So what happens when people with computer programming backgrounds are part of the same journalism class with more traditional students?
Liza Kaufman Hogan, a former CNN.com senior producer, found out this spring when she taught the introductory new media journalism class at the Medill School of Journalism. The class, "Interactive Techniques," revolves around blogging. Students create their own blogs (using WordPress software and a commercial ISP hosting account that they establish and pay for). Class sessions focus on the critical issues involved in online journalism, from copyright to business models. Between classes, the students are required to blog regularly and also to become comfortable with the technology infrastructure that powers their sites.
Liza’s class ran from April to June and included students Ryan Mark and Brian Boyer, the first two programmers to win Knight Foundation scholarships to enroll in our journalism master’s program. Here’s Liza’s take on the experience:
Let’s be honest. In most online newsrooms, web developers and news editors aren’t likely to head out to happy hour together after work. What would they talk about? Headlines? Search engine optimization? Social networking? Exactly. And newsrooms the world over would be better for it.
I had the good fortune to witness this sort of creative energy this spring when Ryan and Brian joined my online journalism class. From the first day of class, when the two led an all-out assault on the practice of coding links to open in a new browser window, I knew we were in for an interesting class.
Sharing what they knew about building Web sites, computer networking and usability, they contributed to a stimulating open-source atmosphere in the classroom. During a class on Web analytics, Ryan demonstrated the features of a site he helped run before coming to Medill. A few weeks into the class, Brian started a reading group to discuss books on new media. He posed tough questions to our classroom guests and showed students how to make better use of Creative Commons licensing.
Both Ryan and Brian posted useful tips to our class blog. And as part of their course work, they created their own blogs merging their prior experience with their work at Medill. Brian’s Sixth W, a blog looking at the intersection of technology and journalism, should be required reading for any online journalist. Ryan sought to narrow the gap between the technical haves and have-nots with his equally vital blog "Digital Divisions: Online Advocacy for the Offline Millions."
I am hopeful that both will continue their blogs and carry on the work they started while earning their degrees. Meanwhile, to journalism academics out there, I highly recommend having a programmer in your class. Even without a scholarship program like Medill’s, consider walking over to the computer science department to recruit some students interested in sitting in on a few classes or doing a joint project with your students. Who knows? They might just head out together for a drink after class.