My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Make room for a programmer at the news conference table

Still on the theme of newsroom technology I wanted to point to this post from Rich Gordon on Mediashift Idea Lab about a Knight Foundation initiative to grant journalism scholarships to computer programmers. He notes that Georgia Tech is already running a computational journalism course.

Every now and then I get the feeling another piece of the puzzle is fitting into place. This, I think, is another piece of the puzzle.

It's not uncommon to find the odd programmer in a newsroom - they're the folk who fix the broken widgets and figure out how to translate the editor's bright ideas into code. But there's often only one, they're often not on the editorial payroll and sometimes they're not even on the editorial floor but tucked away in an IT department cubicle.

But imagine if you had a programmer at the morning news conference or weekly planning session. Someone pitches a story, it gets tossed around the table - what can we do for the paper, what can we do for the web, what's the community potential? The picture ed pulls up some images on the screen, the reporter mentions some data he came across that's relevant and a news editor recalls previous stories that dovetail nicely and an old series of pics that would be perfect. Round the table you go, asking: Can we do this? Would that work better? Are we telling this story in the most compelling way?

Instead of having to scurry off and find someone to ask what's possible or, sigh, put in a request form, the programmer can say right then and there - no, that's going to take too long and I can't be sure it'll work properly, but I have a better idea and I can do it if you give me x, y and z.

Now the editors can allocate staff and tech resources accordingly. The editors know what they're getting for the web and the paper, the reporter knows what words and data are required by when, the designers can get to work and the pic editor can get researchers or the duty snapper on the case.

Ah, it's a lovely world in my head.

Rich Gordon sees 'journalism programmers' as creators of a new generation of newsroom tools. Here's his take on why that's so important:

"Many journalists just aren't comfortable with technology. And even if they learn to use technology tools successfully in their work, few want to delve deeply into the process of developing new technology. And most media organizations don't seem to value their programming staffs or involve them in the journalism process. Instead, their work supports back-end systems like payroll and billing.

"But there's also clearly a need to educate computer scientists about journalism, which is why what Georgia Tech is doing is so important. When computer scientists think about journalism, it seems they often are most interested in trying to create software that replicates what journalists do - or makes them unnecessary. Think Google News - or the Northwestern InfoLab's News at Seven, an automated system that generates TV news 'shows' by harvesting information from the Web, translating it into human speech and delivering it through avatars.

"Don't get me wrong - if an algorithm can truly replace what a journalist does, I'm happy to let a computer do the work. But I'm convinced that the most indispensable things that journalists do - reporting, interviewing, analyzing, writing and editing - need to be done by humans.

"I'm also convinced that most technology professionals just don't understand how journalists do their jobs, what makes them essential to a democratic society, or how technology is helping destroy the business model that has supported the creation of original journalism. I'd like to see computer science scholars and professionals thinking more deeply about how technology can help journalists do a better job, not just put them out of a job."


david santos said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.