What is Code Journalism?

Upon a quiet Sunday afternoon, midway into the Italian lockdown, I sat down and knocked out, in hardly more than a couple of hours, a pretty simple Python module to talk to the Application Programming Interface put forth by the Regional government of Umbria in order to publish COVID-19-related data.

Having done that, I proceeded to jot down a message on my social accounts, stating that open data must be open, blaming the other Italian regions which had failed to comply with what both law and common sense require, saying kudos to Regione Umbria and asking others regional authorities to follow along.

Yeet— I had something peculiar in my hands. Data journalism was not enough anymore to describe the havoc which the pandemic had reshaped the old world into: it had mutated into something different. The concept being, as I suspect, a new one, I hereby claim the right to bestow upon it the designation of code journalism.

Data journalism, after all, is just one ingredient of the recipe. Code journalism is a clever mixing of coding dexterity, writing skills and a knack for social and political awareness. It is, in a word, a versatile mash-up of diverse yet interconnected languages: all of which rely on the foundational idea of open source.

In an article on Medium, Mindy McAdams recognises that coding is storytelling as much as writing or video making, yet she fails to understand that coding is not just another tool up the sleeve of the digital journalist. Code journalism is more of a unique way of interacting with the entangled fabric of the infosphere, a manner of not only describing things, but of making events happen.

And this goes well beyond storytelling. I used coding to actually push for something to happen, to make pressure on public authorities, to engage stakeholders on what I believe to be for the best. As Oriana Fallaci used to suggest, journalism at its core does not tell stories. It makes history happen.

First published on Eventual Consistency