Why Journalists Need to Think Like Geeks

Loose notes from the SXSW2011 session Why Journalists Need to Think Like Geeks

Many print journalists, even those who resisted change, are trying to embrace the digital future. Twenty-year veterans take up social media after taking a buyout, and journalism programs now give aspiring reporters basic multimedia skills. But a facility with Twitter or Soundslides combined with an occupational knack for asking questions won’t always add up to the skills necessary to redesign a Web site or create an app. The truth is, journalists and programmers think in fundamentally different ways—words vs. code; stories vs. systems—and often have a hard time communicating and collaborating. And the problem is asymmetrical; most programmers can quickly grasp enough about journalism to work with journalists, but it’s much harder to get, say, a midlevel editor to understand the basics of software development or database design. I often find myself wishing I could recommend a course to that colleague or to an unemployed journalist that would teach them how the other half thinks. Most of us have had to muddle through on our own, until we have a road to Damascus moment. But there’s got to be a better way. How can we teach journalists to think about technology?

Blake Eskin
Editor, newyorker.com
The New Yorker

An open discussion on what is for me (at this point, via my work), a time-worn topic. I hoped for the best, but for the most part, this turned into an open re-hashing of all the same old tropes.

“I keep reading stories about data-driven journalism and the great stories we’re going to be creating. But not everybody can develop all of these talents at the same time. You’re still going to have specialization. Journalism is going to be the same way for quite a while.”

Is it easier to teach programmers about journalism, or journalists about programming?

Most journalists are more interested in story telling than they are in programming. How do we change/affect/shift that culture?

You CAN take data and structure it as a narrative. You can do the evergreen, traffic-driving database coupled with traditional narrative.

What is the barrier? Malcolm Gladwell : “I had an insight at the Washington Post: You should never do a good job at something you don’t want to do.”

Journalists are naturally curious people. How to extend that curiosity to what it is that developers do?

The stuff that gets eaten up is the content that can be broken down into bullet points, not the long-form content.

There is the assumption that something long is something interesting… but it’s not always true. Maybe the engaging thing is the state spending widget.

It’s hard for a traditional journalist to understand that what a programmer/developer does is part of storytelling too.

Throw away all those business cards that say “Writer/Reporter” and change them to “Journalist” – storytellers use all mediums.

“Story” used to just mean “words.” Today we have a different kind of language (being able to transmit images, video around the world instantaneously is something we never could do before – this gives us a whole new language for storytelling).

[Left early…]

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