Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

MediaWatch: Putting Journalists And Programmers In The Same Room

Posted by Tom Foremski - October 26, 2009

Megan Taylor over at PBS' MediaShift writes about the challenges of getting programmers and journalists to work together.

MediaShift . Can Programmers, Journalists Get Along in One Newsroom? | PBS

"there's no reason why a programmer can't do journalism," said Rich Gordon, director of digital innovation at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. "They just need an understanding of the mission and culture of journalism and journalists."

Mr Gordon thinks that in terms of personalities, i.e programmers being introverted and anti-social, they can be similar to journalists.

But even with similar personalities, it's not easy to get programmers to think like journalists, or to get used to the chaotic environment of a newsroom.

Aron Pilhofer, editor of interactive newsroom technologies at the New York Times, has assembled a team of mostly programmers to do journalism.
..."It's not a normal corporate-y type of environment," Pilhofer said. "It's very loosey-goosey, collaborative, hectic, disorganized. It takes time to get used to that environment, and not everyone is comfortable in that environment.

Others say problems arise because of miscommunication.

Matthew Waite, news technologist at the St. Petersburg Times, weighed in on how programmers and journalists communicate, and how that communication can be improved. He said ill-will between journalists and programmers arises from miscommunication.
"I've seen a lot of cases where some piece of code did exactly what the requirements document specified, but it didn't do what anyone wanted," Waite said.

Foremski's Take: I've written on this topic many times and I think it is easier to teach journalists to become programmers. They then become "media engineers" rather than software engineers.

Today's development tools are very powerful and they make building complex software applications easier than ever before.

Every journalist should know some html, CSS, JavaScript, etc. They don't need to be proficient but they should know how all these media technologies work. Some journalists can go much further and I think we will see that happening more because there is a real need. If I were a journalism student I'd be loading up on programming courses because I'd greatly improve my chances of getting a job -- every newsroom needs strong media engineering capabilities.

Teaching a programmer journalism skills is challenging primarily because programmers have already chosen their profession. If they had wanted to be journalists they would have become journalists.

But teaching a journalist programming skills would be a lot easier and far more effective because you have to have a strong understanding of media -- that comes first. That's what a media engineer would provide, media first, engineer second.

And a media architect would be similar to a systems architect, they would design the information/publishing architecture of an organization. And by the way, today every company has to be a media company to a degree, every large company needs media engineers and media architects on staff.

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Please see:

Move Over Software Engineers It's The Era Of Media Engineers

Journalism Schools Wake Up To Need For Media Engineers


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