Kevin Schaul

journalism, graphics, data

How software development processes apply to news

September 18, 2012

The following is an excerpt from a blog post I quickly wrote for my Program Design and Development class.

It’s interesting that you compare these software processes to building wrist watches. As a journalism and computer science double major, I am always looking to apply techniques from one area of study to the other.

There has been a lot of talk recently about how the web has changed journalism, and one huge piece of that is we no longer have one deadline at the end of the day. As is frequently quoted (and was spoken by someone unknown), “The new deadline is now.” As journalists, we are always publishing news, whether it’s through our organization’s web site or through our own personal Tweets.

We’re beginning to take a more iterative approach to writing news stories. When news breaks, we know little about it, but we piece together as much as possible in a short time frame, and we cobble together a short article. As more facts are revealed, the same story is altered. Sometimes the new information supplements what we already knew, but often these new developments completely alter what’s important in the story, generally prompting a much more thorough rewrite. Paragraphs are added, removed and rearranged throughout the process.

Since we still live in a print-focused world, this process typically ends at the end of the night, when the print deadline hits. It’s a bit like time-boxing: The reporters turn in as much as they can by the hard deadline, prioritizing the most important information in the story.

The problems that arise in software development are a lot like those of other, seemingly unrelated fields. It’s fun to apply the same techniques and see what happens.