Journalists and programmers

I’ve found the learning curve for programming as an overbearing writer to be both challenging and potentially rewarding.

Of course, there are the similarities in thought processes between copy editors and programmers (e.g., Brian Schlansky using his editing habits to carefully read each line of code). And, as a large portion of the “Rethinking our Thinking” post cleverly and reasonably detailed, coders are in many ways like editors. But copy editors are often the worst enemies of writers.

Some of the 17 rules of Unix Philosophy are anathema to the laws of good writing (Melville, Churchill, etc.). “Clarity is better than cleverness” and “Design for simplicity” to name a few. Having the habit of condensing lines to the bare necessities — and potentially breaking the entire code with a single character out of place — is also frightening to writers, yet common workflow for coders.

What I see as potentially rewarding is the benefit that journalists could gain in learning from programmers. Software languages — like human languages — have developed from Autocode to iOS, and that matters because we as future programmers should know that everything is fluid and able to continually evolve. And although coding often requires linear, step-by-step thinking (similar to the infrastructure of the internet) when compared to writing that is often tangental and more loosely flowing from beginning to end, there is still a progression of thought and purpose for the finished product.

After completing the readings, I still don’t believe that writers are programmers. But I do believe that writers and programmers have the capacity to be journalists. I have faith that the end goal of both draws on some common ground between the diametrically opposing belief systems. When writers use their words and images to tell stories, programmers rely on design and page hierarchy to tell you what’s important. Perhaps, just as there are many forms of writing, a visually appealing article page could be equally as effective in enlightening and entertaining an audience — even when compared to a Shakespearean play? Ah! There’s the rub.

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