Hello World!

2 min

Hi! Over the past years I have blogged about my adventures while studying abroad, written articles about software development and even put in writing a handful of short stories. Some of my work (work sounds a bit pretentious, I know, but the only alternative I could think of was oeuvre, so, you know…) can be found spread out over the web. It’s a bit all over the place, though, and other pieces have never published or require some serious rewriting. On this website, I want to publish some of what I have written over the years, or at least the pieces tha are (hopefully) still relevant and/or entertaining. No-one wants to read pimply 15-year-old Will’s cringe-worthy romantic contemplations.

That being said, I hope that over time most of the posts on this site will consist of new stories and observations. After all, I am about to embark on an exciting new adventure. On August 1, I am starting a two-year Dual Degree Master at Columbia University. What’s a dual degree,I hear you asking, and isn’t it a bit pretentious to write it with capital letters?

The dual degree master is 2 year program consisting of journalism and computer science coursework. Every semester, I will be taking a combination of journalism courses on various topics such as story-writing and audiovisual reporting and computer science courses on various topics such as algorithms, database design and machine learning. Most classes are taken either with the full-time journalism or computer science students, but there are a few additional courses and seminars aimed at using computer science techniques in the newsroom.

Sounds a bit abstract? Let me give an example. Last year, Columbia students revealed that many US corporations and politicians artificially inflate their online presence, particularly on Twitter by buying fake accounts. These accounts do not belong to real individuals but are what we call bot accounts: their behavior and interactions are generated en masse using special software. With the ever-increasing importance of social network presence and popularity, both in the political and corporate world, the importance of these millions of bot accounts is more than a fait divers.

Anyone who has roamed Twitter for a bit has run into at least few bot accounts and the Twitter following of some individuals or organizations on Twitter is suspiciously out of sync with their real-world popularity. However, turning these hunches and suspicions into hard facts, outlining the phenomenon’s true scale and crafting a newsworthy story out of it is not an easy task. It requires not only reporting skills but also knowledge of data science and software development. In other words, it requires a collaboration between journalists and computer scientists, and ideally, individuals who have an understanding of both worlds.

A decade ago, IT in the newsroom was limited to making sure that the internet connection was working and that the website was running. Nowadays computer scientists and data analysts are an integral part of the newsroom. I am not sure which role I want to play in this exciting evolution. But I have the next two years to find out!

Willem Dehaes

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