Albertine Piels is the former editor-in-chief of Dutch national news station RTLZ. Last year she left her job to focus on her role as a journalist and director of Hackastory, an organisation that regularly brings together journalists, coders and designers.
She shared her suggestions for a smooth cooperation between those very different groups at newsrewired this week (19 July).
Journalists need coders
She explained that the format of online articles has not significantly changed since the 1918 print pages of The New York Times, so reporters can work with coders to improve journalism and create formats that better fit in with our digital habits.
Journalists are not the only ones running the show
"It’s about teamwork," Piels said.
You should involve everybody early, as coders are not there to work for journalists, but rather with journalists. This is different than working with a photographer or an editor.
When you are working with a diverse audience using various devices, it’s crucial that everybody, coders and journalists, are involved at the very early stage.
Have a structure
Journalists should accept that coders work differently and at a different pace. To avoid misunderstandings, always make sure you ask coders how you can make their life easier.
“If there is something that helps you work together, that's structure,” said Piels.
Journalists often associate failure with errors, as it undermines their own credibility and the credibility of their company.
But for coders, failure is part of the job and they are happy with failure. Coders experiment, build something, test it quickly, and see if it works or not.
This does not mean that we need to make mistakes with the content, but we need to experiment with our formats.
“In our office we have a prize for the biggest failure, and the winner gets chocolate,” Piels said.
“It’s a way to encourage people and show that it’s OK to try. Embrace it and have fun.”
Learn as you go along
Though working with coders might feel intimidating, remember that it can be enjoyable.
“It reminds me of dance,” said Piels, showing a photo of her first Argentine tango. Piels recalled she was standing next to the dance floor and looking around, when a person came up to her and asked if she wanted to dance.
At first, she refused saying she could not dance, but the person in question advised her to go ahead, do it, and she learned as she went along.
“This is the perfect metaphor for journalists,” Piels said. “We are breaking boundaries, stepping into a new era, and if you find someone good to do it with… let’s have fun and dance.”
Free daily newsletter
- New project looks at how developing countries are getting more women into coding
- Tip: Advice for incorporating data skills into a journalism curriculum
- From pub basement to the News Building: The free London meetup helping journalists learn to code
- Many newsrooms have data teams but few reporters have formal data training, study finds
- Tip: Bookmark these guides for journalists looking to get started with GitHub