Coding for a purpose: helping young people combine journalism, data, design, and code to make media that makes a difference. Educators are urged to teach “code for all”—to make a specialized field accessible for students usually excluded from it. In Code for What? Clifford Lee and Elisabeth Soep instead ask the question, “code for what?” What if coding were a justice-driven medium for storytelling rather than a narrow technical skill? What if “democratizing” computer science went beyond the usual one-off workshop and empowered youth to create digital products for social impact? Lee and Soep answer these questions with stories of a diverse group of young people in Oakland, California, who combine journalism, data, design, and code to create media that make a difference.
These teenage and young adult producers created interactive projects that explored gendered and racialized dress code policies in schools; designed tools for LBGTQ+ youth experiencing discrimination; investigated facial recognition software and what can be done about it; and developed a mobile app to promote mental health through self-awareness and outreach for support, and more, for distribution to audiences that could reach into the millions. Working with educators and media professionals at YR Media, an award-winning organization that helps young people from underserved communities build skills in media, journalism, and the arts, these teens found their own vibrant answers to “why code?” They code for insight, connection and community, accountability, creative expression, joy, and hope.