Computational thinking and the next generation of journalists


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  • Q for the audience: How many of you are double majors in computer science and journalism? … or thinking about it? … or at least taking some courses over there?
  • How I took the Dow Jones editing test, became a copy editor, and found that it propelled me into the right job at the right time at the right place — The Miami Herald.The lesson: you might have an idea of what you *want* to do in journalism, but be open to the ‘back doors’ that might take you to better places, and much faster and with greater financial success.
  • I wasn’t so vain as to order up a photo of myself while working. This was the Herald taking a picture of me for a guest column that I wrote about managing work, school, and family life. (All that little sleep. See how tired I look?)
  • If I were a college journalist today, I would be looking very closely at this “back door” of web development and journalism — while recognizing that, just as with my copy editing experience, it doesn’t always translate into a “writing” job later. In fact, it probably won’t. … But it’s about experiencing journalism from a different angle than the one you saw in “All the President’s Men.”
  • This is the toolbox that you hear so much about today: being about to shoot and edit video (on the fly), knowing the fundamentals of reporting and writing (of course), having a Web savvy with digital tools, practices, and hacks / code / etc. In short, being about to “do stuff” with journalism. … It’s also the fundamentals of gathering, filtering, distributing information; what kind of value do you bring to each of those processes? And how do digital tools enable to create greater value? … recognize that, in part, it’s the skill set that will set you apart: what you know relative to what others’ know.Think about the programmer-journalist today, the one who will fill the jobs listed on that previous slide: what do they need to know? how could you learn those things?
  • This is the other half of that coin: not only being able to “do stuff,” but having a sensibility about why, how, and when you might actually do those things. i.e., it’s not enough just to know how to use digital tools and techniques — you need to know why you engage in them the way you do. More crucially, the mind-set is about a certain openness and exploration, a willingness to try new things and iterate and evolve as you grow along the way. It’s a mind-set that journalism need not be constrained to a rigid set of “do” — it also has an experimental “be” to it (as in: what should journalism be? and how could I learn to make it such?).
  • This can be seen as reflecting a deeper order of both — a way of perceiving work that goes beyond both the openness described by “mind-set” and also beyond the practical tools of a programming “skill set.”
  • I got this idea from Greg Linch, a young journalist extraordinaire. I asked Greg: what do you wish you had heard back in college?His response: “I wish I'd learned more advanced coding skills things earlier; specifically in my case, Python/Django. I basically only knew HTML/CSS for the last 1.5 years of college -- started some JavaScript the summer after, then PHP the following winter. But, more important and fundamental was something I first learned about from Daniel and then delved more deeply into on my own” — computational thinking.
  • So, while computer science is the study of computation — what can be computed and how it can be computed — this type of thinking goes beyond that: in effect, applying the mind-set of computer science to problems outside computer science.
  • Often in j-school we talk about “thinking like a journalist?” but what would happen if we talked about: “thinking like a journalist … who also thought like a computer scientist?”
  • “When your daughter goes to school in the morning, she puts in her backpack the things she needs for the day; that’s prefetching and caching. When your son loses his mittens, you suggest he retrace his steps; that’s backtracking. At what point do you stop renting skis and buy yourself a pair?; that’s online algorithms. Which line do you stand in at the supermarket?; that’s performance modeling for multi-server systems. Why does your telephone still work during a power outage?; that’s independence of failure and redundancy in design…”From Greg Linch: It’s not about journalists becoming programmers, though that might be helpful, even on a limited basis. “It’s not about turning the reporting process into a rigid, scientific formula — journalism incorporates both art and science. It’s about taking the concepts, ideas, practices, etc. from different areas of thinking — including computation — and applying them to do better journalism.”Some examples from Greg: Debugging: This process of locating and correcting errors in a code is similar to copyediting (think for the webmaster-copy editor example). Bug and error reporting: When my browser crashes, it gives me the option to send an error report. When someone catches a factual error, we ask them to let us know. These two concepts already intersect with Scott Rosenberg’s MediaBugs, which launched in beta last week and allows users to report and discuss errors.
  • Computational thinking and the next generation of journalists

    1. 1. Computational thinking and the next generation of journalists<br />Seth C. Lewis<br />University of Minnesota–Twin Cities<br />ACP summer workshop keynote | July 22, 2011<br />@sethclewis<br />
    2. 2. what can computer science contribute to journalism?and vice versa?<br />
    3. 3. we’ll get to that, but first …a story about journalism jobs and entering through the ‘back door’<br />
    4. 4.
    5. 5. where the jobs are today<br />
    6. 6. “So, in summary, journalism folks: it is in your economic interests to learn how to make the internets.”— Andy Boyle, web developer for The Boston Globe<br />
    7. 7. so, um, how do we make the internets, you might ask?<br />
    8. 8. skill set<br />
    9. 9. mind-set<br />
    10. 10. computational thinking<br />
    11. 11. Greg Linchweb producer, The Washington Post@greglinch<br />
    12. 12. Greg’s skill setOnline: HTML and CSS; working knowledge of JavaScript, PHP, MySQL and XML; experienced in community management and engagement; proficient in producing and hosting podcasts; experienced in customizing and implementing SIMILE widgets.Software(Windows and Mac): WordPress, including basic theme customization with PHP; Final Cut Pro, Soundtrack Pro; Soundslides; Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator and working knowledge of Flash/basic AS3—from<br />
    13. 13. “Computational thinking involves solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior, by drawing on the concepts fundamental to computer science. Computational thinking includes a range of mental tools that reflect the breadth of the field of computer science.”— computer scientist Jeannette Wing(h/t Greg Linch)<br />
    14. 14. i.e., thinking like acomputer scientist<br />
    15. 15. computational thinking in the everyday …and computational thinking in journalism<br />
    16. 16. so, to sum up:* know the back door* know the interwebs* broaden your thinking* find the best of ‘outside’ and bring it ‘inside’ journalism<br />
    17. 17. thanks.questions?@sethclewis |<br />
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