Nine years ago I left the corn fields of middle Miami County, Indiana to study computer science at Purdue University.
Little did I know I’d become a journalist.
After a few semesters studying Java, C, C#, Objective-C, C++, systems architecture, machine learning, logic, etc. (to name a few), I learned that everyone around me wanted to build video games. I did not want to do that. So, as any sophomoric youth would do, I explored other options. I found writing. Then I found my college paper, The Exponent. I found journalism. And eventually I found that what I had learned from a foray in one of the top CS schools in the country — and a full semester as a declared mathematics major — was what I really wanted to do.
Upon graduation, I became an online editor for The Indianapolis Star. After six months I had programmed various tools, interactive graphics, data driven projects and more. I was promoted. Then I was promoted again. Then I went to Gannett Co. Now I am at The Washington Post.
I graduated four years ago this month.
I do not have a “Digital Journalism” degree. Or a computer science degree. Or simply a journalism degree. I have the following: Dual degrees in Professional Writing and Creative Writing, with a minor in Communication, Mathematics and Computer Science. Needed one more class for Spanish. Darn.
I fell into where I am by pursuing what I wanted to do and where I thought information was going. Very much in realtime. I didn’t wait for a program to develop. Or a guidance counselor to tell me what to take. I took classes outside of my core programs simply because I thought they were important. Advanced Linear Algebra? It’s come in handy when using Least squares in tricky automated layouts. Linguistic Algorithms? Worked wonders when using the Levenshtein distance to compare stories against each other to produce similar results for users.
I am writing this very much in response to New York University’s Computational and Digital Journalism course sequence. And many others I’ve seen pop up. I want to say, thank you!
Now, catch up.
For the longest time I was under the impression that universities were cutting edge. Researching industries and identifying what they would need in the future. This holds true for medicine, engineering, classic sciences. Hell, even music. But where was journalism?
The aforementioned studies have always been doing this. Always. Journalism is now, finally, catching up in the digital age. Yet, the journalists we need today. Right now. Are four to five years out. Maybe less if we’re lucky.
Yet, things are changing. I have met people, journalists like me. They do exist and they either followed similar paths to me or ambitiously learned on their own time while working the night copy editor shift. It was up to us though. We did not have clear direction. We do not carry degrees with “digital journalism” in them. We’re journalists.
So thank you, NYU. Thank you for realizing that Computer Science and Journalism belong together. Now, please find someone to teach it.