Why is the Walkleys offering coding scholarships for journalists and who is applying?

I’ve been asked perhaps 20 times in the last fortnight about why the Walkleys is offering scholarships for journalists to learn to code and build apps so I thought I’d publish an answer for anyone who is interested, as well as share a little about why people are applying.

Interestingly, most of these questions haven’t come from journalists, but instead those who perhaps don’t realise how much of reporting is research and hunting for stories, or how rapidly the skills we need to thrive in contemporary newsrooms are evolving.

Applications have flooded in from reporters, editors and producers working in every single news organisation, with more than 70 applying to learn Ruby on Rails with the Coder Factory Academy in the first two weeks.

This deluge of entries came as something of a relief, because even though I was confident that I would have leapt at the chance to learn how to code during my reporting for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Financial Review, I was worried perhaps that was just because I was covering technology and startups.

Here’s a quote from one of the editors I was speaking with about the scholarships that captures why we launched the scholarship:

“Reporters will often come up with experimental storytelling projects but there are never enough resources to get them done, and they don’t have the skills to do it on their own.”

So the breadth of applicants and their detailed answers has confirmed how hungry reporters are to develop the ability to build basic apps to help journos source and research stories and interrogate data. Website scrapers and data journalism featured prominently in the application so far, and at least a third of the applicants also mentioned how they wanted to be able to create more interactive or technically accomplished animations, videos and podcasts.

We even had a handful applications mentioned more immersive longform form projects or aspirations, such as virtual reality storytelling (which was thrilling to read — stay tuned for more on this very soon).

You can still apply here, applications close on Thursday, April 6, at 5pm (Sydney time).

Successful applicants will spend eight weeks with the team at the Coder Factory Academy, learning how to code basic apps in Ruby on Rails, a coding language used to build sites such as Airbnb, Goodreads and Kickstarter.

At the moment, we’re only able to offer the scholarships in Sydney and Melbourne, where the Coder Factory Academy has facilities, but I am working to find an online partner for a similar program later this year. We want to say a big thank-you to the newsroom that has committed to relocating their reporter to Melbourne for the duration of the scholarship.

Because of the unanticipated popularity of the scholarships, our friends at the Coder Factory Academy has very generously decided we can fit another three people into each course, so we now have 16 scholarships (eight in Sydney, eight in Melbourne) to give away.

So to answer those 20 people who have asked why the Walkleys is offering coding scholarships with the Coder Factory Academy, we’re offering the scholarships because knowing how to code and build basic apps is an increasingly crucial skill for most workers, and a particularly sought-after one by reporters.

We hope that throughout the course and into the future, our scholarship recipients will be able to unearth important stories, tell immersive stories and create journalism tools for their newsroom, or even better, open-sourced tools for the Australian journalism community and beyond.

Full details about the scholarships and the application form can be found here.

Entries close Thursday, April 6, at 5pm Sydney time.

And just in case you’re interested, here is the current breakdown of applicants by gender, age and level of coding skills.

Gender

When we first launched the program, the entries were 100% male for the first few hours. Given the rate of women are learning coding is significantly lower than men, the Walkleys embarked on a concerted campaign to ensure we got as close to 50 per cent women as we could. It worked, and we’re very excited to have passed our target.

Age

Coding skill/familiarity