Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Programmers and designers aren't real journalists (or so it seems)

The screenshot at the bottom of this post is from a recent book, Saving the Media. I wonder if the author, Julia Cagé, bothered to meet with a proper sample of those “computer specialists” and “Java” (Java? Perhaps she meant to write “Javascript”?) and ask them what they do, and how they do it.

She may have been be surprised when talking to some visual and data journalists at places like ProPublica, Berliner Morgenpost, Zeit Online, FiveThirtyEight, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, LA Times, and so many others. They do reporting —hey, they even talk to sources, they don't just stare at their computers all day!— and, besides, they know how to code and design multimedia stories, infographics, and data visualizations.

Moreover, the work of some of these “digital” journalists is central to investigations nowadays. Data journalism isn't in conflict with investigative reporting. They are merging with each other. And the causal relationship suggested here —investigative and international reporters are been fired so news organizations can hire developers— is fallacious.

The lines below are out of touch with actual journalism. The book reminds me of a time when the only people who could claim to be real journalists were writers who produced stories. The rest, the jazzy interactive graphics and databases devised by those “Java” (Java?) folks at the corner of the newsroom? Fun embellishments that may “promote a better understanding of the news,” but that are mere complements to real journalism.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis has a review of the entire book. It's worth reading. This other critique is quite polite, but what it reveals is appalling: notice the part about Thomas Piketty.


  1. I like what you are saying about the fields merging. I'm curious how this situation will play out. My observation is that programmers tend toward introversion and journalists generally seem to be extroverts. My second observation is that programmers cost more than writers (which is how I became a programmer).

    Investigative reporting seems more difficult to me. The journalist I saw who were better at it where able to work with people and probably are better at the shoe-leather reporting that the author describes. I agree when you say "show me the data" is important but I also see the value in going to where the story is and talking to people. Just makes me wonder if some of that will become a lost art or left to the larger media outlets.

  2. People just don't realize how much roles overlap nowadays.