There’s been buzz in the techie journalism community about the new master’s program that Columbia University unveiled yesterday. In five semesters, students will be able to graduate with a dual master’s in journalism (two semesters) and computer science (three semesters).
The program is touted as the first of its kind. Northwestern has had a programmer-journalist program (which includes sweet tuition waivers), but it seeks to attract programmers who want to learn about journalism instead of the other way around. As someone with a disproportionate number of nerdy friends, I can say that journalism isn’t exactly the first career field that springs to mind when computer geeks hit the job market.
I will say that I’m jealous of the 15 journalism students who are going to get three solid semesters of computer science. But a year and a half really doesn’t seem like enough time to go from n00b to code monkey. And two semesters of journalism training hardly seems enough for someone with no journalism background, especially for the kind of journalist that does the sort of in-depth research so often accompanied by programming skills.
Michelle Minkoff, a recent Northwestern grad, notes on her blog that she was able to learn programming and computer skills at Medill by being willing to pursue it herself. I agree with her when she says that self-reliance is completely necessary in a field where everything’s changing. (The HTML I learned as an undergrad was outdated when I learned it. I’d be screwed if I never educated myself about the XML, for instance, and I’m starting to learn HTML5 now.) Programs that don’t stress an attitude of continuing self-education are going to produce lazy coders. Lazy coders aren’t going to worry about best practices or keep up to date with new developments.
But the impact of Columbia’s decision goes beyond merely providing a smoother path for students. The really big deal here is that one of the most respected journalism schools in the nation has just laid its blessing upon pro-jos.
It’s more than education reform. It’s validation. This move signals that coders might finally be moving from the dark recesses of the newsroom into the respectable light of day. News organizations might finally start realizing that coder-journalists aren’t mutant freaks: They’re the future.
Everyone who’s for the future, join me in urging other journalism schools to forge relationships with their universities’ computer science departments. While the education is what you’re willing to make it, having administrators who understand the importance of such partnerships is priceless.