When I started out as a journalist seven years ago, I had no idea what a developer was – columnists and editors were the rock stars of the business, the computer guys were “the IT department” who could upgrade your Photoshop or give Quark a kick when it froze.
Sadly, I’m fairly sure that the majority of journalists still think this way. It’s a real problem. But it’s also an inevitability of industrial change. Journalism is a centuries old business in which the core skills didn’t change until very, very recently – thoughts and words and layouts at the creative end, ink and presses at the production end.
When the digital age kicked in, developers were bundled into the latter camp, as they had to be – the new digital means of production needed to be built, swiftly. It wasn’t necessary for journalists to understand what was going on in the boiler room, as long as it worked. This division of labour remained as it had done for years on Fleet Street: the brains upstairs being creative, the brawn downstairs pumping out the product.
But developers, of course, are a lot more than brawn. Especially those working at news organisations. If they wanted to anonymously code and check out at the end of each day, they could be earning twice as much in other industries. The developers (and web designers, UX people etc.) I’ve worked with at news organisations are, generally, full of ideas and desperate to be creative.
And gradually, developers are coming up the stairs. But nowhere as quickly as they should be. The wall between journalists and developers may have lost a few bricks, but it’s still there. In an age when the media are desperately looking to technology to save them, the native technologists in their midst are still being largely ignored.