Cherubs explore future of journalism technology

Journalism has advanced from paper and pen to include coding, audio, video, and photos. Graphic by Esther Song.

Sammi Handler had never coded before coming to the Medill cherubs program. When she arrived, she decided to participate in Code Off, an optional Sunday club where cherubs learn coding basics.

“In college I will continue to study computer science,” Handler said. “It’s important to know how to code and to know how to add interactive things to your story. It makes readers want to read it more, and that’s the goal.”

Journalism continues to change, and the increase of coding is one example. As technology advances, so does the demand for faster, more engaging news, Jackie Sussman said.

“It’s narrow-minded to think that journalism is just writing and reporting because increasingly that is not what it will be in the field,” Sussman said. “Anyone can write. Anyone can report, not well, but they can get the news out there. What sets journalists apart in the 21st century is that we can do the same news but make it easy to package in an aesthetically pleasing and interactive way.”

Sussman said she sees journalism moving toward using computer science because coding and algorithmic programs will add to the field.

“It’s stupid not to tap into that evolution and follow the wave that is a technological revolution,” Sussman said.

Tom Giratikanon, a graphics editor at The New York Times and guest instructor, uses computer science to create powerful interactive graphics to engage readers. With the rise in technology, journalists have more tools to tell their stories, Giratikanon said.

Modern technology allows journalists to use photos, videos, audio, algorithms and graphics to illustrate their stories. There are even stories written by computers rather than humans, Giratikanon said.

“It’s hopefully made stories better for readers,” he said. “There are a lot more ways to engage the reader, but it’s a lot more work for journalists to think about all the multimedia options.”

Though journalism is becoming more technologically complicated, Giratikanon said reporting remains the most important skill for a future journalist to master. He added that the ability to adapt and learn fast is also important.

Haley Hinkle, an instructor and teacher of Code Off, said potential journalists benefit when they try coding and design.

“There is no one skill set that is the magic key to being the perfect intern or young reporter,” Hinkle said. “If you take the time, especially while you’re in school, to pick up some coding and learn some design skills, it can make you much more efficient, desirable and hireable as a journalist.”

Hinkle and Sussman agreed computers will continue to play a large role in journalism. But Hinkle said journalism is also spreading across new channels such as Snapchat and Facebook Live. She added that future journalists are going to work on engaging their audiences on new mobile platforms.

Sussman said the increase of computer science and technology will make journalism more inspiring and interactive for audiences.

“With interactive graphics, you can transport the reader to the scene and that is more powerful than anything we can write,” Sussman said. “What else can propagate change more?”