Credit: Credit: by Michael Himbeault on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
For young journalists facing stiff competition for jobs in digital newsrooms, the ability to code can really help them stand out from the crowd.

Yet programming does not have a strong presence on most journalism MAs in the UK, with many students approaching data analysis and data visualisation with tools and software already available online.

In a recent article on essential skills for student journalists to learn in their own time, suggestions on Twitter underlined the importance of learning to code.

But for journalists who are entirely new to coding, how can they learn this new skill and what programming languages should they look into?

The coding world

The web is full of great visualisations or interactives created by an in-house team of designers and programmers, such as the recent project from The Wall Street Journal to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.

Behind every piece there is usually more than one programming language, each with its own array of functions and purposes.

Nowadays, there are many programming languages that can be helpful to learn and to use in a digital newsroom and here are nine free platforms to help journalists discover and learn easily accessible way.

1. HTML, CSS and Javascript

HTML is the ubiquitous markup language of the web, which journalists can use to build and format web pages – making tables, adding images and text, or buttons and forms – while CSS can give the page a uniform style and add some design elements. If HTML provides the bricks and mortar of a web page, CSS can give it a lick of paint.


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This 12-hour course is aimed at beginners, allowing users to learn while creating their own project, largely focused on pages optimised for mobile. HTML is important to shape the content of a website, while CSS code makes it possible to add other elements into the layout.

CSS Tutorial

A step-by-step guide to the basics of CSS, provided by HtmlDog. The tutorial has three levels, ranging from the simplest functions of the code – such as colours text and borders – to more intermediate and advanced options.

Where HTML provides the content of a webpage, and CSS its appearance, then JavaScript defines how the page will behave. Games, interactives, animations, multimedia and more are all made possible using JavaScript, as shown by this recent list of 40 innovative examples of JavaScript from Creative Bloq.


Codecademy is an easy and fun place to learn a range of different programming languages, and the dedicated JavaScript section will have beginners building interactives and web games within 10 hours, or so they claim.


w3schools gives hundreds of examples of how JavaScript can be used, running through the functions, how they can be applied and how that affects the web page.

2. Python

Python is is useful for managing and organising large data sets.
Learn Python

Learn Python gives users practical examples, giving the option to run a code while learning and showing advice and solutions when lessons become more advanced.

Try Python

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Try Python is a full interactive platform where a live Python console guides the users in all the paradigms of this language. The website, created by Michael Foord, show how to structure the language according to the most common needs of developer, explaining some of the key challenges of Python along the way.

3. Ruby

Ruby is easy to embed and develop interactions between datasets and other components on a webpage.

15 minutes of Ruby

Created by Eric Allam, the third version of Try Ruby is an interactive console that in 15 minutes aims to teach users the most important skills of the code. It is the perfect tool for beginners, thanks to the simplicity of the platform.


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If the thought of learning to code is stressful, try RubyMonk, where users are rewarded with a motivational sentence on the 'nirvana of coding' when they reach the next level.

Users can practice their new skills and find additional libraries to add to the code once they have reached an advanced level.

4. R

R was developed with statistical analysis and graphics specifically in mind, so is especially useful for data journalists as it can help with managing large data sets or creating visualisations.

Try R

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This platform uses a game format to guide users through R as though they are on an adventure, discovering the syntax step-by-step through challenges and tests.

Offering learning in eight chapters, this is a suitable tool for beginners and demonstrates how R can be used as a versatile code.

Update: This article has been updated to clarify some of the uses of the various programming languages and include JavaScript.

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