Why train programmers as journalists?

Over at IdeaLab, Rich Gordon shares his exit interview with Brian Boyer and Ryan Mark, the first two programmers to earn a Master’s degree through Medill’s Knight News Challenge-funded scholarship.

Because it’s fucking important.

Thanks to the News Challenge, I’ve had the chance to meet Brian and Ryan and hang out with them a bit. Frankly, they’re excellent at what they do, and they have the ideals to match. So, who will have the vision to hire these guys? A major metro in Chicago? (And should they take a job at a major metro?) Non-profits digging through public data like the Sunlight Foundation? (Gordon reports that Boyer has a temporary gig at ProPublica for starters.)

Gordon asked the two graduates the important question that other programmers/coders/developers should consider:

“Why should someone with solid programming skills consider a master’s degree in journalism?

Mark: Because journalism needs them. There are so many tech-capable people in journalism, but few who have logged the time to understand computer science and software development. A person who does not want to just write code for whoever pays them, and actually come up with and execute interesting software projects, the journalism experience will help you. This program got me out of my element and gave me first hand experience that will help me relate to others in the field when i’m not elbow deep in code.

Boyer: Because it’s fucking important. Cable television and the Web disrupted the business models of the big, important journalism organizations: newspapers. Now, the importance of a daily paper is debatable, but that democracy requires journalism to function is not. And so, for the sake of democracy itself, it is imperative that more nerds join the fight to save the news. We need to invent new business models, reinvent the newspaper, and create new forms of media. Plus, an all-expense-paid trip to graduate school in sunny Chicago, Illinois, is also a very nice way to weather a recession. And the smart, passionate classmates make for some pretty good parties and great conversation.”

I’m psyched to follow where these two land, and what the next group of programmer/journalist grad students builds.

Think you’ve got the chops to help save journalism?  Apply.

[I posted pieces of this as a shared Google Reader item last night when I saw Rich’s post. You can see all my shared stuff and notes about it over on FriendFeed if that’s what you’re into.]