To code or not to code?

by kagi6215

ImageAs a second year graduate student, I have begun stalking journalism job board postings.  May will be here before I know it and while graduation should instill a sense of accomplishment, the anxiety of student loan repayment and lack of a full-time position far outweigh any possible celebration.  Nestled between experience in fact checking, meeting deadlines and a degree in journalism, are the words HTML and CSS in most postings.  

Yes, I can updated a WordPress-based site and understand basic HTML like page breaks and adjusting widgets, but can I code?  No.   But should I learn, so that I stand out from the crowd?  It is unclear. 

I know that journalism, no matter the form, is about telling the story and like many things it life, it is practice, practice, practice.  I write as much as I can, work with constructive editors, and embrace new story telling tools.   I have interned at two publications, both on the web team, with no exposure to code–it hasn’t been needed.   Their templates are set and building content is a bit like plug-n-play; copy text here, upload photo there, align content left or right, and save. 

What I have learned, is that my ability to cover a multitude of topics and my willingness to produce content in video, audio or print, seems to be getting me a small edge up–I am not specialized.  I haven’t niched my way into something, for better or for worse.  So in theory, adding some coding skills would only benefit me, however, unless I go back to 2000 and chose computer science as a major, the little coding practice I will glean through graduate school will never compete with the code ninjas who launch gaming sites in their sleep or built apps in preschool. 

Do I think every journalism student should have a basic understanding, yes.  Should they be able to build infographics and edit video, yes–and those skills should be melded into curriculum like AP style.  

Earlier this month, Olga Khazan wrote an entertaining diatribe in The Atlantic on the faulty logic of learning code in journalism school, and she did have some valid points but her main message was that it is a waste of time.   While funny, it seemed a shortsighted rant from an overly confident youngster.  

Steve Buttry, a seasoned journalist with Digital First Media, responded with a list of six reasons students should learn it, including the value of coding capability to employers and planning for the future. 

**The irony, I can’t not mention–both of their websites lack serious polish.  

So should I learn?  Just in case, even though it is not at all what I want to do?  The reality of the situation is that, if I want to be a reporter, I need to focus on reporting, writing and editing–the skills my editors to date have wanted and my ideas. Will that be enough for me as I embark on a new career?  My Magic 8 Ball is not answering.