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/ May 4, 2011
NYU To Offer New Digital Journalism Concentration

If you’re in school today and think you might want to be a writer some day, you need to really focus on the fact that future labor market opportunities in the realm of writing are going to be overwhelmingly focused on hypertext.” — Matt Yglesias, blogger at the Center for American Progress and panelist at our Young Media Weekend.

After months of discussion and planning, the Journalism and Computer Science departments have teamed up to begin offering a new concentration to help aspiring writers learn about hypertext, along with some programming skills. The six-course program — titled ‘Computational and Digital Journalism’ — came out of conversations between CS Professor Evan Korth and Journalism Professor Jay Rosen, who both wanted to help train journalists with more tech know-how.

“There’s a huge demand from employers for people interested in journalism who have some programming skills,” Rosen told NYU Local. “We generally have nothing to offer the editors and executives who call us asking us, ‘Do you have anybody?'”

To that end, five of the six courses in the concentration will be offered by the CS department, including two new courses — Computational Knowledge Management (available Spring 2012) and Media Technology Projects (available Spring 2013). The one journalism course is also new — Data Journalism and Investigative Reporting (available Fall 2012).

“One of the things that is in high demand is journalists trained to work with data,” said Korth, adding later, “If the government drops a couple gigabytes of data, and a journalist’s job is to shine a light on that, how can a journalist do their job without having some programming skills?”

Korth mentioned as an example NYU Political Science PhD student Drew Conway, who downloaded all of the Wikileaks Afghanistan data and, using a statistical programming language, created striking visualizations that helped to identify fighting patterns during the war.

When pressed on why this concentration was necessary when students could just choose to double major in Journalism and CS, Rosen offered a couple reasons. “In practice, almost nobody did it,” he said. He came back to the point later, noting, “Even if we graduated somebody from NYU with a double major in journalism and computer science, they could go to Wall Street tomorrow and make way more money than the news business could ever offer them…So what we want to do is speak to people whose primary interest is journalism.”

However, Rosen also stressed the employment opportunities available to journalists with programming backgrounds. He recounted one story of a student who came to NYU for a graduate degree in journalism with an undergraduate degree in computer science. He says that he picked up the phone to help find the student a post-graduate job and got him a position at the New York Times in 20 minutes.

“From an ‘I want to get a job’ point of view, it’s a no brainer,” said Rosen of the new concentration.

One stumbling block could be that the program does not count as the 2nd major required of Journalism students. The coursework would be in addition to the standard double major. The CS courses offered in the concentration also do not count towards the CS major, only to a separate Web-based minor. Rosen said that this was carefully considered and that most journalism students have room in their schedule for the extra course load.

What could be appealing is that this program marks the first time that the Journalism department has offered a specific, web-focused curriculum. Although other schools’ J departments are more and more likely to have a “digital division,” NYU intentionally avoided that model, Rosen said. “We felt that if you do that, the rest of the program kind of feels empowered to stay the same because you have this new digital thing,” he explained. “We felt it was important for the entire program to emphasize things like blogging and digital media.” He added, “We’re not doing it fast enough [and] we’re not adjusting as quickly as we should.”

Rosen stressed that the new program doesn’t mark the beginning of a digital department, but rather an opportunity to go outside of journalism to get those skills. Korth added, “The reason we’re doing this with the computer science department is because we already have the infrastructure.”

Because the program was just approved and the new classes are still being developed, it is not finalized who will be teaching the courses. However, Korth said it was likely that Evan Sandhaus, a CS PhD student and the Semantic Technologist in The New York Times Research and Development Labs, will teach Computational Knowledge Management. Rosen said that he might end up teaching or co-teaching Media Technology Projects.