Programming, the newest addition to journalists’ essential toolkit

By Ashley Crockett

The ever-expanding journalist toolkit just got a new addition: programming. This one word actually lumps together several things, such as data coding and proficiency in multiple Adobe programs.

The importance of a single reporter knowing how to write, film, and photograph is still settling in as an expected part of journalism, and right on its heels is the growing necessity to know how to present the finished products. For a journalist to be competitive, it really isn’t enough anymore to just report the news.

Sean Gallagher, who has worked for The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, recently asked a group of student journalists if they knew any programming languages. Not a single hand went up. What about Flash? A few timid hands rose. Photoshop? Every arm in the room shot up.

Those three questions, he said, are the exact questions he always asked potential new reporters during interviews. Even knowing just one of the three gives applicants an advantage over the countless other resumes employers skim through.

Having multiple skill sets also provides more job security. If a journalist has great reporting skills coupled with computer know-how, they’re much more valuable to a current employer and much more appealing for future employment.

Another benefit of knowing programming is the basic understanding of how online journalism is presented to the audience. Knowing the possibilities and limits of web-based reporting opens the door for more innovation of story preparation and presentation.

Journalists, young and old, should at the very least equip themselves with some knowledge of HTML/CSS and Actionscript for Flash. Online tutorials are widely available, or you can check if workshops are offered in your area. Free classes are available to University of Missouri students, faculty and staff through the Department of Information Technology.

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