[This review was originally posted at the Nieman Journalism Lab on Oct. 25, 2013.]
What coding skills should journalists learn?
: Another round of the ongoing "Should journalists learn to code?" argument sprang up this week, though this iteration yielded some more thoughtful reflections on the subject than usual. The discussion started with a piece by The Atlantic global editor Olga Khazan
arguing that journalism schools shouldn't require students to learn to code, because if you want to be a reporter, coding "will only waste time that you should have been using to write freelance articles or do internships—the real factors that lead to these increasingly scarce positions."
The story unleashed a torrent of discussion on Twitter (much of it helpfully Storified
by journalism professor Mindy McAdams) about whether (and what) journalism students should learn to code. Several people also published longer pieces rebutting Khazan's argument, the most insightful of which was written by Knight-Mozilla OpenNews fellow Noah Veltman
, who distinguished between different reasons for learning technology and demystified the process of learning to code. "Learning to code is not all or nothing," he wrote. It's "not like learning calculus, with some big fixed corpus of knowledge you need to absorb. It’s more like learning to be handy around the house."
David Holmes of PandoDaily put together a helpful flowchart
for journalists on whether and what they should learn to code. Paul Bradshaw
of Birmingham City University and City University London and Mark Hansen
of Columbia both argued that the knowledge of basic code is part of developing a fundamental understanding of the digital world in which journalists work and live.
Here at the Lab, USC's Robert Hernandez approached the issue from the journalism school's perspective
, as did Digital First's Steve Buttry
. Hernandez said USC's digital courses are designed to "teach more than just a language or how to use software — those are just tools. These courses use those tools to teach you how to think, how to problem solve, how to MacGyver a solution while on deadline." Buttry argued that coding should be part of a well-rounded education that j-schools provide, and it provides value to employers that can be essential in getting jobs.
AP fires three over reporting error
: The Associated Press fired one of Virginia's top political reporters
, Bob Lewis, and two editors
this week, stirring up anger both in the Virginia political scene and in parts of the journalism world as well. Lewis reported earlier this month that Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe lied a federal investigator after misidentifying him in court documents; the story was quickly retracted.
The candidate's spokesman said he considered the story "water under the bridge
," and as Politico's Dylan Byers reported, several Virginia politicians and journalists were stunned that the firing, questioning its appropriateness. A bipartisan group of Virginia's top elected officials announced plans for a reception
in the fired journalists' honor, and the News Media Guild — the union that represents AP journalists — called for their reinstatement
The Washington Post's Paul Farhi talked to journalism professors
who were also surprised at the firings over an honest mistake. “If everyone who made a mistake was fired for it, we’d have empty newsrooms,” said Oregon's Scott Maier. Gawker's Hamilton Nolan made a similar point
and added that the mistake was caught and quickly corrected: "The thing that allows the AP to maintain its credibility is not that it never makes mistakes, nor that it fires everyone associated with mistakes, but that when it does make mistakes, it corrects the mistakes as quickly and completely as possible. That was done here,"
On the other hand, The Washington Post's Erik Wemple argued
that the AP's firings were defensible, given the seriousness of Lewis' error and the lack of sourcing, though he said the AP owes the public a better explanation. Poynter's Craig Silverman looked for a pattern
in what journalistic offenses prompted firing and found a lot of inconsistency. Lewis' situation seemed to fit the cases that tend to earn a reprieve, though his error did receive substantial media attention before his firing.
Billionaires diving into journalism
: We don't have any new details this week about the new journalistic venture announced last week
by The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, but a good amount of commentary about the move continued to trickle in. NYU's Jay Rosen, who broke news
of much of what's known about the new effort, talked to On the Media's Brooke Gladstone
about the similarity of this new organization's principles to the ones that drove the muckraking movement a century ago.
Greenwald gotten plenty of scrutiny over the past few months for his U.S. National Security Agency reporting, so much of the focus this past week was on Omidyar's role. The Observer's Dominic Rushe examined Omidyar's history
in tech and journalism, and Adrienne LaFrance, a former reporter at Omidyar's Honolulu Civil Beat, explained
why her experience with Omidyar there made her optimistic about his commitment to aggressive journalism in service of democracy.
Several others linked Omidyar with other billionaires diving into journalism in recent years. Industry analyst Alan Mutter broke down the differences
between Omidyar's approach and those of Warren Buffett with small newspapers and Jeff Bezos with The Washington Post, characterizing Omidyar as more of a pioneer than the other two because of build-from-scratch vision. The New York Times' David Carr discussed the marriage
between the utopianism of the tech and journalism industries through Bezos and Omidyar, stating that "In more than a decade of covering the news end of the media business, I cannot think of a time of greater optimism or potential."
The Times also published a fuller version of Carr's interview with Omidyar
. PandoDaily's Hamish McKenzie looked at that interview
to note that Omidyar's plans are a long way from the listicle- and pageview-dominated model that's prominent right now. Tom Foremski of ZDNet argued
that billionaire ventures like Omidyar's won't be the answer for journalism; the only thing that will save it is not pouring money into it, he said, but developing a sustainable business model that can apply across the industry.
David Pogue heads to Yahoo
: The New York Times' tech columnist, David Pogue, one of the most prominent tech writers in the U.S., announced
this week he's leaving The Times after 13 years for Yahoo. Pogue told Forbes' Jeff Bercovici
he wasn't unhappy at The Times, but jumped to Yahoo because of its offer of publishing freedom, opportunities for creativity in online media, and extremely broad reach.
Joan Solsman of CNET gave some of the basic background
of the move for Pogue and Yahoo, and Bloomberg Businessweek's Joshua Brustein noted
that Pogue isn't departing The Times for some scrappy upstart, but for another big media outlet, similar to fellow Times defector Nate Silver's move to ESPN. Matt Wilstein of Mediaite saw the defections as a blow to The Times' influence
, but the Lab's Ken Doctor said The Times may just use the money
it invested in Pogue for something less sexy but at least as effective. On Yahoo's side, Wired's Ryan Tate tied the move
to the recent rush of tech giants back into content.
NSA leak coverage and commentary
: The revelations of the past week stemming from Edward Snowden's leak of the U.S. National Security Agency's surveillance documents centered on the U.S. spying on its allies — on French phone and Internet traffic
, Mexican president Felipe Calderon's email
, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone
Conversation continued to circulate regarding the leak itself and the journalism stemming from it, as well. Newsweek
and The Advocate
both published sympathetic profiles of Glenn Greenwald regarding his reporting on the leaked documents, with the Newsweek piece noting that a big part of the reason Greenwald is leaving The Guardian is the stricter British law regarding government power to protect secrets.
Here in the U.S., The Washington Post's Richard Cohen publicly changed his mind
on Snowden, arguing that he "may have been technically disloyal to America but not, after some reflection, to American values." Meanwhile, some brief research published in the Columbia Journalism Review
suggested that American media tends to be pro-surveillance in its description of the story, and Dave Winer urged the tech press
to direct its energies toward surveillance. In the U.K., The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland chastised Parliament
for its inaction on British spying revelations, and The Observer's John Naughton criticized the public
for its indifference to the same.
: Stories were popping up left and right this week. Here are a few smaller ones you may have missed:
— NPR's David Folkenflik's book on Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. empire was published this week. You can read an excerpt
on the birth of Fox News at Salon, an interview with Folkenflik
at IdeaStream, and smart, thorough reviews at the Los Angeles Times
and The Daily Beast
. A few of the stories that bubbled up this week out of the book: Fox News' use of fake commenting accounts
to attack critical blog posts, its leaking false information to a reporter
who was working on a negative story on them in order to discredit him, and stifling of Wall Street Journal reporters' efforts
to cover News Corp.'s phone hacking scandal.
— The Pew Research Center and Knight Foundation released a study
on news consumption on Facebook, finding that it's common but incidental there, and doesn't tend to displace other news consumption. The Lab's Justin Ellis has a good review of insights
from the study, and Forbes' Jeff Bercovici said it offers an explanation
of why news on Facebook often feels so "random, repetitive and over-filtered."
— Discussion continues to swirl around the proposed U.S. federal media shield law. Law professor David Pozen
(con) and the Newspaper Association of America's Sophia Cope
(pro) debated the law's necessity and effectiveness, and researchers Jonathan Peters and Edson Tandoc Jr. argued
that defining a journalist is necessary despite its messiness, while paidContent's Mathew Ingram said we need to build a definition around acts of journalism
, rather than journalists. Elsewhere in media law, The Wall Street Journal reported
on the broadcasting company Sinclair's legal but questionable tactics to skirt media consolidation regulations, and Free Press issued a report
on the recent wave of mergers in broadcasting.
— Finally, a couple of interesting pieces on trends in digital news: Journalism.co.uk's Rachel Bartlett took a deep dive into personalization at news sites
, and French media analyst Frederic Filloux looked at the article as a gateway to other news forms
, rather than the basic news form itself.