Most schools have some kind of computer science program. Some educators have proposed partnering with these departments.
One of them is Houston, at the University of Illinois. He said he hasn’t crafted a course that combines journalism and computer science, but he has offered credit for journalism students who take computer science courses, or had some CS professors stop by for guest lectures. “You can reach across campus to get people who do more advanced or sophisticated things,” he said.
Lindsey Cook organized one such course while she was a student at the University of Georgia. “It wasn’t continued after the semester I tried it, which was the one before I graduated,” said Cook, who now works at USNews. “It did convince me that such an approach could work, though.”
She said one challenge educators face with this approach is convincing journalism students that computer science skills really do apply to them. She quoted what she called the “lazy stereotype” of journalists being bad at math. She said that throws up barriers for students who “have been told by everyone (they) admire in journalism that you don’t need math, when that’s not the reality of the field.”
[pullquote align=right]You can reach across campus to get people who do more advanced or sophisticated things.[/pullquote]
Jones, who teaches at the New School, said she makes a point of explaining how she came to love these tools. “I think a lot of the students are really afraid of data and the numbers, and I, too, was once like that,” she said. “They’ll leave having had exposure to data terms and, I hope, leaving with at least the knowledge that this is a really important skill that anybody can learn.”
This is the main benefit to such an approach: exposure. “Students don’t necessarily get exposed to data unless they take a data class as an elective or it’s part of their interest area,” said Herzog, at Missouri. “There’s still slightly a mindset that data is for people with more tech skills as opposed to journalists who want to deepen their research skills. … It really does take a lot of evangelism.”
Matt Waite is the data evangelist at his school, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications. He said one of his goals is simply to expose journalism students to the possibilities with data, carrying out a campaign for “hearts and minds.”
The core journalism classes at UNL don’t include a data component, Waite said, but they do have a math component for calculations like percent change. “My thought was, ‘Let’s just extend that a little bit further,’” he said. “Let’s use a spreadsheet instead of a calculator.”
Waite holds regular open labs that he calls Maker Hours, open to any student at the university — not just journalism students. He said the attendees vary from week to week, but the purpose is the same: to provide students with an outlet to experiment with technology. “It’s just kind of free-form and open,” he said.
Coronel said Columbia also makes a special effort to provide students with office hours, usually held by TAs or volunteers. “You only have so much classroom time to look at specific problems,” she said. Office hours let the students work out kinks and keep them from falling behind in class.
Cheryl Phillips, one of the authors of the Columbia report and a professor at Stanford, suggested a J-school could also partner with a CS department just for a project, like a map or other visualization. “They just have to figure out how to tailor it to journalists,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity there.”