Should journalists learn computer code? That’s a controversial question at the moment. The general consensus seems to be that today’s journalists need at least a basic level of technical literacy so when they team up with developers, they can better understand the language they speak. To get journalists up to speed, onMedia has prepared an overview of the best websites to help learn how to write code without having to turn into a hard-core programmer.
The debate about whether journalists need to learn to code has been simmering for a while now but an article by Olga Khazan for The Altlantic triggered a heated discussion all over again at the end of 2013. For a more considered opinion, read these articles by respected educator Mindy McAdams and developer and journalist Noah Veltman. Whether you just want to make yourself more technically literate or want to increase your knowledge of computer languages, then the list below will help you get started.
If you have no idea what <html> means, how websites function or how you can embed Google search or Instagram streams on your blog, then Coding for GOOD is for you. The website integrates links to online resources such as Codecademy, W3schools or Google Maps API documentation (which you may need in order to create your own customized maps) to help you learn to code. At the end of every section it has a step-by-step challenge where you do the coding yourself. The course solves the frequent problem of beginners not knowing where to start. Coursera Coursera is an educational technology company that now offers over 500 free courses in different fields. To learn the basics of programming, take a look at the courses “Learn to Program: the Fundamentals” and “Programming Languages.” Check out more courses here. Recently, Coursera also started to offer specializations, which are collections of several paid courses devoted to one topic. If you want to dig deeper into data analysis and statistics (which is an extremely useful skill for data journalists), have a look at the specialization “Data Science” offered by John Hopkins University.
Khan Academy is a good starting point if you want to learn some programming fundamentals. In the course “Python Programming,” you’ll learn the basics of this programming language and will know enough to be able to talk to developers in their language.
Co-founded by Silicon Valley demigod Sebastian Thrun (who’s helping build Google’s driverless car and Google Glass), Udacity is one of the biggest providers of massive open online courses. The company recently changed its focus to offering courses under a monthly payment scheme, but says it will still make free course content available.
School of Data is not actually about coding. The courses posted here are rather about how to crunch numbers, extract and clean your data. While doing it, you will learn some algorithms which will be helpful to understand programming as well. Learning is very task oriented and hands on, which is a great way to get the basic idea of how a particular tool can be used without going into detail. The course in data journalism will be especially interesting for reporters working with programmers.
At Treehouse, you can learn how to how to build websites and apps, write code or start a business. The website operates on a subscription model which means you pay either $25 or $49 a month for access to videos and tutorials. You can also practice live with the code challenge engine. They offer a free trial to see if it works for you. Also, the Treehouse team has created a coding game called CodeRacer so you can learn code in a fun way and compete with your friends.
If you want to dig deeper into coding and creating websites and apps, you can also check out tutorials at Code School, the Google Developers University Consortium, Learn Code the Hard Way, HTML5 Rocks and LearnStreet.
If you are not sure coding is something for you or just want to have a try without enrolling into an online course, try out the short tutorial “Hour of Code” by the Khan Academy. Within an hour, you will learn enough programming to create your own computer-generated drawings. The course gives useful insights into how programming actually works.
Also, check out “The Journalist’s ‘Learn to Code’ Resource Guide” with a collection of learn-to-program resources and recommendations regarding free books and online tutorials.