Incoming Skills, Technical Literacies, and Boot Camps

Many graduate programs in journalism readily enroll students with little to no prior experience as reporters. There is an implicit assumption that their undergraduate work will provide a foundation to begin learning to think like a reporter and produce stories in a variety of platforms.

With data and computational journalism, though, there may be more substantial gaps to bridge in terms of math skills and technical literacies. Oftentimes, students must learn to use a variety of unfamiliar software in order to even begin working with data, statistics, and programming languages. As it stands, it should be fairly straightforward to teach the average journalism student to think about data, to find stories in a spreadsheet, and even to think critically about the numbers. Reporters have always needed to see inside complicated issues and to ask tough questions in order to get the story right.

Math and tech skills may require extra time. This skill gap could be ameliorated with a summer boot camp that focuses largely on building skills, tools, and technical literacies, while deferring instruction in reporting until the regular term begins. This way, when students enter their regular master’s coursework, they will be equipped with some fluency in the data and computational tools that they will use as concentrators.

In the case that data concentrators go through an extended boot camp, it may be appropriate for their fall introduction to data journalism class to be separate and more advanced than the data journalism course that is required of all students. For an example of how this coursework could be structured, we have listed the offerings of Columbia’s Lede Program in the appendix.

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