Today I’m publishing a guest post from Ryan Mark, one of the first two journalist-programmers attending the Medill School of Journalism on a Knight News Challenge scholarship. Ryan is a 2004 graduate of Augustana College, where he earned a BA in computer science. He later served as technology director for ZapTel Corp., a company that sells prepaid long-distance phone cards.

Ryan’s guest post:

One thing I’ve discovered through talking to people, including teachers and others in education, is that the Internet is encouraging more people to contribute.

Well, obviously, right?

I think we are just starting to learn how to contribute. People are all writing and reading so much more than they used to. And the youngest generation today is growing emerged in interactive culture. I grew up watching television, as did my parents. My grandparents grew up listening to the radio. Kids are growing up today with full duplex mass media (it goes both ways). So in the discussion about citizen journalism, I think the citizenry is just beginning to learn the skills to they need to contribute.

I joke that I made a dumb career decision in going from IT to journalism. High pay and low stress to low pay and high stress.
Journalism is hard. My goal as a programmer was to get the computer to do my job and make money, even if I’m not around. As a journalist I’ll be trading words for dollars. If I don’t write words, I don’t get dollars.

So I guess the goal here is to figure out how to get the computer to do my new job.

It’s really interesting to be on the creation side of IT. I’ve always been intrigued by content creation software and enjoyed dabbling in it, but it’s great to actually have a good reason and a good idea to make use of all the great tools out there. It’s been an interesting experience to be on both sides.

There are a lot of great tools out there already that make a journalist’s job easier, and this is making journalism more accessible for those who might consider doing it casually.

But like the citizens, the technology still has a way to go.

I can’t imagine reporting before the Internet, and kudos to those that did it. But beyond just information gathering that the web and the Google make so easy, data processing should get better at connecting us with sources. And pointing us in the direction of a good story.

For example, take Symposium on Computation + Journalism at Georgia Tech in February. The system was designed and is in use at Minnesota Public Radio, and it could almost be called a contact relationship management system built for journalists. It is a massive network of citizens who can participate by being sources or by submitting story ideas. Twitter is fine, but this is the kind of software we should be building.

And as far as the citizens go, journalism should be taught in high school. And it should be mandatory. It shouldn’t just be considered a special skill, it should be considered basic citizenship.


More from Ryan: Ryan is blogging at Digital Divisions, as part of Medill’s introductory Interactive Techniques class for second-quarter master’s students.