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Rethinking J-school (medium.com)
33 points by awwstn 1522 days ago | hide | past | web | 31 comments | favorite

I was an editor at newspapers/magazines for 10 years before making the leap to full-time software development. My degree is in journalism, and the programming skills were something I acquired on my own. At my last journalism job, a metro daily newspaper, the fact that I could code made me a valuable asset ... but let me tell you why I left, and why I think the push toward programmer journalists (or journalists with a background in math or economics) is not necessarily going to have the effect the journalism industry is hoping for.

I left because as much as I love journalism (it's extremely fulfilling work), the fact is that the business side of the journalism world is in terrible condition, and it didn't appear to me that there was any strong turnaround plan. Meanwhile, because of layoffs, furloughs, cuts in benefits, and more work heaped upon those who survived the cuts, morale was low.

In contrast, salary, benefits, job stability, and morale in the software development world are much higher. So I finally made the leap, and as much as I miss journalism, it was definitely the right move for my family's sake.

Now: Here's why I don't think colleges spitting out journalist-programmers is necessarily going to help journalism. If you are a half-decent programmer, your skills are going to be pretty portable, and certainly in demand elsewhere.

Why, then, would you stick it out in the journalism world while the business side of things crumbles around you, when you could be making significantly more elsewhere at a place with higher morale and more job security? I mean, yes, it's nice to feel like you're making a difference ... but you've also gotta pay the bills, right?

I don't think the solution is to make journalists skilled programmers, but to provide platforms that make it easy enough to do things like data journalism. I mean music, architecture, business intelligence, construction, industrial design etc. are all computer aided to large degree and they all mainly practice their individual discipline even if if it now involves some programming. So maybe what we are really is looking for is to combine the journalist with the statistician. Which, I would assume, currently leverages computers more than a journalist does.

There have been a lot of medium.com links lately. On Firefox version 20 on Mac, the text always takes forever to load. This doesn't happen in other browsers and in Firefox it's the only site I ever notice this with.

Wouldn't be surprised if some developers laughed at us for using Firefox. Especially companies like Twitter/Medium.

Not at all, we just hadn't noticed any problems. We use typekit so I can't think why it'd be an issue, but rest assured we'll look into it.

Why would you think that?

Chrome is the browser of choice these days. [Posted from IE10.]

I run noscript in Firefox for casual browsing and reading. I don't do it out of paranoia. I do it because most sites load much faster. The number of external scripts loaded on media sites is usually the bottleneck, with 20+ not uncommon.

We (Medium) use async snippets for the few external scripts we load (KISS and GA) and our JS is deferred to the end of the document. Stylesheets and typekit fonts will block, though, unfortunately.

This'll probably be the only chance I get, so I have to ask...

Why do all links on medium point inwards?

Arguments made by those who don't know better are:

1. To track clicks on outbound links

2. To preserve "pagerank" or some such think.

Neither of these are strong arguments since you can track outbound clicks with G.Analytics or any other analytics service worth using, and outbound links have about zero impact on pagerank of the linking page.

What reason could possibly be so great that you choose to break the web for it?

It was added to block referrers on unpublished drafts. We have been meaning to take it out for published posts, but for a couple of reasons it's not as trivial as flipping a flag.

"break the web" is a little melodramatic though.

Thanks for the explanation. I don't think its melodramatic at all. Links are the foundation of the www.

Thanks for the report, we hadn't noticed any problems. Will look into it.

Thanks. My comment got some upvotes so I figure others are having the same problem. It loads perfectly in Chrome and Safari though. You might share your results with the Mozilla community if you figure it out.

Really can't reproduce this. Tried it at home and at coffee shops. If you have anymore debugging info feel free to send it my way (dan at medium dot com).

I did a double degree in computer engineering and journalism. Though I do both now professionally, I think I would've been a lot more helped out with a focus on software engineering and visual design rather than circuit design and PowerPC instructions. In most newsrooms, there is little to no logistical support for news developers, so practical development skills come much more into play than hard science and math.

The situation is not much different than photojournalism. If a newsroom hasn't created a workflow that allows for streamlined editing, processing, archiving, and retrieval of photos, then even Robert Capa is going to be too swamped with shitwork to do satisfying photojournalism. The difference is that photography has had about a century to develop editorial best practices. News-programming, or whatever you want to call it, has just gotten started, at a time when the industry is too busy flailing in a downward revenue spiral to put serious thought into anything.

"News-programming, or whatever you want to call it, has just gotten started, at a time when the industry is too busy flailing in a downward revenue spiral to put serious thought into anything."

I wouldn't say it's completely in a downward spiral, and it's not exactly super new either. There are a lot of prominent tech sites and programming sites many that have been around for centuries. Many have gotten bigger audiences over the years I am sure it's not exactly just a "fad."

And the curriculum change she was describing did not sound very expensive to add equipment wise. It just requires new teachers with more tech skills. But you are right in the sense that any change involving technology just takes time.

The author states that CS + Journalism does not exist as a formal major. This is not exactly true. Columbia has a MS in CS+Journalism.

Also, the author should check out the Brown Institute for Media Innovation (a joint program between Stanford Engineering and Columbia J-School).

Someone posted a question on reddit regarding this - it seems like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) also has a similar program. Though not much information is given here, http://www.reddit.com/r/columbia/comments/1c5lxl/prospective...

It doesn't exist as a formal major at the institution where I am pursuing my undergraduate degree. But yeah, there are some interesting overlaps @ the grad level. My school included, but that program is aimed at giving a journalism education to "hackers," and it's not meant to teach non-technical reporters how to code.

This might be an unpopular view, but here goes -

All of these efforts to create valuable journalists will probably fail. The fact is, the business side of news has a lot going against it. The current newspaper model just isn't very viable because ad spending in newspapers continues to go down and page views can't mitigate the decline enough. Subscriptions help, but those dollars tend to flock to really important publications which offer some kind of differentiate product to an affluent client base. E.g.: the WSJ serves the business community and businesses will continue to pay for it.

That's very different from something like the Boston Globe, which doesn't offer enough value. Sure, there's local reporting, but I have a feeling that people don't care as much as you'd hope about that and as a result wont be willing to pay up for subscriptions.

You can learn programming and R to do some data viz, but it's not going to be enough to counteract the secular decline you're facing as capital exits the industry.

Honestly, I think journalism and being a journalist will be a career that eventually goes to rich people / people with other income sources than their primary job. Those are going to be the only kinds of people who can afford working for long hours and really low pay and gradually working their way up during school and afterwards with unpaid internships.

The article seems much ado about nothing. It's not necessary to "major" in a subject to learn a lot about it. In the US (unlike the UK), undergraduates have the flexibility to take coursework in a broad range of disciplines. Nothing stops a journalism major from taking plenty of math and statistics and CS classes, assuming s/he can hack the work.

Should journalism programs require a course on "making sense of data and technology"? Yes, probably they should.

The author didn't suggest that you had to major in a subject to learn it. Her thesis is that it's wrong for journalism programs to not require stats, math, and coding courses, since modern journos must do stats, math, and coding.

>My frustrations are with the lack of an applicable concentration that reflects the state of the news industry in 2013.

>How is it okay that journalism students are able to graduate without ever taking a real statistics or mathematics class, given the crazy demand for data journalists? Or without ever taking a programming class?

Should all disciplines require a course on "making sense of data and technology"? Yes, probably they should.

To the author: since you're at Northwestern, don't forget about Rich Gordon [1]. He's the guy who started the scholarship program to bring working programmers to Medill to learn journalism [2].

To hackers: check out [2]. You can get a scholarship to learn journalism at one of the best schools in the nation.

[1] http://www.medill.northwestern.edu/faculty/journalismfulltim... [2] http://www.medill.northwestern.edu/admissions/page.aspx?id=5...

Author here.

Re [1]: True. But (a) that's a grad program and (b) it's aimed at giving programmers a journalism education, not teaching journalists how to code.

Ah, the problems with the college. College majors are by design imperfect. Journalism, Math, Computer Science - those are very broad strokes and rarely map directly to the skills one would need for a job. OP's is a good example of why college education should move away from majors and departments, and into something more akin to "individualized studies." My undergrad had something like that. For students who had a passion and an idea of what they wanted to learn, it was golden. They got to design their own unique, multidisplinary paths through university.

Agree that it's very hard for academia to keep up with industry, and the shortcomings of the design of college majors. I still see value in a liberal arts undergraduate education, but that's awesome your school had more leniency with individual studies.

I dueled law-math in grad school. It made me weird; but I also gained a perspective very few have. You might find your self as being the only person who notices something cool; but its pointless to tell anyone because they won't be able to see it. Which can be frustrating. On the other hand; being that journalism is about communication; maybe you will be able to communicate interesting computer science type things to people who would otherwise not be able to get it.

I really hope journalism can go a different route than CAD, DAW, ERP, BI and most other non-developer areas which are dominated by proprietary solutions.

This is like shooting yourself in the foot.

Sure journalism should be more attuned to the tech world if the job market is moving that way, but if it's completely changed to be a combined program where some sort of developer or computer science skills are included then it's just extra requirements. And she was already complaining about extra requirements having to fill out the checkmarks. This is especially true of any second major nowadays.

I think the big problem with college nowadays is two-fold. The colleges dictate that certain majors have requirements based on what skills may be required to work in the field, but the students who actually know what they want to do suffer. This is because they wouldn't mind taking more classes but they want them to be "worthwhile."

For example, I'm a Marketing Major and a ISM major. I don't see how there is any overlap degree/class through the university program. This is primarily because they don't exactly even touch base when they are talking about them in classes. But to be honest I've found a lack of real material in the marketing classes. It's just rehashing of terms after the first two classes or so I have lost some interest in it.

I'm near graduation and I don't think I've learned as much as I should have through ISM to work as good as I would want to with some technology. ISM is unnecessarily too light in programming. I would take another computer science class or two if it was more "worthwhile" but being so close to graduating with all the extra requirements it seems not worth it to me at all.

However it's been good to learn about both of them. Marketing in software design and implementation helps you understand how to expand business markets and target more specific customers. It is about choosing the right product for the right audience. It is also about responding to people asking about your product with great help so that they feel like you are there for them and having retention rates for customers because it's not just the right thing to do but it also is more rewarding.

You are better off taking computer science classes at community colleges if you want to get some extra credits that show your prowess and they are not as harsh. And that is my major issue with this. Your better off filling niches/everything you really wanted to learn in community colleges because public colleges are just for show of a degree.

My advisor basically said that even graduating with two majors is not really any better than graduating with a single major. Graduating with one major is just as good if you get good grades. The job market will hire you regardless if your a double major or a single major thinking you have about the same amount of skills either way for that specific job. This is only fair, but I think employers should at least recognize that having a second major shows that they are more willing to learn.

In short maybe the broader alternative that Obama suggested that a computer science major be required is a good idea for graduation. But the problem with that is many people want to do other majors instead and those classes would have to be broken up more and delegation of them would be very confusing.

In my opinion the problem is that colleges have really become institutions where you can't just pick what you want to learn it's become much more of a requirement game over years and that only hurts students because they want to just finish the requirements and get on with life.

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