Journalist-programmers absent from top stories

Valleywag recently revisited Adrian Holovaty’s call for more “technical people” in newsrooms, citing examples of “how programming can grow naturally out of writing.” That same week, Editorchat devoted a session to discussing the question “Do editors need writers who are also software developers?

I agree that some journalists could benefit from picking up coding skills, but I’m not sure that the journalist-programmer path is one that most journalists should pursue.

Most reporters and editors publish content on sites that rely on traffic for revenue. Yes, we need to diversify our cash sources, but I’ll leave those arguments for other blogs, sites and panels. For now traffic equals income, so journalists need to generate page views simply to keep news organizations in business.

Let’s see if programming skills contributed to the most popular New York Times stories last year.

It looks like readers of The Gray Lady were more interested in interesting stories than flashy software. The same is true when you examine the most-viewed posts from the Times’ City Room blog or Bits blog.

Maybe journalists are more interested in pieces storytelling technology than “regular” readers. A quick look at Poynter’s top media stories of the decade blows that theory out of the water.

Well, surely fans of tech-centric sites were interested in programming-driven stories. Not so much on Engadget, Macworld or the ultra-niche Lifestream blog.

Even a look at Techipedia’s best internet marketing posts and Time’s list of 25 best blogs don’t point to content that relies on anything more than basic HTML skills.

Of course, web traffic is only a small part of the big picture, and the sources listed in this post are a very small sample of the many stories that people read, but I have to wonder how critical are programming skills for most daily journalists?

More importantly, what skills should journalists focus on?

Your thoughts?