Do journalists need to learn to be programmers? Yes. And no.
There has recently been a resurgence in the debate about whether journalists need to learn to be programmers. Partly, it seems, this has been fuelled by the announcement of a qualification that combines journalism and computer science, and partly by the way that meet-ups like "Ruby in the pub" are taking off.
Two things strike me as interesting about this.
The first is the comparative attitudes between the two professions to interlopers on their patch. I've yet to see a software developer stand up and say that "citizen coders" will inevitably devalue the work that they do, and lead to job losses and a lack of quality in the sector.
Contrast that with the statement issued on behalf of some sports journalists in Scotland galled at having to sit near 'bloggers'. Instead, tell a web developer that a bunch of journalists are interested in learning code, and it seems that the most likely reaction is "Yay! How can I help?".
The second thing is the whole premise itself - do journalists need to be able to program?
But my answer is that no, journalists don't all need to be able to write programs, but the ability to think like a programmer is an invaluable skill.
For example, being able to spot the difference between a small technical change that has a big impact on story-telling, and what appears to be a small change but which has a hugely expensive technical impact, is an essential skill for someone setting the requirements for changes to a website or a CMS.
Thinking like a programmer will also save you time. Programmers are notoriously lazy. In a good way. If there is any conceivable way that they can devise a shortcut for a repetitive task - they will devise it.
As a general rule of thumb, if any of the jobs you do in your day to day working involve repeatedly pressing the same sequence of keys on your keyboard, involves you cutting'n'pasting text from one place to another, or doing the same thing over and over again like resizing images, it is almost certain that investing a little time in programming a script will make that task easier.
Choosing the right tool for the job when dealing with computers is also a great programming skill to acquire. Learning Ruby or PHP or something of that nature may be useful, but often you can achieve similar results with a bit of programming logic and a spreadsheet. Tomorrow I'll have one example of what can be achieved with your regular office software and a bit of programing know-how.