Resources for Journalists Who Want To Learn To Code #JIConf

I’m at Journalism Interactive today, and this is a post with resources mentioned in our session on creating coder/journalists. 

First, The Journalist’s Learn To Code Resource Guide has 100+ free beginner resources.  

The two big ideas I mention in my session are The Three Skills and The Four Tests.  

The Three Skills

The fact is, much of the coding that journalism needs is not rocket science — you don’t need a computer science degree to learn them.  You can pick them up yourself.  You can get a very long way with the following three skills:  

  1. Map It.  Learn how to use MapBox and Google Fusion Tables and mesh that with the dataset of your choice. 
  2. Scrape It.  Learn how to write simple scripts to extract data from web pages and reformat it into something useful and surprising. 
  3. Grab It.  Learn how to write simple scripts to fetch data from the thousands of APIs (many sites, such as The New York Times, or services such as Twitter, have APIs that allow you to write simple scripts to make requests and get data without scraping).  

Here’s a 12 minute presentation I did on those three skills at TedxPoynter.

The most important question you can ask about learning to code is: “Why bother?”  I learned to code because a lot of things really piss me off.  

The Four Tests

There are always lots of projects and startups.  How do you pick one you won’t regret choosing?  Here are my four tests: 

  1. What can I do without anyone’s assistance or permission?  If I can’t even get started without lots of money or help, it might be a great project idea, but it’s probably not a great project idea FOR ME.  
  2. Everything about something.  The web rewards “narrow comprehensiveness,” or “everything about something.”  A site with a few restaurant reviews is nice; a site with all of them is Yelp.  What will you corner the market on, however small, or for however short a time? 
  3. Don’t do anything for free that you wouldn’t do for free indefinitely.   Startups are hard.  If your thought process is, “This will be really hard and unpleasant for awhile but then something magical will happen and it’ll be great and I’ll be rich,” stop right there.  You don’t love it enough.  Find something you really do love. 
  4. Relationships first.  I don’t take any job/project/startup if it dents even a minor relationship in a minor way.  My dad lived in an era where someone could work someplace thirty years and get a gold watch.  That era is gone.  Now, companies are like pets: we outlive them.  Your relationships should outlive (and be more valuable to you) than any job, project, or startup.  When it ends, it’s your friends and family who you go back to.  

Here’s a little bit more on The Four Tests.  

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    Read more at Lisa’s Tumblr!
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    Interesting notes;...I know my way through several databases,
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About Me

Lisa Williams

Founder of | Winner of Knight News Challenge | Center for Civic Media, MIT Media Lab | Cambridge, MA | @lisawilliams on Twitter | lisawilliams on Github