We need better career paths for news nerds

“Developers and programmers seem to agonize in similar ways over being promoted away from what they do best — writing code and building things.”

Newsrooms are fairly static workplaces where jobs don’t change that often — as opposed to tech companies where new teams get spun up more liberally, and where (often odd) job titles and responsibilities seem to be handed out more creatively.

These career and personal questions haven’t come up too often in recent years, but next year the managers of digital teams will find themselves having to think about how to develop their staff and handle less common aspirations: making work fit better within larger life goals, moving from tech skills to more writing and reporting, and more.

As the CAR/interactive journalism field matures, news nerds around the world continue to hone their tech skills, which have become essential in modern digital news organizations.

These skills are their ticket to the front seat of all of the big events and stories — whether a general election or a large investigative series. Coder-journalists’ ability to produce original digital journalism has made them pivotal elements of many newsrooms, often being relied upon much more quickly than, say, a graduate trainee.

Next year, news nerds will ask themselves the question: “Career-wise, what is my next move?”

With advanced technical skills being in high demand, it’s easy to be pigeonholed into certain types of roles — and hard to move away from them. In addition to this, more senior roles within newsroom don’t exist yet, leaving news nerds with a conundrum: Does moving forward in your career mean abandoning some of the very talents that brought you there?

This relatively new breed of people seems to be stuck in the same dilemma between being a writer or an editor — some journalists shouldn’t become editors as they’d be wasted not writing, but that path is nonetheless the only one leading to more responsibilities and a higher income. And as often for interactive journalists, it’s not all media paradigms: Developers and programmers seem to agonize in similar ways over being promoted away from what they do best — writing code and building things.

Can newsrooms deliver career development paths, or would news nerds have to look for opportunities elsewhere and hide some of their skills in order to access more editorial positions? Can we create incentives for newsrooms and managers to create these paths and help people grow professionally? And what should we teach journalism graduates on this topic?

Basile Simon is a coder-journalist at The Times and Sunday Times and a lecturer at City University, London.

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