Albertine Piels’s diary of a journalist surrounded by coders

It doesn’t happen very often that journalists work directly with coders – so when it does happen it could feel, for both sides, a little like stepping into a completely new universe…

Albertine Piels is the former editor-in-chief of Dutch national news station RTLZ. Last year she left her job to focus on her role as a journalist and director of Hackastory, a hackathon that regularly brings together journalists, coders and designers.

She shared her suggestions for a smooth cooperation between those very different groups at newsrewired today (19 July).

Journalists need coders

The format of online articles has not significantly changed since the print pages of The New York Times in 1918, and that’s why journalists need coders, she said, to improve journalism and create formats that better fit in with our digital habits.

Journalists are not the ones running the show

It’s about teamwork. You should involve everybody early, said Piels, as coders are not there to work for journalists, but rather with journalists. This is different than working with a photographer or an editor. When you are working with a diverse audience using diverse devices, it’s crucial that everybody, coders and journalists, are involved at the very early stage.

Have a structure

Journalists should accept that coders work differently and at a different pace. To avoid misunderstandings, always make sure you ask coders how you can make their life easier. “If there is something that helps you work together, that’s structure,” said Piels.

Accept failure

Journalists often associate failure with errors, as it undermines their own credibility and the credibility of their company, but for coders, failure is part of the job and they are happy with failure. Coders experiment, build something, test it quickly, and see if it works or not. This does not mean that we need to make mistakes with the content, but we need to experiment with our formats.

“In our office we have a prize for the biggest failure: the winner gets chocolate,” Piels said. “It’s a way to encourage people: it’s ok to try. So embrace it and have fun.”

Learn as you go along

Though working with coders might feel intimidating, remember that it is fun. “It reminds me of dance,” said Piels, showing a photo of her first Argentine tango. Piels recalled she was standing next to the dance floor and looking around, when a person came up to her and asked if she wanted to dance. At first, she refused saying she could not dance, but the person in question advised her to go ahead, do it, and she will learn as she goes.

“This is the perfect metaphor for journalists,” Piels said. “We are breaking boundaries, stepping into a new era, and if you find someone good to do it with… let’s have fun and dance.”

You might be interested in …