Two Not So Obvious Reasons Reporters Should Learn to Code
November 20, 2013
Sean Mussenden

Over at The Atlantic, Olga Khazan argues that learning to code is a waste of time for journalists who want to work as writers and reporters. There’s one obvious reason this argument is flawed; learning a little bit of CSS, HTML and Javascript opens up new, more effective avenues of storytelling.

Beyond the obvious storytelling advantages, learning to code can actually make a journalist better at the fundamental skills of reporting and writing. I’ve seen it with my students, even those that will likely never use advanced coding skills in their careers. Khazan writes:

If you want to be a reporter, learning code will not help. It will only waste time that you should have been using to write freelance articles or do internships—the real factors that lead to these increasingly scarce positions.

That’s wrong. Coding has lots of benefits for pure reporter/writers. Here are two:

1. It’s excellent copy-editing training, because it drives home the importance of accuracy. If you forget to include a comma in the correct place in a text story, the story still fundamentally works. Sure, it looks sloppy, but a content management system will still publish it. If you forget to include a comma in the right place in a javascript function, your code probably won’t work.

2. It makes you a better researcher/Googler. In my five years of hacking (reformed print reporter here), I’ve found that being a good web researcher is perhaps the most important skill in my toolkit. Most coding problems, even highly specific ones, are not especially novel. In my experience, someone on some web forum has both asked my question and answered it. The key is formulating the right search query and knowing where to go for information. Coding gives me a chance to flex my web research muscles at a high level every day.


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