By Claudia Cruz
The UNITY 2012 Convention has brought journalists to Las Vegas from across the country for professional development, networking and in search of job opportunities.
And lately, media companies find themselves in search of more than just a multi-platform journalist with great writing skills. They also consider journalists versed in website development, analytics and other technical jobs.
“We’ll look at a journalist web developer with a sports background,” said Beth Rogers, part of the human resources team at ESPN. “Yes, they would be an asset but we haven’t seen too many.”
At the exhibit hall of the south convention center of the Mandalay Bay Hotel that housed the various recruiters at UNITY, job postings included CMS web developer and front-end web developer positions at the Boston Globe. Fox News had an opening for an Application Developer and though Patch.com sought editors, positions on their website include several for engineers.
But the usefulness of writing code is not limited to the development of a media company’s digital presence or for tracking the number of or engagement of users. A journalist who can tack on that skill can be a valuable asset in the newsroom.
“They are able to think better directly about the readers, which are in the end our customers,” said Joyce Terhaar, executive editor and senior vice president of The Sacramento Bee.
Terhaar explained that The Bee’s tech team—which includes former journalists—sits in the newsroom and that the news team works very closely with them, especially during election period. In addition to their help with the interactive election guide, they became instrumental in helping voters access election results in 2010 when the California Secretary of State’s website went down because of an overload.
“The tech team was on it,” she said. “And it might not have been the same if there weren’t there.”
In foresight of the change in the demands and interests of media companies, journalism schools have begun to include in their curriculum courses that teach students how to code. The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism has introduced coding, web visualization, web design and other advance skills. But so have Columbia University School of Journalism, Emerson College among others.
“There is demand within the journalism program to add a web development class,” said Bill Abbate, an admissions officer with Emerson College.
The evolution in both undergraduate and graduate journalism programs not only reflects the need in the industry, but the skills that new journalists already have.
“Many of our journalism students are digital natives,” said Allysson Hill, dean of admissions at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “They already know so much stuff and are able to apply it to the workplace.”
According to Terhaar, some of the best journalism programs, like the USC Annenberg School, have started to adapt to this new digital news space. Some even align their computer science and journalism departments, she added.
“Once those kids come out, they’ll have a different perspective and will propel our industry forward,” Terhaar said.