You might think the principal coder behind PolitiFact took naturally to math. You’d be wrong.
I appear to have struck a nerve here. And that has me wondering — what now? How do journalists get better at math? What can be done?
I want to solve a journalism problem with a MakerBot. What is it?
I hate having a fantastic solution and no problem to solve. Being a solution in search of a problem sucks. I’m hoping to get students thinking about this in an open lab time I’m running. But seriously. I want a MakerBot. My gut says there’s a journalism problem to solve here. But I don’t know what it is yet.
In any software development project, you have a line in the sand called the Minimum Viable Product. It’s the point where you’ve got it working well enough and with enough features that the thing has a chance. Barely. It’s not a goal or a standard, it’s a marker of progress.
There’s been a bunch of debate about what journalism schools should be doing now to change curriculum in the face of disruption in the industry. It’s a good debate. I agree with some, have criticisms of others and view this whole “cram more into a degree” issue as a challenge not a lament.
But I was thinking about this like a software product manager the other day. Really I was stealing a line from Brian Boyer. Who is our audience? What are their needs? And that got me thinking of what are we trying to produce. Is there a conceptual framework we can work toward? Build a curriculum around?
Introducing the Minimum Viable Participant.
The Minimum Viable Participant is the baseline for a student journalist to take part in the digital future. It’s the bare minimum of skills they will need to be a part of modern journalism, and what it will become in the future.
So what does the Minimum Viable Participant need to know? Well, this quickly turns into a Rorschach test for whatever particular flavor of digital media is your bag, but let’s take a stab at this. In no particular order, the Minimum Viable Participant in the digital future of media should…
The Minimum Viable Participant needs to be curious, industrious and knowledgeable about how the online world works. They need to be these things so they can take advantage of it, or hack it, to get stuff done. They need to learn how to learn, especially in our modern times with MOOCs and free lessons and tutorial videos absolutely flooding the internet. I can’t tell you how many professionals have said we need to teach a class in how to search for the information you need. So, fine, let’s teach a class in how to learn.
Having an eye on the product — Who are our users? What are their needs? — should be the main basis of all curricular developments (though it often isn’t, which is a subject for another time). So before we decide what classes to teach, what are the answers to those questions? What does the Minimum Viable Participant in the digital future look like?