The Programmer as Journalist | 802 Online
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Thursday, June 8, 2006

The Programmer as Journalist

Posted By on Thu, Jun 8, 2006 at 8:50 AM

I've been under the weather this week, hence the light posting. Starting to feel better, though.

Saw this on the AAN website this morning — an interview with Adrian Holovaty, a journalist/programmer who works with the Washington Post, from the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review. Holovaty explains the logic behind hiring reporters who can write and use programs. Some high points:

OJR: What is the value to a journalist in understanding programming, or even learning how to do it?

Holovaty:The main value in understanding programming is the advantage of knowingwhat's possible, in terms of both data analysis and data presentation.It helps one think of journalism beyond the plain (and kind of boring)format of the news story...

OJR: What ought news organizations do to encourage tech innovation from their staffs?

Holovaty:Hire programmers! It all starts with the people, really. If you wantinnovation, hire people who are capable of it. Hire people who knowwhat's possible.

And once you hire the programmers, give them anenvironment in which they can be creative. Treat them as bona fidemembers of the journalism team -- not as IT robots who just do what youtell them to do.

OJR: Do you think most news managers are afraid of technology? If so, how do  tech-savvy journalists overcome that?

Holovaty:I've met both types of managers -- those that are scared and those thataren't. (For the news managers who *are* afraid of technology, youcan't blame 'em. It's only natural. Technology is completely changingtheir industry, whose rules haven't changed drastically in a long time.)

Itseems the best way to overcome the fear is to emphasize that technologycan be used to further the goals of journalism. It's reasonable formanagers to be afraid of things they don't understand, but if you boildown the specific technology to the specific journalism problems itsolves, I suspect managers would be more understanding.


I like his thinking, but it seems like hiring a programmer/journalist may be difficult for papers in Vermont. Heck, it's difficult for us — we don't even have a full-time webmaster. Maybe we should think about doing specific projects with freelancers? Anybody who has ideas, I lend you my ears.

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About The Author

Cathy Resmer

Cathy Resmer

Cathy Resmer is Seven Days' deputy publisher. She's an organizer of the Vermont Tech Jam, and compiles a weekly tech e-newsletter every Monday. She also oversees Seven Days' free monthly parenting publication, Kids VT, and is an enthusiastic wrestling mom... more

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