A little guideline to start with coding as a journalist

Congrats! By reading this blog you are one of the journalists which aren’t scared of the word ‘coding’. During the digital transformation we need to develop new skills and  coding in journalism can be one of them. It’s literally a whole new language and let’s be clear: we don’t say it’s easy, but we can help you with your journey.

First of all, you have to ask yourself an important question. What is your goal? For example, you are dreaming of a career switch, wanting to become a newsroom developer and build your own interactives, or do you want to understand the basics so it helps you to understand and communicate with the newsroom developers in your team. Learning to code takes time and determination. So, maybe you have to set your goals and expectation.


Tools help you create something without a single line of code. Unfortunately all of them have their limitations. At some point you will need to learn the real deal. For me it begins with a little bit of HTML: every webpage uses it. This language isn’t actually a programming language: it’s a markup language for text.

For example:

If I want to bold this sentence a have to insert: <b> and here the bold text </b> in the texteditor.

While learning to code I worked according to the principal: learning by doing. I created my own WordPress blog and just tried a few things to get a feeling with HTML. While doing some experiments in WordPress I learned the basics with CodeCadamy. Here you can find thousands of free courses in JavaScript, HTML, CSS and more. Another tool to keep in mind to learn code is the Beta version Learn from The Knightlab Foundation. They made some lessons in coding especially for journalists.

Wait, what?

HTML was relatively easy and I got the feeling that I was one step closer to being a journo-coder. However there are a lot of different coding languages – such as JavaScript and Ruby – which have their own purpose. JavaScript is a programming language which helps you to make pages or objects interactive. Thereafter you have to learn CSS to style the pages. The languages work together and respond to each other. In order to code you have to kick off with HTML, JavaScript and CSS.

For example, this is HTML:

And this is how it looks like:

You can add JavaScript in a HTML document to make it interactive. In this example you see the code within the <script> tags. That’s the place where JavaScript code is entered.

For me JavaScript felt like math: I had no idea what I was doing. I continued, did a little bit of research and that let to my first line of code. And there it was: my first JavaScript Alert box appeared on the screen.  

I was really excited about this progress en after an intensive minor in coding I could make a simple moving infographic, a pie chart and an interactive map. In other words: it took me approximately 6 hard months to learn the basics.

Okay, maybe I have frightened you now. But don’t you worry. When you know a little bit of HTML and CSS you are already well on your way. These two languages aren’t really hard to learn. Everything you want to know is on the internet: even if you want to get started with JavaScript. You only need to know how to search the solution (and let’s be honest… a good journalist knows how to do that).  

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For example: I wanted to show my JavaScript Alert to my colleague and while she opened the address with her Chrome browser, it did not work. I simply Googled for the solution.

As you can see coding can be really time consuming. Luckily there are a lot of resources which helped me and will definitely help you.


Coding most of the time is solving problems. Stay calm and be patient: it isn’t unusual to spend six hours to fix a bug. By using Stackoverflow you can learn from other developers and share your knowledge. GitHub is also a really nice development platform which brings coders together to work through problems and learn from each other along the way. Searching for more tutorials, references and examples? Then we recommend W3.Schools.


Advanced journo-coder

When you have mastered the basics, it is time to dig deeper. In our recently launched category coding on Digitalstory.tools you find the right tools. Such as the best JavaScript libraries for journalists and developer tools.

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