I recently graduated from the masters program at Columbia College Chicago in the department of journalism and during the spring semester, I had the opportunity to not only report extensively on the 2016 Presidential Election, but also take a basic coding class.
Some might think a fucking coding class? Yes, fucking coding. The experience and knowledge I gained was like sitting behind Payton Manning, learning how to dissect defenses day in and day out. In simple terms, it was very beneficial to my growth as a journalist.
I didn’t use the cliché “career changing” because at the end of the day covering politics tangled with the murkiness of investigative reporting is my calling. Or at least what my bones tell me right now.
Up to this point, Columbia has been and probably will always be politically centric and very liberal. You report on public affairs, some republicans are evil and you love it.
I covered local, state and national politics. I learned to create video and photo essays while reporting on everything from arts & culture, labor unions and business.
But now, I can write code! I can build dope platforms and put all my content in one place to tell a different kind of story.
This project specifically, was spawned after I was tasked with covering the Illinois Primary back in May. I had to figure out the best way to tell a story to my Chicago audience that would reach the most people at one time. During the course of the day, I was conducting interviews, writing notes, sending tweets and taking photos. Simply put, I had a lot of fucking content and couldn’t figure out what to do with it all.
Slow building theme music, hit the lights, suspense and enter my coding professor Andy Boyle. I knew I had to create a final project for my coding class so I ran an idea by him about creating a place to showcase all my content from that one day. And so, this political project was born.
I broke my project down into hours allowing my readers to view the content I put out over the course of the day. I pulled tweets from twitter, broke down interviews and created Soundcloud clips and threw in some personal photos taken by me. I spiced up a few notes along the right hand side of the page that gave my readers a small glimpse into this junkies thought process.
To me, the project was a success. It took me a while but I was able to bring everything together and create this platform that summarized a whole day of reporting. But that couldn’t have been done without developing all the code.
So, Enter The Hard Fucking Work!
Over the course of this 10 week class I was taught the bare bone’s to writing code. Now, writing code is not easy. Hell, its frustrating, time consuming and there are better things people can do with their time. But, with practice, like everything else, it can be done.
I picked it up right from the start. Part of it was not using the copy and paste method like so many of my colleagues were doing but rather learn to type out what I needed. Once I was able to lock down the basics of typing simple commands I was then able to use copy and paste because I knew what I was fucking copying!
The image to the left is an elementary bit of code that I wrote telling my site what color everything needed to be; what position things needed to be in; if I wanted a sexy font, or have something positioned in a specific way. After a few weeks Andy introduced us to the basics of bootstrap which is this awesome program that helps you create dope shit. Think of it as the foundation to building a web page. It allows you to do all these cool tricks that honestly, would take me hours to explain. But once you learn how to use it, it becomes a really fantastic resource. So go ahead google – twitter bootstap.
The two images above are the main blocks of code that make up a bulk of the structure behind my project. Some of the work had to deal with figuring out the dimensions that all of my images needed to be. Learning how to imbed tweets, and Soundcloud clips that were functional.
One trick I learned was the ability to save certain images inside a main file folder then reference that folder in my code.
If you look closely at line 163 you can see the part that says src= then the words CFP. That last part, CFP is a file I created to store all my images and tweets. Once I referenced that location in my code the next portion was typing out the exact name of the pictuere I wanted, in this case it was TweetNoon. And BOOM. DONE!
Once I did that, the program was able to locate that folder and display the image, tweet or clip I wanted in my project.
When you get the basics down a good portion of writing code is remembering the commands. Luckily I use a program called Sublime that puts all my code into these pretty little colors. The light pink you see, are my basic commands, this is a paragraph, this is a break, this is a heading etc. etc.
The yellow signifies specific instructions I want that certain section to perform and the white is what you actually see on the page. Much of the code repeats itself. A paragraph tag will always be the same, the trick is remembering how you open it <p> and how you close it </p>. Once you figure that out, the Sublime program auto-generates the correct tags and remembers them for you.
Finally this article comes down to what I learned. Coding is fucking hard work. You miss one period, you miss a close command or have perhaps these things called divs in the wrong place and all your work goes to shit.
The good thing is, coding builds patience.
“If a string is in a knot, patience will untie it, patience can do lots of things, have you ever tried it.”
Coding makes you check and recheck your work. It has helped me become more diligent in my writing and editing skills, while also unlocking my creativity on telling unique stories.
The damn thing may not be for everyone, hell I’ve only had 10 weeks of it. But if you ever get the chance to step into a classroom or find yourself stuck in an elevator with Andy Boyle, pick his brain a little, annoy him with questions. Tell him you read this article.
Coding can and will open a world of opportunities if you stick with it. I plan on integrating it into my future work to see what new projects I can come up with.