The pipeline problem
The Mission. Why I wake up every day. To do good work. I live in the intersection of data, journalism, technology and policy. Earlier this week, when deciding what to attack next, project-wise, I was given the following advice. “Pick something innovative, that will challenge your skillset and push this organization forward.” That is the job you want. Nothing is perfect, but I am living as close to my dream as one can.
But I’ve worked for it. Terribly hard. I’ve given up…so much. For a while, I’ve ranted/complained/brainstormed about the “news developer pipeline problem”. And whether it’s on the blog, to my colleagues, at 2am in a bar in St. Louis at NICAR, or during a squeezed-in dinner at the Tick Tock Diner in Hell’s Kitchen, the points remain the same.
Read my fingers: There. Is. No. Defined. Path. To. Learning. To. Be. A. Data. Journalist. Developer. It. Does. Not. Need. To. Be. This. Hard.
Read it again, and again. Learning development skills is doable with online tutorials. Journalism skills can be learned on the job. But there are a lot of pieces, and the way we do development for journalism is different than a more general programming mindset. You may need to run your own server. You may need to make custom charts. You may need to run data analysis.
In the past four years, I have received hundreds of requests about how to get the skills you need. Get a job, I’ll say. But if you don’t have the skills, how do you get a job? It’s a typical employment Catch-22, but times 1,000. So many moving pieces. So easy to self-doubt. So difficult to create the proper culture. So hard to execute on deadline.
Sure, read the tutorials. But they are not written for the journalists.
There has to be a better plan. For you, who wants to know more about how to apply computer science to our field. For you, the traditional reporter who wants to flesh out your stories. For you, the graphics department that wants to tell more localized stories. And yes, for the me of three years ago, who might have had to give up a bit less to get where she is today. For the news developer that could have been, but got off the track, because it was just too hard. Who do we develop a more-defined curriculum for?…For…Journalism.
A possible solution
For Journalism. That’s the name of this new project that I am delighted to become a part of. Dave Stanton is our leader. The idea is that we craft modules that use projects to teach code concepts. There will be nine of them, and my module would focus on “Charting and Visualization.” It’s not just about teaching you how to make a certain type of visualization, but concepts that you can apply to multiple projects. They will arm you with tools you need to understand concepts to make your own cool projects. Languages may change, but foundational building blocks will remain helpful.
Perhaps most importantly, we’ll try to give you some direction on how to “get the skillz”. I, for one, am looking forward to learning from the other instructors. Maybe Jeff Larson of ProPublica will help me finally get “Rails”. Maybe Jacqui Maher of the New York Times will help me be more of a powerhouse in terms of the systems it takes to run dev ops.
Ideally, we’ll spread this to universities as well. Lack of a solid data journalism curriculum with professors who can teach code AND give a journalistic mindset is a problem we face. Hopefully, this is a solid starting point. At least it’s an improvement on writing myriad blog posts on the issue.
We’re raising money to make these materials through Kickstarter. I’d certainly appreciate your consideration of either monetary donation, or sharing this project with your colleagues and friends. We want to help. We want to work on the news dev pipeline problem. We want to teach you, so you can join us. We want to do better at this problem…For Journalism.
Questions about the project? Get at me, or hit up @forjournalism on Twitter.
Then, as a community, maybe more of us can answer the call of an industry. Bring your passion, ambition and ideas. We’ll get you on the path to making those dreams a reality, for you, for me, for the industry — and most importantly, for the public we serve.
Let’s work on finding our place
That’s how we’ll move forward, when we find our footing in the journalism world. We must have the ideas of what we can change, the confidence that you can be The Awesome, and the skills to execute your vision. The first and second is squarely on you. But For Journalism, in its ideal form, will help you out on the third.
When that’s all in place, then one day, you too, may start your days humming this anthem, as I so often do, from Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin:
“So many men seem destined
To settle for something small
But I won’t rest until I know I’ll have it all
So don’t ask where I’m going
Just listen when I’m gone
And far away you’ll hear me singing
Softly to the dawn:
Rivers belong where they can ramble
Eagles belong where they can fly
I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free
Got to find my corner of the sky.”