Tech workers turn to journalism

“They’re hungry for something mission-driven, something that even on its worst day serves a valuable public service. Journalism would be wise to welcome these outsiders into the fold.”

Thanks to rising political anxiety, more tech people will look for opportunities in journalism next year, I predict.

Anxiousness over North Korea, sexual abuse scandals, tax bills, health care, FBI investigations, climate change, net neutrality, Russian election meddling — to name but a few — eventually spurs a meltdown or a reaction. For some, that reaction is this: Find ways to ameliorate anxiety through meaningful work. And for those versed in code, design, user experience, and other elements of making delightful digital stuff, journalism’s allure is growing.

I am one of those who transitioned from a technology career to journalism, albeit many years ago. For me, the catalyst wasn’t current-event angst but the desire to contribute to something bigger than, say, the next Spider-Man game or photo sharing app. That urge seems to be growing among my former peers due, in part, to this year’s political tumult.

Over the last few months, a surge of acquaintances from game development, e-commerce, and startups has pinged me with a similar question: “Is there a place for a person like me in a news org like yours?” It’s not that these tech folks want to try their hand at reporting or feel burned out in their current fields. Rather, they want to figure out how they can apply what they’re already good at — making elegant, useful, and addictive digital products — to something bigger than shipping app updates or chasing clicks. They’re hungry for something mission-driven, something that even on its worst day serves a valuable public service.

Journalism would be wise to welcome these outsiders into the fold. They’re product makers, which we need to compete with the myriad of distractions on the web. Forward-looking college programs like Texas State are training the next generation of these folks for our industry, and NICAR and SRCCON brim with news nerds already in our ranks. However, we could always use more help from sharp newcomers who know how to build engaging products and share our passion for the mission.

Journalists are ace storytellers. In 2018, we’ll see an uptick in people joining our ranks who are new to our field yet fluent in all of the things that help make our storytelling thrive.

Rodney Gibbs is chief product officer at The Texas Tribune.

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