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Four basic coding tips for journalists

Chris HisterNewsrooms are focused on covering local news and creating engaging digital content. But sometimes, there are one or two folks in a newsroom itching to learn a bit more about how content is displayed and why things work a certain way on desktop or mobile. Enter the wonderful world of coding, with GateHouse Director of Digital Development Operations Chris Hister.

We asked Hister to share a few words of web wisdom for reporters looking to get more comfortable with coding.

1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
The world of coding can be overwhelming. It’s so big that even the world’s strongest development teams could fill a library with the things they don’t know. When learning the basics of coding, start small and simple. Working with a basic language like HTML or CSS, where there are a lot of online support and samples to choose from, will definitely make the transition to other languages a lot easier.

2. Tutorials are worth the time and money
When I first started developing, I had no idea what I was doing or where to start. One thing I did know, however, was that the internet was filled with tutorials and trainings on just about everything. Doing a quick Google search led me to several forums/communities whose sole purpose was to help developers grow. A great deal of what I know today is thanks to sites like Stack Overflow and random phpBB forums.

Tutorial videos and forums aren’t necessarily for everyone. Some people prefer to read books or take courses to learn something new. If you can’t identify the “perfect” free tutorial or forum that works for you, definitely consider a paid solution. Sites like offer some of the best and most thorough training courses in just about every relevant development area today.

3. Learn by doing
There is definitely plenty to be gained in development by watching online tutorials, taking courses, reading, etc. However, development is unique in that you learn best by doing. Whether it’s a cool design that you’d like to bring to life on the web or a nifty piece of functionality you want to try out, it’s always good to roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty.

4. Get familiar with developer tools, consoles
In my opinion, a developer is only as strong as his tools. I’ve grown to accept this throughout my years as a developer, and wish I would’ve accepted it sooner. No matter what the task at hand, I always fire up my trusty applications before doing anything. This includes Evernote for planning and notes, Skype for immediate communication with stakeholders, Coda for coding (of course) and a few others.

The key here is not to overdo it. Like No. 1, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with applications you may not need or otherwise don’t really understand. When I started developing, I only had the bare essentials. For me, that was an HTML text editor … that’s it! After a while the list naturally grew.

Once you get some hands-on experience coding, you’ll learn which tools help make developing easier for you.

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