism at Central Washington University, writes, “News is still stuck on the concept of mobile-first.” He means that even that concept is already dated.
My goodness! To paraphrase Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”: “Concepts come and go so quickly here!”
Click through to Rosen’s post to find out what new idea Woodward’s talking about.
The Times Insider blog offers a glimpse into its Manual of Style and Usage with a piece headlined “Please. Don’t ‘Decry’ the ‘Divorcée.’ Or Give Us Your ‘CV.’ The Times Guide to Modern Usage.”
The post advertises itself as “an inside look at the changing world of speech and usage,” though it could just as well be described as an inside look at the Times’ opinions on certain usage issues:
edgy. … avoid the meaning of far out or on the edge; that sense gained cliché status almost overnight.
heart condition. Every heart has some kind of condition. Write heart ailment, disease, etc., instead.
These things are often a little fussy, but I like reading them because they remind me to think carefully and precisely about the words I use.
claim is not a neutral synonym for say. It means assert a right or contend something that may be open to question.
Far East. Do not use this Western-centric term except for special effect. Ordinarily, use a more specific regional name: East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia.
And sometimes I learn things. I didn’t know before reading this post that casket is not a synonym for coffin, though I wonder why the Times wants its writers to “use coffin instead” when the two words are not interchangeable.
These are the kinds of things that keep me up at night.
Thad Novak’s passion was college basketball.
Thad was someone many people who work at Bleacher Report never had the privilege of meeting. Yet many of those same people gained a level of respect for him, and none of them had a bad word to say about him or his work. Many of us never really knew how sick he was.
Novak, who described himself in his Bleacher Report bio as “an ex-academic scientist who’s having a lot more fun trying to make a career out of sportswriting,” died on Nov. 1 of complications from cystic fibrosis.
When the NCAA Tournament tipped off on March 18, he told his editors he wasn’t feeling well, but he wanted assignments. He wanted to chronicle the next Bryce Drew or Shabazz Napier.
He wanted to be a part of the Madness.
Even as he prepared to enter the hospital for a double lung transplant this summer, he kept writing. He apologized for missing deadlines and promised to turn pieces around as soon as possible. He published two articles while laid up in the hospital and even did a radio appearance.
I worked with Thad early in his time at Bleacher Report when he was part of the Breaking News Team. His perspective was unique. He had a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He valued history and sharing it with his readers.
Upon hearing the news of his passing, several B/R writers expressed gratitude for Thad offering them advice, unsolicited, as they entered the world of sportswriting. He was an editor’s dream.
So when Louisville and Minnesota tip Friday night in Puerto Rico, we know that Thad would have been watching and eager to recount what he saw.
He could have written about the unique father-son matchup pitting Rick against Richard Pitino. Or he could have written about how Minnesota would have no answer for Montrezl Harrell. Or how Andre Hollins would shred the Cardinals’ patented pressure D.
Whatever the angle, there’s no doubt Thad would have written it with the uncommon passion he showed for college basketball. He’ll be missed.
Thad’s family says contributions to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation are welcome at this page.
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Elliott Pohnl is Bleacher Report’s Assistant Managing Editor.
On November 8, I attended “JournCamp,” a traveling program run by the Society of Professional Journalists. The program was held at Florida International University, and I was joined in attendance by a couple dozen journalists from all over the state of Florida—other sportswriters, war correspondents, radio and TV media, authors, etc. While there were a number of breakout sessions, the highlight of the day was the keynote speech, titled: “Rapidly Changing News Media Landscape: Where the ‘Hockey Puck’ is Headed.” It was presented by Michael Bolden of The Knight Foundation.
Here’s a Storify I created with tweets from the event.
The Knight Foundation makes the future of journalism its mission, saying on its About page: “Our goal at Knight Foundation is to preserve the best aspects of journalism and use innovation to expand the impact of information in the digital age. ” Bolden is no stranger to traditional media at a high level, either, having spent years at the Miami Herald and Washington Post. He’s seen where journalism has been, and he’s on the forefront of figuring out where it goes next.
One of the first things Bolden said was that the one thing that isn’t changing about journalism is the “why” component. The Knight Foundation believes that—again from the About page—”democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged,” and Bolden used a variation of that phrase a dozen times in his hour-long speech.
From the “why” of journalism, Bolden quickly pivoted to the “what.”
“Journalists are storytellers,” he said, “and evolving technology makes us better storytellers.” He seemed perplexed, even annoyed, that some journalists resist change, saying: “Thinking digitally can save us, but too many journalists resist it,” and “Embrace new technology … experiment, experiment, experiment.”
He told an anecdote from his time at the Post when he test drove an iPad for the first time. At the time, he told his colleagues, “Your flying car is here,” but he also expressed remorse that there are still journalists (including those at the Post) that not only don’t use tools like the iPad, but couldn’t care less how their stories are presented on them or on mobile.
The Knight Foundation spends millions upon millions of dollars every year to fund research into new technologies that could help the cause of journalism—everything from teaching young kids to code to one day funding the very apps they create. Maybe it’s a website with a clear goal and a noble purpose, or maybe it’s just a place willing to look at news in a different way than it’s been looked at for hundreds of years.
“If you’re just using today’s technology, you’re already behind,” Bolden said. That’s the sentiment being expressed in the title of his speech, a reference to the famous aphorism attributed to Wayne Gretzky and cited often in discussions of fast-changing industries: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Bolden took it a step further: “You’re neglecting your role as a news leader if you’re not trying new things.” He would go on to say something very similar about the imperative for all journalists to be on social media.
Not to completely toot our own horn over here at Bleacher Report and the B/R Blog, but a lot of this was preaching to the choir for yours truly—more of a pep rally than a learning session. B/R editors have pushed me to be on the forefront of social media, data gathering and various other technologies since I began here. Many of these same sermons have appeared right here in this space.
Where is the hockey puck headed? We can’t know for certain, but you better be paying attention. This business has no room for people who can’t keep up with the play.
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Want a roadmap to understanding the rapidly changing world of journalism and media? You might want to read Jay Rosen’s post at his PressThink site: How to be literate in what’s changing in journalism.
Rosen is an NYU journalism professor and one of the sharpest media critics in the U.S. The list consists of “the main currents and trends” that he expects students in his “digital thinking” class to master by the end of the term.
He clarifies in the comments that the list is not about the skills one needs to have to land good jobs in the ever-changing media:
That’s worth doing. But that’s not what I am doing here.
The focus is not on “skills” but on “forces.”
I am starting in a different place: what’s changing in journalism, and what is forcing change by looming ever larger in the calculations of those trying to build a 21st century news operation?
I want my students to understand those things, first.
The concepts range from social media and the rapid shift to mobile devices to thinking of news as a product or service to “robot journalism” to … well, that ranging from X to Y to Z phrasing never works out for me because I never know if, in this case, “creating an agile culture in newsrooms” is within the range of “the personal franchise model in news” and “analytics in news production” or outside of it.
But the point is, it’s a wide-ranging list, and Rosen helpfully provides links for more reading on each concept. Worth your time.
I’ll be on the road next week in SEC country, so after a post on Monday the B/R Blog will be quiet.
I’ll be visiting journalism programs at the Universities of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana State. If you’re in Athens, Tuscaloosa, Oxford or Baton Rouge, in that daily order starting Monday, look for me on campus. Let my Twitter feed be your guide. I’m hoping to add another school on Friday.
What I’ll be talking about, aside from Bleacher Report and sports media in general, is B/R’s two educational programs, the Advanced Program in Sports Media, which focuses on writing, and the Advanced Program in Editing and Content Management, which I think is self-explanatory.
The APSM and the APECM are paid, part-time, 12-week programs to which students may telecommute. Bleacher Report hires quite a bit out of both. I think they both represent a great opportunity for advanced journalism students and early-career pros, and I’m looking forward to meeting a bunch of the former across the Southeast.