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Everything Takes Practice

February 2, 2013 at 12:09 p.m.

I don't have New Year's resolutions, really. I pick a few things I'd like to learn in a year, and sometimes I actually learn those things. Sometimes I end up on weird tangents, and sometimes those pay off.

What I do have, more by accident than intention, is something of an annual mantra, a little phrase that keeps coming back into my life and work.

Last year's mantra: Resist the urge to be clever.

I had that written on the whiteboard next to my desk at NPR. I can't remember which project inspired it, but ...


Happy Accidents. And Then What?

April 13, 2011 at 7:48 p.m.

If this was a new startup, a one or two person shop, I’d give it a thumbs up for innovation and good execution on a simple but viral idea.

But the fact that this is coming from Odeo makes me wonder – what is this company doing to make their core offering compelling? How do their shareholders feel about side projects like Twttr when their primary product line is, besides the excellent design, a total snoozer?

That comes at the end of the first post on TechCrunch about Twitter, then known by the shorter Twttr. The rest is history.

Twitter ...


Carnival of Journalism: Students in the Mix

January 23, 2011 at 2:17 p.m.

This month's inaugural Carnival of Journalism asks how universities can be better information hubs in a networked community. Since I've been away from college a while now (and haven't really looked back) I decided to look at a working program and get insight from someone wrangling with these questions daily.

Matt Mansfield runs the DC bureau of the Medill News Service, part of Northwestern University's school of journalism. Students participate in the program in their fourth and final quarter as a capstone course. They're Capitol Hill credentialed and their work appears in mainstream publications. The ...


Amanda Cox, on Doing DataViz Right

December 2, 2010 at 11:23 a.m.

In a good graphic, "something surprising pops out," Amanda Cox says. "The interesting things in this data reveal themselves by the structure you've chosen."

If you work with data and news, listen to what Cox says. Then go look at the work she does. Cox is a graphics editor at the New York Times and one of the best there is at turning complex datasets into understandable stories and usable tools.

A few key points:

  • "The annotation layer is the most important thing we do." Data needs context.
  • Context isn't just change over time. Think about scale, background ...


In the Thick of It with #TSATime

December 1, 2010 at 12:08 p.m.


Elegance from Ugliness: Lessons from MongoDB at Chicago Trib

November 5, 2010 at 10:46 a.m.

Chris Groskopf gives us the backstory on building the recently-launced Illinois School Report Cards:

The site is a comprehensive look at how schools across the state performed on standardized tests, with faceted and geographic search and lots of ways to interpret the data. It's the kind of project any regional news organization should be all over, and the Trib did it well (no surprise there).

A couple quick takeaways here:

The data is a mess: Nothing says "government data" like a 210 megabyte text file with 9,000(!) columns. Have a look.

That made the site a good candidate ...


Lessons from Covering the Gulf Oil Leak

July 7, 2010 at 2:56 p.m.

Cross posted at MediaShift

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has lasted more than two months now. It is the worst spill in US history, and it is likely to continue until at least August. And in covering it, the NewsHour has broken every traffic record it ever had.

So, what have we learned here?

(Quick note: A lot of the thinking behind this post comes from a debriefing at work with my colleagues Vanessa Dennis, Travis Daub and Katie Kleinman, and from conversations about the spill and our coverage with other people in and out of the ...


Footnotes on the State of the Union

January 28, 2010 at 10:51 p.m.

Last night the NewsHour went all-in covering State of the Union. We had on-air analysis, video from the Capitol and coverage on our new blog, and a new app to annotate the speech as it happened.

The Analyzer (I can never think of clever names for my apps; this is what everyone here calls it) is built in Django, with a lot of help from jQuery. From pitch to launch took exactly a week, including a working weekend.

The app is built around two main models: Speeches and footnotes. Every footnote is tied to a speech and indexed to a ...


Lessons from Gov2.0, and How I liveblogged it

September 19, 2009 at 11:51 a.m.

For three days last week, I attended the Gov2.0 Expo Showcase and Gov2.0 Summit, liveblogging the entire thing here and cross posting to Twitter. Between Tuesday and Thursday, I posted nine entries and 550 updates. After the conference, I dumped the entries and updates into one document, amounting to 66 printed pages and 19,815 words, plus another page of notes from the event's press conference and two video interviews with Tim O'Reilly and Santa Cruz's Peter Koht.

This was, in effect, just my usual notes, except more thorough and done entirely in public. Doing ...


Design inspiration: Lessons from nature

August 17, 2009 at 9:07 p.m.

From TED:

Janine Benyus has a message for inventors: When solving a design problem, look to nature first. There you'll find inspired designs for making things waterproof, aerodynamic, solar-powered and more. Here she reveals dozens of new products that take their cue from nature with spectacular results.


More on Frameworks for Reporting: Lessons from PolitiFact

August 3, 2009 at 1:31 a.m.

The Obameter is a key example of reporting within a framework: Journalists advance a broad story update by update, building a comprehensive database of knowledge about one subject.

In this case, the PolitiFact team developed a standard to measure the success of Barack Obama's presidency. It's not, by any stretch, the only standard, but it gives us one clear lens to use in evaluating the president's effectiveness.


A lesson from Patchwork Nation: Frameworks for Reporting

July 28, 2009 at 9:46 p.m.

In programming, frameworks help speed development by abstracting common tasks and letting us focus on things that matter. They make what's important interesting.

We can apply this approach to reporting as well, especially when we're collecting structured data and treating news as data points. Doing this means we don't have to start over with each new set of figures.

A few lessons learned from Patchwork Nation and other projects.


Lessons from Spot.us

January 24, 2009 at 9:25 p.m.

I'm about to leave the warm embrace of the Bay Area and in doing so, take myself out of the jurisdiction of Spot.us. I was lucky enough to meet David Cohn when the San Jose Mercury News opened its newsroom for CopyCamp last year, and he suggested I pitch something in his alpha phase. At that point it was just a simple wiki, The Point and David's seemingly-infinite energy.

In December, when Spot.us launched officially with its new site and its own mechanisms for handling donations, my story was published and republished and spread farther than ...