Posted by: structureofnews | September 18, 2010

Seeking Truth From Facts

Just a short post to mention this NYT Magazine article on the move towards more computer science in journalism.  This isn’t all that new; but it does speak to how journalists should master – or at least understand – what new tools they can deploy, on top of all the old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting and interviewing skills that they should have.

It’s getting to be a more and more technical profession, but that’s good in a way, at least for those of us who want to keep standards high and find a role in a world where everyone can publish (which, for the record, is generally a good thing.) Keeping abreast of the latest developments and tools keeps journalists sharper, and leads in the end to better work.

One of the best things about the new tools is that they really push journalists to dig out facts, data and statistics to back up stories.  Interviews and anecdotes are great, and are of course at the core of much of what we do, but memories can be faulty and hidden biases can be, well, hidden.  It’s generally much harder to quarrel with a solid analysis of documents and numbers.  And that’s what the new tools excel at.



  1. and there are more and more IT/Tech people coming to journalism too… Just met one tonight who did IT before and now come to JMSC… (ah, I didn’t expect to meet JMSC people everywhere, even in a hidden bar!)

    it will become more and more interesting to see what kind of fresh air those tech geeks can bring to journalism … must be amazing changes.

  2. There needs to be more of a tripartite gathering – of journalists, technologists and business types – so that we can bring expertise about information, tools to get and deliver it, and ideas about how to make the endeavor sustainable.

    Getting hacks and hackers together is great, as is business people and journos; but we need all three in the same room.

  3. Like you say, this is a enduring trend, but one that could/should accelerate. There are many well-trained journalists today who still think that the “mechanics” of online publishing are someone else’s duty.


    When I started in the business, I remember working with reporters and especially photographers who knew enough about the printing presses at The Sun that they knew where they needed to be to get the right mix of light and dark to make sure their story made a section front. What a headline needed to be to make it on to the bib for street hawkers at Camden Yards.

    Today, some of the best journalists have left organized newsrooms and based on their understanding of online publishing mechanics and their journalist expertise have built important new niche media businesses.

    Really does raise q question of what is the right mix and length of a professional journalism degree? How do you balance tech skills and understanding with core journalism skills and what exactly are core journalism skills.

    • The whole journalism education question is a very pertinent one, and one that’s keeping faculties everywhere up at night.

      Too much tech, and not enough time for basic journalism, and you get tool-savvy graduates who aren’t journalists; too much old-fashioned journalism and not enough new tools, and you turn out people more attuned to another age; plus what about making sure they know enough about business models and new paradigms? And could we fit this in a 9-month program?

      In many ways, it’s asking too much – imagine if engineering programs were also expected to cover entrepreneurship, business models, ethics, new tools, and the basics.

      But then again, engineering isn’t in the middle of a tectonic upheaval. Ultimately, it may be that schools have to pick something to specialize mostly in, while giving the basics, and not try to cover all the ground.

  4. When I was working in Hong Kong, I argued that
    business, rather than conventional political reporting was the best way to interrogate power in the SAR. But it needed to be business reporting empowered by what we used to call Computer assisted reporting.
    Our journalism school in Australia specialises in advanced reporting (call it investigative journalism if you like). We teach high level technical skills in text, audio, television and internet. But technology becomes obsolete. Journalists need to be able to think, question and report. Our courses centre on journalism’s core values; accuracy, accountability, transparency and ethics. See:

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