Download My WordPress Theme

Update Jan. 1, 2011:

Starting today, I’m using a new theme I’ve crafted, which I am calling Goshen. It’s designed to be minimal but readable. The theme I was using previously, Porfolio_AD, is going to rest comfortably on a beach somewhere and probably won’t be coming out of retirement any time soon. You can still download it — I know of one person who actually did implement it on a site, much to my shock — and play to your heart’s content.

Original post:

I make no claim to having any design sense, but if you like the WordPress theme I made for my site, you’re welcome to it. Grab it right here.

Portfolio AD is a one-column theme with a two-column sidebar. Both columns in the sidebar can display widgets. The header is a modification of the well-worn Hemingway theme, and the rest is my take-off of a site built via this tutorial from It works fine with WordPress 3.0.

What you see here is the result of constant tinkering. I coded up a theme of my own to learn more about what WordPress can do, and in the process I have learned tons about CSS, HTML, web hosting and content management systems in general. If you have the time, it’s well worth the investment.

Use the theme as a starting point for your own tinkering and have fun!

Write Better: Seven Tips For Journalists

Concise, clear writing is one of the journalist’s best assets. No matter which platform you’re feeding — print, web, mobile or a technology to be named later — good writing separates the amateurs from the pros.

Here are seven ways to improve your word skills. And if these whet your appetite for more, try Roy Peter Clark’s excellent Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer or William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s classic The Elements of Style. Also helpful are the sections on writing mechanics and grammar from the Purdue Online Writing Lab.

1. Put commas in their place.

You can solve half of the world’s comma problems by remembering this rule:

Add a comma between two independent clauses linked by a coordinating conjunction — and, or, nor, but, yet, for. An independent clause has a subject and a verb. Don’t throw a comma before a coordinating conjunction unless what follows is an independent clause.

The thief stole a television and a laptop, but he left behind a bag with $1,000.

The thief stole a television and laptop, but left behind a bag with $1,000.

2. Conquer its/it’s confusion.

Not knowing the difference between its and it’s says “amateur” the way Chuck E. Cheese says “stimulation overload.”

For the record:

Its = possessive; “belongs to it”
It’s = “it is”

The team lost its game by one goal.

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

3. Keep sentences short.

You’re not writing the great American novel. You’re conveying information to readers. Stick to one or two thoughts per sentence. If you have more than two commas in a sentence, try to split it.

The Burkett County legislature voted Monday to add six new police officers to the county force, adding staff at a time when the county budget is already 5 percent ahead of last year's spending, a level that some activists say will add to a deficit, which at $250 million is already on pace to bankrupt the county by 2012.

The Burkett County legislature voted Monday to add six new police officers to the county force. The move adds staff while the county budget is already 5 percent ahead of last year's. The level, some activists say, will add to a $250 million deficit that's already on pace to bankrupt the county by 2012.

4. Be active.

Active-verb construction — sentences in subject-verb-object order — carries more punch. Although it’s not imperative to write every sentence that way, avoiding passive sentence construction adds punch to your prose.

The mayor was struck by the protester's sign.

A protester's sign hit the mayor.

Notice, also, the substitution of “hit” for “struck.” “Struck” is a word often found in police press releases; others are “perpetrator,” “brandished” and “apprehended.” You don’t use those in conversation. You say “man,” “waved” and “caught.” Write the way you speak — you’ll sound less phony.

Test Drive: Freebase Gridworks 1.1

Update, 11/10/2010: Since I originally reviewed Freebase Gridworks, it has been acquired by Google. It’s now called Google Refine, and version 2.0 has been released. Original post follows:


Data journalists spend lots of time wrestling dirty data, so when I heard the News Applications team at the Chicago Tribune raving about the data-handling abilities of Freebase Gridworks, my interest was piqued. Anything that can lessen the pain of cleaning data is worth a closer look!

Freebase Gridworks is a Java-based app that runs locally in your web browser. The makers’ pitch describes it best:

… A power tool that allows you to load data, understand it, clean it up, reconcile it internally, augment it with data coming from Freebase, and optionally contribute your data to Freebase for others to use. All in the comfort and privacy of your own computer.

Installation is simple. I chose to load Gridworks on my Windows XP-based work laptop, although you can download Mac and Linux versions from the code page. I was up and running in about five minutes, which included loading a new version of Java. Once running, the opening screen looks like so (click for larger version):

You can open an existing project or create a new one by importing a data file — and Gridworks hints at its utility by providing options to parse delimited or non-delimited files, limit the import to specific rows, etc. For testing, I grabbed the Academic Libraries: 2008 Public Use Data file from the National Center for Education Statistics — a tab-delimited text file of about 4,100 rows.