Compared to other millennials, I am late to the technology game. I didn’t have my first home computer until halfway through my freshman year of high school — in 2007. I still remember having to go to my dad’s office or a library to type up papers, which I didn’t even bother with until one English teacher complained about a handwritten short story I submitted. Mind you, my penmanship was impeccable (it’s since taken a turn for the worse).
Now that I’ve caught up and spend most waking hours in front of a screen, I cannot stress enough how important it is for media interns to be more than computer literate and fluent in Microsoft Word. They need to learn some coding.
I’ve said before that journalists should not be one-man bands, but this doesn’t mean they cannot know the basics of the technologies and tools they use today. And coding is a big one.
My experience with HTML before this past year was nonexistent. Aside from the one or two tips I’d glean from a friend who majored in computer science, I basically discarded the skill as something unnecessary for journalism. After all, I’d want to write, not produce. My time should be spent working on finding stories and polishing my writing.
That was denial. One day I decided I should at least know the basics. And it turns out that the light coding I learned on my own would be necessary for my internship here at Mediabistro.
The discussion about learning to code is heated, and both sides tend to be polar opposites on the benefits and costs of devoting the time and energy to it. Some people say that most established news organizations already have production teams devoted to taking a reporter’s story and putting it into digital form, which is true. The New York Times is not going to expect its reporters to make sure a bracket is correct on the seventh line of a code block; reporters should be conducting interviews and writing.
However, in smaller newsrooms, production and basic coding becomes the task of everyone on the edit staff, including and especially the interns. You’ll likely also need these skills if you’re working at one of the many hyperlocal sites cropping up, such as Baristanet and Berkeleyside, which may not have the resources for a separate production team.
So where to start? One place is Codeacademy. The best part is learning the basics on the site will take you all of seven hours. You could be finished in one Saturday. Sure, learning to code in one day isn’t going to allow you to create a site like this. But you might have just enough knowledge to show your supervisors you can whip up an infographic when called upon to do so, while doing what you really want to be doing — honing your writing, reporting and editing skills.
Check out my other #mediaintern posts below and follow me on Twitter @andandrewr.