The Re-education of Me: Journalism, Diversity and Computing

Table of contents

  1. What we investigate is linked to who we are
  2. The Me nobody knew then
  3. Mrs. Jefferson’s “Sympathetic Touch” meets Mrs. Masterman’s Philanthropy
  4. Discovering Masterman, discovering myself
  5. The electronic music lab at Masterman School
  6. The Interactive Journalism Institute for Middle Schoolers and the quest for computing diversity

The problem

Wordle: The Re-Education of Me: Journalism, Diversity and Computing
Journalism is undergoing fundamental change; so is journalism education. There is a growing consensus that part of that change requires the cultivation of a new mindset and skillset among practicing journalists that accounts for the possibilities and limitations of computing technologies for newsgathering, and presentation. If this new news culture is to fulfill its fundamental mission of empowering citizens with the information they need to function in a democracy, then the pool individuals participating in this new news economy must be diverse.

This becomes a matter of particular concern when one considers that both journalism and computer science have historically been fields that have been challenged when it comes to recruiting women and people of color. Moreover, those individuals, once recruited, must find creative ways of engaging an audience that is not only diverse culturally and linguistically, but cognitively.

I come to this work as a journalism educator familiar with efforts to diversify the journalism pipeline through camps, workshops, internships and mentoring programs. Recruiting efforts in computer science have taken similar forms, however, many of these projects have been the centerpiece of formal research studies with rigorous evaluation. Journalism leaders turning to the task of introducing computational thinking into journalism education and practice on a wide scale can learn a great deal from parallel efforts in computer science education. One key lesson is that a students choices in middle school are a critical determinant of their readiness for pursuing computing studies in college. Thus, news industry leaders looking to foster a new generation of computational journalists must direct new attention to middle school.

Since 2007, I have been a co-principal investigator in a National Science Foundation-funded demonstration project, the Interactive Journalism Institute for Middle Schoolers, that uses journalism to interest students in computer science.  During the course of the project, I realized that much of what we had the student journalists doing resembled things I had done 40 years before as a student as the JR Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School, which I attended from 4th through 8th grade. I had already been aware that the constructivist nature of Masterman’s pedagogy had influenced my thinking and teaching over the years. My memory was validated by the discovery of two papers written by one of my music teachers at Masterman, Virginia Hagemann.  This project explores those connections with an eye toward understanding how those experiences might be useful today, when we have much more information about how children learn higher-order thinking skills.

Finally, the task of diversifying our technical workforce requires an understanding of the sociological, political and cultural forces that advance or impede student progress. Creating a diverse workforce means creating and sustaining mechanisms for crossing class and culture barriers. The story of progress made by working class students, women and students of color in the post-World War II era would not have been possible without the public policy and legislative changes wrought by the GI Bill and the movements for racial and gender equality of the last century. Current efforts to diversify computing take place in a radically different public policy context that includes a more fragmented, ideologically-riven media environment.

A note on method and content

This project draws upon work that I have been doing on issues related to diversity in both the journalism and computing pipelines over the last ten years. It is the work of a literary journalist and reflective practitioner, not a traditional communications scholar. As such, it begins with an auto-ethnography focused upon those aspects of my educational development that contributed to my becoming first, a magazine writer, and second, a writer capable of navigating the shift to computational journalism. This focus on myself is not intended as an exercise in vanity, or even memoir in the traditional sense. Rather, because my experience is that teachers tend to teach as they have been taught, it is an effort to become conscious of what is or is not relevant to the needs of the news industry as it is emerging.

From the consideration of my own education through middle school, the work will report on several constructivist research projects. The first is the Interactive Journalism Institute for Middle Schoolers, a National Science Foundation-supported demonstration project that uses community journalism to engage middle-schoolers and their teachers in computer science.

A note on form

The form of this work is influenced by ongoing research and in interactive, multi-threaded narrative. The completed version will be able to read not only, as a series of linked blog posts, but also as a series of interwoven narratives.


This work would not have been possible without the assistance, guidance and support of many organizations and individuals including:


This work is dedicated to my father, Jesse Pearson, Sr. Thank you for introducing me to the life of the mind.