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No, journalists shouldn't need to learn to code. They need better tools.

Aaron Chimbel, over on PBS MediaShift:

At most universities, students are required to take English composition courses, and at many others speech and/or foreign language classes are also required. Yet in the debate about teaching code in journalism programs, code is often reduced to a shiny toy.

I've argued before that learning to code is not the same as being a coder, and that some degree of digital literacy is useful in a world that is slowly being eaten by software. Most recently, that was shown by the Silk Road trial, where a single investigator found the marketplace's founder using a simple Google search, two years into the investigation.

An understanding of how to put a live website together is handy. For a long time, I was a subscriber to the NICAR-L list, a mailing list full of journalists discussing computer-assisted reporting. It's often about things like embedding an OpenStreetMap map using Leaflet, or otherwise wiring up a simple dataset to a visualization. A little light JavaScript hacking, and perhaps some HTML and CSS.

It's actually pretty similar to the kinds of things Erin did when she visualized her Known checkins. (Known exports checkins as both KML and GeoRSS.) And while it's fun to do this kind of tinkering, and is quite a long way away from coding, I don't think it's good enough.

Journalists, and people like them, need better software, which makes these links more obvious. Taking location data from a platform like Known and bringing it into Google Maps or OpenStreetMap should be a one-click (or drag) operation. For us, that'll become more important later this year, when we release more data-centric tools. But it should be a given for everyone. You shouldn't need to know an arcane URL parameter, or understand that KML exists, to be able to manipulate your data in the way that you need.

We spend so much time talking about data that's locked in through business models and terms and conditions that sometimes we forget about data that's locked through design decisions. Letting your data flow freely is part of an open web.