Introducing the 20 journalists who have been awarded Walkley Coding Scholarships

It turns out choosing just 16 journalists from more than a hundred reporters and producers who are hungry for new skills and deeply aware of the need to learn how to code is really bloody hard.

When the Walkleys first launched our coding scholarships with the Coder Factory Academy, we had no idea how many or what kind of applications we were going to get. When 139 people applied, we immediately began exploring future opportunities for those who weren’t selected for this scholarship (we have some exciting plans for this so make sure you sign up here for notification about future opportunities).

Sheree Joseph, one of our coding scholarship winners at our recent Walkley Editors Lab hackathon with the Global Editors Network. Credit: Riley Wilson/GEN

Even after the Coder Factory Academy very generously allowed us to have a total of 10 scholarships in Sydney and 10 scholarships in Melbourne, it was still very difficult for the Walkleys team to choose just 20. We want to take this opportunity to thank the team at Coder Factory for being such a generous and flexible partner, that genuinely believes in supporting journalism.

“It’s no secret that the journalism and media industry is being disrupted and that there are many directions that the news industry could follow. We are excited to do this partnerships with the Walkleys as we want to help journalists understand the intersection between technology and business,” Coder Factory cofounder Dan Siepen said.

“Technology is an enabler to solve business solutions and we want to dissect how technology can help improve business processes and solve problems that exist within the industry today. It’s our mission to make sure we provide the skills and tools journalists can use for improving their industry.”

The people who stood out clearly understood the power of learning to code and had clear ideas for useful and achievable journalism apps. They were also eager to work collaboratively with their newsroom or freelance colleagues, and to help evangelise the power of learning.

With so many great applications, we were also mindful to ensure that finalists spanned a range of newsgroups and included a freelancer or two in Melbourne and Sydney. We are hoping these scholarships are just the beginning of a burgeoning community of journalists who can code, so we wanted to make sure we had scholarship recipients in as many newsrooms as possible. We picked two SBS journalists in Sydney and two from The Age in Melbourne — but we had significantly more applications from these two newsrooms than any other.

Why journalists said they wanted to learn to code

Most of the applications were quite strong. And most journalists’ plans coalesced around these five themes:

  1. Reporters seeking to automate and extend their research, or to build apps to streamline mundane yet time-consuming tasks. Bots and scrapers were mentioned a lot.
  2. People with minimal or fledgling skills in data journalism who needed to step up their technical skill to create the kind of stories and experiences they could imagine but not quite build yet.
  3. Video journalists or graphic designers looking to make their work more interactive, including a few who wanted to increase their technical literacy as they begin to explore virtual or augmented reality storytelling.
  4. People who had ideas for their own apps or ventures for new ways of delivering news.
  5. People who recognised the power of building their own apps or having greater control over online stories, but who hadn’t yet arrived at specific plans.
Almost every idea pitched was more complex than the participants will be able to complete in the eight-week course. Even deceptively simple apps usually include multiple systems and several languages. The course will equip the scholarship recipients to get started, with one simple working app. And more importantly, they will all have the skills to get started on their projects and keep learning.

So without further ado, (you’ve probably all scrolled here anyway) here are the 20 recipients of the Walkleys coding scholarships with the Coder Factory Academy.

Melbourne:

  1. Rachel Dexter, video journalist, Fairfax Media’s The Age
  2. Sharon Kemp, senior journalist, Bendigo Weekly
  3. Patrick Wright, digital producer, The ABC
  4. Asher Wolf, freelance journalist, The Register/Guardian/Daily Life
  5. Upulie Divisekera, freelance journalist, Guardian, Crikey, Medium, Real Scientists
  6. Craig Butt, data journalist, Fairfax Media’s The Age
  7. David Swan, journalist, The Australian
  8. Guy Rundle, senior journalist, Crikey
  9. Jenni Henderson, business and economy editor, The Conversation
  10. Ben Anderson, journalist, The West Australian

Three thoughts from our Melbourne scholarship recipients:

Ben Anderson from the West Australian summarised his plans for the scholarship and the abilities he will learn this way.

“I want to develop small, discrete applications and code that make a true difference in news gathering and presentation. I want to share these skills inside our newsroom and become a champion for digital journalism. I want to create tools that automate mundane reporting tasks and give our audience more ways to interact with our stories and with us. Learning to code is about creating channels for us to do our jobs: tell stories well to the people they affect.”

(We were also really impressed by The West Australian offering to relocate Ben for the duration of the course.)

David Swan from The Australian had a similar view:

“Whether we like it or not we’re wading into a tech-driven future and it’s incumbent upon everyone telling these stories to skill up and be equipped to tell them well,” he wrote.

“Coding really is the grammar of the future. I sometimes regret not doing a double degree in computer science and journalism — being a tech reporter I have hunger for a deeper understanding of how the apps and platforms we rely on are built, and I feel I’m doing myself and my readers a disservice by not having these critical tools in my toolbox.”

Upulie Divisekera’s journalism is firmly rooted in her scientific training and includes both traditional reporting and analysis as well as on Twitter.

“ “I’d like to learn how to build apps and websites to provide novel platforms for science engagement, specifically related to Real Scientists, but also for the benefit of the wider community.”

Sydney:

  1. Hannah Sinclair, journalist, SBS
  2. Michael Dorfling, deputy night editor business, The Australian
  3. Josh Wall, video editor, Guardian Australia
  4. Sheree Joseph, freelance journalist and former managing editor at The Vocal
  5. Jessica Sier, journalist, The Australian Financial Review
  6. Claire Isaac, executive editor, Women’s Day
  7. Alex Bruce-Smith, news editor, Pedestrian
  8. Mariam Chehab, producer, ABC Radio Sydney (Drive program)
  9. Katie Burgess, journalist, Canberra Times
  10. Saber Baluch, associate producer, SBS (Insight)

And here are three insights from the winning Sydney applicants.

Jessica Sier is a journalist and video producer at the AFR. She wanted to learn a coding language to better understand conversations about coding and hacking. Her own planned project was a wonderful example of how we hope the coding skills will be used to maximise reporters’ existing skills:

“I have an idea for a very longform multimedia story about a complicated financial mess. I was hoping to perhaps build an interactive website that allowed the reader to learn all about this particular fraud (over a time line), branching off into the different interviews (video and text). With explainers deconstructing the financial terminology/jargon.”

Saber Baluch at SBS Insight captured a common theme in many of the applications: He was seeking the ability to better engage with developers and product discussions, and begin to build his own basic web apps.

“After this course, I will be able to suggest ideas on how to improve current apps used by the organisation. I would also like the Insight program to have its own app. Once I gain the skills I can then propose that to the executives of the program.”

And finally, Sheree Joseph, a freelance journalist and former managing editor of The Vocal, summed up the need to learn to code this way.

“We’re not moving fast enough or doing enough to innovate and create meaningful change in a struggling industry. I know how much one person can do if they have the right skills and mentoring,” Sheree wrote. “Almost every idea I had in my role as editor of an experimental publishing project has been pushed aside because there are no resources or developers available and management don’t make experimental innovation a priority.”