Rethinking our Thinking

As someone who started out as a primarily “print” reporter, my mindset — and, more specifically, my thinking — as a journalist continues to evolve after nearly eight years in the field, starting as a high school sophomore.

Computational Thinking visualized

Computational Thinking visualized by Carnegie Mellon using Wordle. (Creative Commons)

That made me wonder on Twitter:

How would you characterize the relationship between mindset and thinking? Which one is derivative from the other?

More specifically, I’d say that I’ve long had an open mind(set) in the journalism realm. For at least a couple of years, I considered this one of the most important characteristics for a journalist — along with passion. I still think this is true.

Recently I’ve become fascinated with “computational thinking” (more on that later) and wonder if my mindset is informed by this “new” way of thinking or vice versa.

As Lauren Rabaino (@laurenmichell) and I discussed on IM early this week, my tweet was something of a chicken-and-egg question. As Lauren said (and I agree):

your mindset impacts thinking which impacts mindset which impacts thinking… etc for infinity

So why am I thinking about this now? Well, for one, I’ve proposed a session (with the same name of this post) for Saturday’s BarCamp NewsInnovation in Philadelphia: Rethinking our Thinking. The description:

Journalists often discuss the need for evolving skill sets. On a deeper level, we sometimes talk about mindsets. What I’m interested in currently is, “How can we reshape our thinking?”

Computational Thinking

That idea formed because I’ve been reading, watching and listening to a lot of insightful things lately, including material on computational thinking (first found via Daniel Bachhuber). For example, check out:

Finally, there is the Center for Computational Thinking at Carnegie Mellon, the university where Wing worked when she wrote the original article.

Evolving Interests

All of this comes in the larger context of my interest in learning more coding, an ongoing process that I started taking to the next level last summer with JavaScript. I put that on hold as I focused on a project using a JavaScript framework and then picked up back up for a bit before moving on to PHP and MySQL around the fall/winter. I used a little PHP for a small side project and mostly put learning that on hold too.

In February, as you might remember, I guest moderated a #wjchat (web journalists chat) on journalists and coders.

More recently I’ve stepped back and am looking at coding from a broader perspective. This coincides both with my role in helping to organize the first Hacks and Hackers event in DC as part of the May 4 ONA DC meetup at American University. Also related, is last week’s launch of the Hacks and Hackers forum, where I serve as a community moderator.

So, basically: Whereas before I was interested in teaching myself some coding languages to enhance my skill set, I’m currently focusing more on learning about the fundamentals of programming and computational thinking (with the practical skills on the side for now).

Is this an essential step in learning to code? No. Has it been and will continue to be helpful? Most definitely.

The discussion of the “programmer-journalist” (can we find a better name?) arguably started middle of last decade, so what has lead me to this point? I plan to delve into that with another post.

Also, I’m considering writing another post before BCNI Philly (and one after to synthesize the results of the “thinking” discussion). The pre-Philly post would be more focused on different types of thinking and why they’re important. UPDATE: Heres’s my follow-up post: Rethinking Our Thinking, part 2: Computational thinking and the new journalism mindset. Also, check out these notes and this mindmap from the session.

In preparation for that post and the session, I need your help.

As I asked in the Hacks and Hackers forum, what has most shaped your thinking? As a journalist — heck, as a person. Let me know in the comments.

Interesting Reading

For now, I leave you with some valuable selections of what I’ve been reading — I recommend reading them all:

10 thoughts on “Rethinking our Thinking”

  1. Nice job putting mindset and thinking into a bit of perspective.

    I would say that the different experiences I’ve had in various newsrooms have shaped how I think a lot, as well as the blogs and journals I read online. You have to experience a lot of different environments to really get a perspective of your industry, especially one as complex as journalism is. Redesigning cm-life.com was a huge experience for me because it forced me to ask questions: What would optimize my readers’ viewing experience? What do they want to see? What areas of online journalism are critical for us to take advantage of?

    My biggest concern, however, lies in what influences others’ thinking. Traditional newsrooms still operating under a prehistoric model (and as we know, there are still plenty of them) can influence journalists to have a prehistoric mindset on their industry: That print still dominates and will dominate, for example, and that there’s no sense in having a reporter gain experience with a video camera.

    Furthermore, if those newsrooms still bring in young college journalists as interns, how will that affect their thinking? Will they grow as skeptical of the Web? Will they continue to write stories for print rather than online? That’s the type of thing that worries me, at least in this stage, because young journalists are so important in guiding the industry forward.

    But maybe that’s because of where I come from. Most of Michigan’s big newspapers are far behind 2010 in how they operate. Some are barely beginning to use Twitter, and their accounts are nothing more than RSS feeds.

    Let me know what you come up with, Greg, at BCNI this weekend. I’d love to hear what others have to say on it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *