Journalism students vs. tech-focused students

Here in my first semester on the faculty at the Harvard of the Plains, I get to work with students in both the College of Journalism and Mass Communications and the Raikes School for Computer Science and Management. With both groups of students, I’m working through problems that can be described as technology+journalism = ??

When confronted with a code challenge — HTML, JavaScript, Python/Django whatever — I have noticed student reactions can be classified thusly:

Journalism student: I can’t do this. This is impossible. I’ll never get this. 

Tech oriented student: I can’t do this now, but learning how is just a matter of time and effort, so no worries.

At first, I just blew off the journalism student’s reluctance as a different strain of the “journalists can’t do math” disease that has never been cured. But the more I think about it, the more I worry.

I strongly believe that the future of journalism requires journalists who can program — who can work in, construct, manipulate and advance digital distribution of content and information. The future of the industry needs technologists as well, probably more than technologists need journalism, but my focus is getting journalists elbow deep into the tools that will shape their future.

I’ve always hated the newsroom culture of almost celebrating math ignorance. For an industry that prides itself on being smart, to turn around and glorify ignorance is dumb. And to continue to push that self-selection just calcifies ignorance and weakens journalism.

But if that same math-is-hard self-selection extends to code, then we’ve got a serious problem.

The question on my mind is what to do about it? How can we bring a little more “just a matter of time” swagger to journalism students?