Note to aspiring media people: learn the workings behind t’interweb

Charles Arthur’s one piece of advice to aspiring journalists: learn to code. To which I’d say “Oh, God. Yes. Do.”

Ok, there are probably other pieces of advice that are equally as useful. But in the current climate, it’s as good a place to start as any.

There are many reasons why this makes sense. Like it or not, the media is increasingly looking for jack-of-all trades. Like it or not, there won’t be as many journalists around to do the work required of them. If you can work across as many platforms as possible (I’d also advise journalists to learn TV production techniques as well) then you have an advantage.

With journalism increasingly online (vague description, but as the media still hasn’t quite worked out where it’s going, it’ll do), it helps to have a knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes [1]. It’s not vital, it just helps.

Secondly, and this will sound a little woolly, assuming you company’s website is easy enough to tinker around with, it’ll enable you to do some seriously cool journalism-related stuff very quickly, without having to get somebody from IT to help.

Charles uses maps mashups as a good example. There’ll undoubtedly be blogs or other sites producing these; people will find them useful, they’ll search for them. It makes sense to have them available as quickly as possible.

Most importantly, Charles talks about how coding can save you enormous amount of time on assorted amount of journalism jobs – subbing, formatting, pulling in data, and the like. This comment neatly explains why setting up assorted coded bits and pieces can be so useful. Anything that saves time without cutting quality in the media these days is beyond useful.

I’d expand what Charles says to anybody in the media. With a work hat on (PR) I’m often asked about assorted bits and bobs that are web-centric and would be very cool indeed if we’re able to pull them off. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t.

And it’s at these times I wish I knew more about coding and had made an effort  to learn when I had more free time.

I can understand HTML, if not exactly to the extent that I’m confident enough to build stuff with it. I have a VERY basic understanding of CSS. And, er, that’s about it. A lot of what Charles is talking about on there has gone over my head, I’m afraid.

Yet this has given me enough freedom to tinker about and makes some neat and useful tweaks when needed. If I knew more, I’d happily sit away coding to produce cool bits and pieces.

Even if coding isn’t something you’re going to use on a regular basis, it’s still a piece of knowledge that could be (and is becoming increasingly) useful.

The downside: you’re regularly cited as an authority on anything technical. And try as I might, fixing a photocopier using any other method than kicking it, is, sadly, beyond me.

[1] So many print journalists I know have a fairly in-depth knowledge of their production process, which I find fascinating. And radio journalists have to get up to speed on basic broadcast engineering pretty quickly – because that desk or playout system will always fail at 5am in the morning and NEVER when the IT department have a quiet moment.

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1 Response to “Note to aspiring media people: learn the workings behind t’interweb”


  1. 1 Craig McGill January 21, 2009 at 12:34 am

    Disagree on this one: let the reporters report and let the coders code. If reporters learn ‘just enough’ you can beat that beancounters will start chopping back and then you’re going to have reporters doing another job – and they have plenty to do at the moment.


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