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“I do not believe programming replaces the story” No, no, no!!!

Posted by on Dec 1, 2010 in Blog, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

I placed this comment in response to Robert Hernandez’s post on OJR re: whether journalists should be delving into databases and programming. I hope to write more on this later, but my greater issue is at the separation of coding and storytelling. OJR’s posting policy means my comment is pending approval, so I’m posting here for now, and hope to expand on this later.

Robert,

Thanks for this nice redirection of the conversation. I found myself agreeing with so many of your points, we don’t all need to do it. But I’m very concerned by you discouraging all journalists from bothering to try. I’m one of these strange hybrid recent j-grads who’s using coding and data skills for journalism. I wouldn’t have believed it a year ago. Yes, not everyone needs to do it. I happen to like it, but we need people doing a lot of different things.

I take issue with one sentence in particular, in your article. “I do not believe programming replaces a story.” Programming itself doesn’t replace the story, but it is another way to tell stories. If our databases aren’t telling stories, then we must do better. Just like you can write and not tell a story. An instruction manual doesn’t belong on a news site. But that doesn’t mean we denounce the power of words. Words, photos, video, programming, social media — none are stories until we, as storytellers, make them so.

There’s a difference between hiring developers for the newsroom to maintain your site, and hiring journalists who practice their craft with data and code — the latter TELL STORIES.

You talk of having a “driveway moment” with a database. With the advent of mobile devices, I could see a day where you forget to leave your computer, or miss your subway stop ’cause you’re so consumed with your iPad, because you’re THAT invested in a data-driven story.

That’s what I’m pushing for every day. That’s what we’re all pushing for. Often, I use code. Sometimes, I use words. It’s about the best tool for the job. We don’t all have to use data, but let’s understand that it’s all in service of storytelling.

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