I understand passion and, intellectually, I understand what Mindy McAdams is writing about in her post Why you should suck it up and learn to script and what Matt Neznanski is addressing in his Wired Journalists post What tools? Wrong question. Both are advocating, passionately and strongly, that journalists learn skills such as JavaScript, HTML and CSS.

But while I understand it, I think they are both wrong.

All of those skills are about the delivery of journalism, not journalism itself. Yes, yes, yes, the more that a journalist understands what those technologies can do, the better equipped they are to take advantage of them. If I were an editor, I would want a tech-smart newsroom that knew about the potential for database reporting or interactive graphics or journalistic mapping and knew how to tailor the reporting to those. But that’s what I would want them doing — reporting. Not coding. After all, in the ’60s and ’70s reporters weren’t trained to operate the Linotpye, set type on a stick or lock down the chase.

We need to make sure our j-students (and working journalists) really understand these technologies (and that includes audio and video) as storytelling tools. That’s vital, because if we fail to do that, we’re not giving the next generation of journalists the smarts they need to get a job.

We do need to make it possible for those who understand the journalism and who get turned on by the coding to have the opportunity to develop those skills. Because when this all shakes out, we’re going to need those folks out doing the reporting with a clear understanding of how the information they gather can be best used, and we’re going to need the people back at the office (or at the other end of a modem) who have the tech skills and a clear understanding of the journalism.

I believe we better sever students not by piling on the tech they must learn in depth (audio, video, database, Flash, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, CMS) but by piling on the understanding, so they can bring the storytelling to bear on the technology and not vice versa.

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