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Features as Apps, Apps as Services

July 15, 2011 at 12:49 p.m.

The CMS is a dying concept. Erik Hinton at TPM gets us started on thinking beyond One System To Rule Them All:

Instead of revolving around a monolithic central piece of software, we have adopted the paradigm of feature-as-app. Our frontpage: an app. Our slideshow: a different app. Article publishing: yet another app. You get the picture. At the heart is a simple and flexible API that digests manifold requests from the different applications. For example, Moveable Type is great at publishing entries and updating its database accordingly. Our new system will simply wrap the MT database in a cached ...


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 ...


What Business is HuffPo In?

February 13, 2011 at 10:38 a.m.

One reason that The Huffington Post gets a lot of criticism for not paying its bloggers is because most people think of it as a publishing company, when really — like Facebook — it is more of a technology company. Whether the content is paid or unpaid, the site is able to generate a comparatively large amount of revenue from it because of things like search engine optimization, and the way that its editors use their page space: a poorly-performing article will all but disappear from the site almost as soon as it is posted, while a strong one can hold its ...


Onward to NPR

February 7, 2011 at 9:48 p.m.

I've been holding off writing this post. It is, for a number of reasons, a hard one to write. Maybe it shouldn't be--but it is.

Wednesday is my last day at the NewsHour. Two years and a week ago I moved across the country with a backpack for a job I was recruited for in a tweet. Since then, I've worked on projects than reshaped how I think about journalism and changed the way I call myself a journalist.


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 ...


Using TableFu to Crack Those Tables

January 21, 2011 at 2:33 p.m.

Note: in lieu of other excuses: I have a carnival of journalism post coming soon. Consider this an unrelated holdover to remind you that I do, in fact, still occasionally use this blog.

For a while now, I've been toying with a side project called TableFu. If you follow me on Twitter or Github, you've probably seen it. It might already be in your toolkit (if, for example, you needed to organize a bunch of Youtube videos of Christmas carols).

The project started as a Python port of ProPublica's project of the same name, which is written ...


Secrets and Facts

January 14, 2011 at 12:23 a.m.

Reporters like secrets because that's sort of the raison d'etre of reporting: Getting new information into the world. Secrets are the things that you really need reporters to find out. But a lot of the secrets that end up getting attention -- so-and-so said such-and-such about this-and-that -- tend to be embarrassing rather than revelatory. And the relevant policy players aren't thinking about those secrets when they make the relevant policy decisions. They're thinking about age structures in Egypt. Thinking about age structures in Egypt is, after all, why they were hired for the job in the first ...


In the Thick of It with #TSATime

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


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 ...


Oil in the Gulf

May 24, 2010 at 11:12 a.m.

By now, I'm pretty sure anyone who reads this blog has seen the widget the PBS NewsHour launched a few weeks ago. Those ticking numbers have been embedded on dozens of websites, bringing thousands of new visitors our site.

So it's probably worth mentioning up front that at first, I thought building this thing was a bad idea. I thought it was gimmicky, and that it assigned specificity where there was none. I argued that any number we pick as the rate of spillage was almost guaranteed to be wrong, since the government, BP and outside experts were ...


Dual tracking

April 8, 2010 at 4:13 p.m.

Columbia University will soon offer a new dual masters degree in journalism and engineering, with the goal of cranking out more programmer-journalists, Wired reported yesterday.

This is good. It builds on the success of Medill's Knight-funded experiment offering scholarships to software developers to learn journalism. That's to be lauded.

But... (you knew there was a "but" coming)

Those getting dual degrees shouldn't be the only journalists hanging out with computer scientists. The problem isn't just a lack of reporters who can code, but a shortage of people in the newsroom who know what's possible.

I ...


We Are What We've Built

March 21, 2010 at 2:59 p.m.

The Atlantic seems to be settling into its new site, despite a rocky relaunch. James Fallows is blogging again, and Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Goldberg are back to disagreeing over Israel and Palestine, instead of the nuances of web design and information architecture. As far as I can tell from the limited vantage point of my feed reader, things are getting back to normal.

But the brief turbulence that followed the relaunch of the rebuilt and redesigned site was interesting in the ways it failed. By most accounts, it did what it was meant to do: the diverse group of ...


Journalism to Django, Part Two: Required Reading

February 7, 2010 at 12:34 a.m.

So, you've gotten the hang of HTML and CSS. You can install Wordpress in five minutes, and you're comfortable mucking with templates. Or you get databases and it's time to get them on a web. Or you read my last post and feel ready for the next step.

Starting Points

At this point, take a look at the Django Book.

You can learn Django and Python at the same time (I did, as have others). But it is worth getting the hang of Python a bit first. Take some time and go through Think Python. It's ...


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 ...


From Journalism to Django, Part One: Prerequisites

January 26, 2010 at 10:26 p.m.

Programming is hard.

There's no way around it: Learning to make a computer do things means learning a new form of expression. It is not, in some ways, all that different from learning a spoken language.

But it's also fun in an addictive sort of way. It's like telling your Legos to build themselves. When things start to click, massive problems begin to break apart into a long series of eminently squashable bugs.

Before you start learning Django, a few things I recommend brushing up on:

  • (X)HTML: This is, after all, a framework for building web ...


Why Django

January 12, 2010 at 10:37 p.m.

As of this month, I'll have been using Django for two years, and using it professionally for a year. That's a strange thing to think about, because I still have a hard time calling myself a "programmer" (though "web developer" feels easier, for some reason). I am, after all, a politics major with zero formal training in computer science. Yet here we are.

Over the past few months, friends have started asking me about my favorite framework: How'd I get started? Is it as good as the hype? Can I, or should I, learn it?


Why ...


Building a Better Ecosystem for Transparency

December 9, 2009 at 10:23 p.m.

Transparency is an ecosystem. Each part--government, journalists, activists--interact to create an environment where information flows, or doesn't. It's up to each part to ensure the continued growth of a healthy transparency ecosystem.


Free like Freedom Fries

September 3, 2009 at 6:53 p.m.

Want to do your next multimedia project without emptying your wallet? Mark Luckie over at 10,000 Words has you covered: 8 Ways to save money on your next multimedia project.

Truth is, most of what a journalist needs to work online is free, and a lot (often the best) is open source: Visualizing data? Try Django or ManyEyes (depending on how you feel about code). Want photo galleries? Embed a Flickr slide show, or go nuts on Vuvox. Need a wiki on your site? Here's four options.

How much good, no-cost stuff is out there?

Everything on this ...


Art blogging on Art Beat about art bloggers

August 8, 2009 at 12:58 p.m.

I had the pleasure of talking to Scott Rosenberg earlier this month about his book Say Everything for the NewsHour's Art Beat blog. The book is billed as a history of blogging, and it tells that story admirably. We also got to talk a bit about why blogging works so well on the web and how it differs from other literary forms. Read that post here.

That conversation spawned a follow-up post in which I interviewed three art bloggers about how the medium has affected their message.

For example, here's Lisa Fung, arts editor for the LA Times ...


Mapmaking Update: ZeeMaps allows Google CSVs

August 3, 2009 at 5:30 p.m.

My post last week on simple ways for journalists to make maps seems to have done some good.

Pankaj K Garg, of ZeeMaps left a comment noting that after reading my post, he decided to add a long-desired feature to the application: direct CSV import from Google Docs:

Now, you can select Additions -> Upload CSV file and just click on "Use Google Spreadsheet" to upload your data from a Google Spreadsheet.

The requirements are: (1) the spreadsheet must be named ZeeMap-map-number, where map-number is the number for your map, and (2) you must allow zeemaps at gmail dot com view ...


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.


How to make a map

July 25, 2009 at 2:57 p.m.

Note: I wrote this up to help out a few colleagues a few months ago, and I thought it might be useful to more people. It's aimed at regular, non-programmer journalists who may at some point need to throw a quick map alongside a story (or by itself, that's cool, too). Obviously, this is in no way comprehensive.

Also, this is a snapshot version of a document being maintained in Google Docs. Check here for the latest.

In all cases, start with a spreadsheet (preferably using Google Docs ). This will ultimately make your life easier, even if you ...


Have more fun

July 6, 2009 at 5:55 p.m.

Before she flew to Russia ahead of Barack Obama's trip there this week, someone gave Margaret Warner an HD Flip Cam to shoot a few video diaries for the web. They came out a little bouncy, not quite the quality we'd get from more serious video equipment and the sound, while way better than I would have expected, could still be a bit clearer.

But the big thing I see in this video, and what I really like about it, is a reporter having fun.


The iTunes for News we have

February 11, 2009 at 4:41 a.m.

Let's talk about what iTunes does.

Back when it first launched, it was a companion to a piece of expensive hardware, the iPod, and a way to sell music that could be played on that piece of hardware. Both are Apple products, and the two work together as seamlessly as as Windows and Internet Explorer. One company, with a well-cultivated following, a lot of marketing and slick design, figured out how to make it easier for music fans to listen to--and pay for--music than downloading MP3s off Napster and its successors.

Did it stop piracy? Not in the least ...


Imagine...news on your computer

February 9, 2009 at 1:46 a.m.

It's not as far fetched as you might imagine:

This video has been making the rounds, but I had to post it because--aside from being broadcast the year I was born--it says something about the way news consumption has changed in my lifetime.

I hear some version of the lead in on this piece pretty regularly from members of my parents' generation: "I just can't imagine sitting down with my coffee and a computer screen. I like the feel of the paper." Funny, that's exactly how I read the news, and discuss it, and create it.

A ...


Tools for News teams up with SND

February 2, 2009 at 4:36 p.m.

The toolkit for online journalists has moved to a new home with the Society for News Design.

Shortly after I launched Tools for News in late December, Tyson Evans from SND emailed me about teaming up on the project. Matt Mansfield helped convince me to come on board. Chrys Wu has more on the hackathon that got it all migrated.

The toolkit is now part of a growing network of apps and sites under SND's banner. Expect development to pick up and the overall look and feel of the site to improve.

Everyone's login should still work. If ...



January 28, 2009 at 9:09 a.m.

Steve Yelvington talks about being a local expert. This pushes farther a concept Jeff Jarvis advanced a few months back: The building block of journalism is no longer the article. Matt at Newsless describes this as systematic knowledge accumulation (he's talking about within journalism, in this case, but I think it's applicable here).

Let's think about what that might look like a bit. For a given topic or issue, I might want to pull together:

  • News articles
  • Blog posts
  • Forum topics
  • Links to other places talking about the issue
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Profiles of people who show up ...


PBS Newshour Online

January 26, 2009 at 11:37 p.m.

Funny story: Back in October, I started building a little Django-powered web app that ultimately became Tools for News. I'm up coding one Friday night (my girlfriend was in Guatemala at the time; I'm not THAT much of a nerd) and send out this tweet:

Photo_18_normal eyeseast: The little journalists' toolkit I mentioned yesterday is coming together. A few good folks are testing it now. Going to try adding comments. Oct 11, 2008 05:37 AM GMT
A few minutes later, this direct message appears in my inbox:
NewsHour Howdy there. We're digging the toolkit for journos ...


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 ...


Remembering Deep Throat and the man in the shadows

January 17, 2009 at 2:35 a.m.

Friends, family and admirers of W. Mark Felt, better known to the public as Deep Throat, remembered the late FBI agent today as a man who lived his fundamental beliefs of "truth, justice and service."

"Action is character," former Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (now an editor there) said of his late friend and mentor.

This was a memorial for the man known as Deep Throat, the G-man who arranged secret meetings at an underground parking garage with Woodward as the Watergate cover up unfolded, much more than it was for Mark Felt, who died at 95 in his daughter ...


New tool: TwitBlog for LiveBlogging with Twitter

January 15, 2009 at 10:39 p.m.

Let's say you want to live-blog something. Let's say you like Twitter. Twitter is great for immediacy, but what if you want to round up all your tweets at the end of the day and put them in a blog post? You'd have to copy each one, reformat it, then put the whole list in chronological order.

Now you don't have to.


Production notes:

I put this little app together yesterday after thinking about it a lot longer. It's a simple Django-powered tool that converts a feed from Twitter Search into plain text or ...


New tools for new news

December 30, 2008 at 3:28 a.m.

Journalists need new tools to work online. In the last year, I've used more that I can count, most of them free, to find and tell better stories on the Web.

Back in October, I started building an online database of such tools as a personal project, just a way to keep track of everything I was using. It has since grown into something I think others will find useful, so I'm releasing it into the wild.

Tools for News

The site is in public beta for now. Eventually, I hope to move it to its own domain ...


Local is what local covers

December 23, 2008 at 7:44 p.m.

Following up on my last post, I started listing in my head all the places and non-places my local newspaper, like every paper I've read or worked for, covers. Here's a partial list for a few news organizations:

The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA):


  • Santa Rosa
  • Rohnert Park
  • Petaluma (bureau)
  • Sebastopol
  • Winsdor
  • Healdsburg
  • Graton
  • Guerneville
  • Ukiah (bureau)
  • Lake County
  • Mendocino County
  • Occasional ventures into Napa, Marin and San Francisco


  • Sonoma State University (just outside Rohnert Park)
  • Santa Rosa Junior College (in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and Petaluma)

The Fremont Argus


  • Fremont
  • Newark
  • Union City
  • Niles ...


Finding a local news feed

December 20, 2008 at 4:20 a.m.

My next little side project is going to involve parsing feeds. I'm tired of wading through hideous newspaper.coms trying to find a certain story, or stories about a certain area, without having to avoid national news I've read elsewhere, or bits about towns I'll never visit.

Andrew Meyer has been having the same problem:

When I visit PressDemocrat.com, I go for one thing: Sonoma County news. Someone in Mendocino County might visit the site for Mendo County news, which is great, but not the reason I visit. Ok, with that said, how do I locate ...


Geotagging: News here, now (or there, then)

October 31, 2008 at 11:57 p.m.

In a comment on yesterday's post about making news easy to find and easy to share, Alex reminds me that he and I have had this conversation before. Now that I think about it, we've had this conversation a lot, especially about finding relevant news based on location.

And about this time last year you and I worked out a way to do this. Well, the skeleton of one. It can be built, but UI is important, and location’s not going to happen unless Geotagging is made easy, and no one’s going to use it unless ...


Easy to find. Easy to share.

October 31, 2008 at 1:06 a.m.

I come back to this thought again and again in my head:

I don't need more video, or more multimedia of any kind, or even databases or forums or yet another social network. All I want, as a reader, is news that is easy to find and easy to share. It's what I want in the sites I build and the newsrooms I work for, too.

Is this too much to ask?

Most days, I practically live in Google Reader. I have become so addicted to RSS, to the plain but well-structured layout of the feed, that anything ...


A word for managers

October 28, 2008 at 9:22 p.m.

From Joe Grimm, until recently of the Detroit Free Press, in his most recent (and always-excellent) Ask the Recruiter column:

We imperil our companies and our own careers when we do not listen closely to young people, whose experience with media is so different than our own and whose ideas may hold some of the solutions. Invite them into the strategy sessions, encourage them to really brainstorm and explain -- and then try some new ways.

Joe also has a blog.


The harder questions

August 29, 2008 at 8:55 p.m.

What Ted said:

Politics lends itself to facile issues, to facile answers. The problem is you've got the rhetoric and you've got the reality. The rhetoric is, you've got candidates talk about bringing all those jobs back and not giving tax breaks to companies that send jobs overseas. The problem with that is that it only tells half the story. One of the reasons America has been able to keep inflation down is precisely because WalMart imports all that stuff out of China, and Vietnam and Bangladesh and all the other places. What I really want to ...


Help me write about California, cement and global warming

July 30, 2008 at 1:05 a.m.

BadgeI have an ongoing fascination with issues that are, to most people, boring as hell. I'm fascinated with school reform, demographics, infrastructure, and in all cases, data.

The problem with such stories, from a freelance perspective, is that they're tough (for me) to make interesting enough to sell, even if they're really important.

Fortunately, I met up with David Cohn at CopyCamp in San Jose last month, and he encouraged me to put a pitch up on Spot.us, his new project to crowdfund local investigative reporting (more info here). Here's what I want to write ...



June 29, 2008 at 7:06 a.m.

First, people in the video:

Quick recap of Saturday. CopyCamp was awesome. No other word for it. Anytime a newspaper opens its doors and lets its readers say what could be done better, that's a good thing, and the Mercury News reporters and editors who came can't be thanked enough. I don't know if I could have after ending the week the way they did.

Much as the discussion was haunted by the latest round of job cuts, there was, I think, still a feeling of optimism, if not from within ...


On getting out of the way

June 10, 2008 at 4:26 a.m.

My Saturday gig sent me to Tennyson High School this week where alumni celebrated the school's 50th anniversary. I was tasked with adding unspecified multimedia to an already-written print story. I went, grabbed photos, audio and nachos, and built a slide show that I'm in no way happy with.

Here's where I think I went wrong: I tried to tell a linear story, and I fell all over myself doing it.

First, Soundslides was the wrong tool. It was wrong because, for the most part, it is a tool for telling stories that go from beginning to ...


Everything and nothing

May 26, 2008 at 3:02 a.m.

Ryan Sholin asks in this month's Carnival of Journalism:

What should news organizations stop doing, today, immediately, to make more time for innovation?

A scene from the Grey's Anatomy season finale I saw last night comes to mind:

A young man is trapped in quick-dry concrete, which he jumped into because he thought it would impress a girl. While he's moaning in ER--the cement is leaching water from his body, burning his skin, crushing him slowly--the team of doctors, who are all highly gifted and well-trained, is arguing over what has to be done first.

Finally, the ...


Making multimedia a habit

May 17, 2008 at 1:27 a.m.

I'm a freelancer.

In a given week, I write for at least three publications, both in print and online (plus this much-neglected blog). Because I'm pretty much at the bottom of each respective totem poll, I tend to get assignments that are, well, befitting that altitude.

I did this at my last newspaper, too, those unglamorous bits and pieces, but since I had a regular beat there, it wasn't all I did. I had stories that developed over time, that had new angles, and that weren't just things we covered every year.

So let's make ...


Lessons from Everyblock

May 16, 2008 at 7:54 p.m.

Adrian Holovaty, founder of ChicagoCrime.org and Everyblock.com, spoke at O'Reilly Media's Where2.0 conference. Video of the entire event is at Blip.tv. Here's a breakdown of what Holovaty says we can learn from Everyblock:

1: Take advantage of existing data

Plenty of sites start out by asking for contributions. Everyblock doesn't. Its first mission is to make data that's already floating around the internet and locked in government file cabinets available and easy to access. Tips for getting data:
  • Be nice: People will help you out if you're polite. Duh.
  • Governments ...