If you can’t bring journalists to the computer, then bring geeks to journalism

Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism is turning out its first group of graduates in a master’s program that teaches computer geeks to be journalists, according to Time magazine. The idea is to combine advanced programming for computer applications and other interactive tools with reporting and journalism — making data and databases an integral part of the news.

Here’s a paragraph from Medill’s master’s degree course catalog:

The Digital Innovation Project (JOUR 435-0, 435-1)
This project challenges students to answer a specific editorial business challenge by inventing interactive solutions, often with a focus on innovative content delivery. Editorial challenges sometimes are posed by partner media organizations, sometimes by faculty or students. Students in this project have explored new ways of designing content for handheld devices, and new ways of creating interactive community, and in one case wrote a new software program to help a news operation engage more closely with its community.

In other words, if the medium is the message, this is huge. It has potential to change the very nature of how journalists work and what they do. Especially since Medill isn’t alone; among other schools starting to turn out journalist programmers are University of Missoure, Georgia Tech and University of California at Berkeley, according to Time.

Imagine an investigative article on government judicial conflict-of-interest, for example, that includes an application allowing readers to conduct their own searches by judge, defendant and plaintiff.

That’s admittedly a utopian view of journalism creating ultimate and constructive transparency — something it’s always strived to do and has rarely, if ever, achieved.

Or, I suppose, it could go the other direction: creating a bunch of people writing about the programming nuances of WordPress v. Blogspot. Which would you rather see?

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