I’m joining DocumentCloud!

Career news! I’ve been named Director of Product Development for DocumentCloud, the open source tool that hundreds of newsrooms worldwide use to catalog, analyze and publish PDF files and other documents. The platform — created via a Knight News Challenge grant — is now part of the non-profit Investigative Reporters and Editors, which in turn is housed in the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri.

In my role, I’ll work with an expanded DocumentCloud team and advisory board to improve the basic platform and add premium features. Support for this effort comes via a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, announced last summer.

I’m super excited about the project. I’ve been a long-time fan of DocumentCloud — at USA TODAY, we used it extensively, for example, in Ghost Factories and other investigative projects — and it’s become an indispensable tool. Beyond that, I have been involved with IRE via conferences, bootcamps and teaching for many years, and it’s an honor to join the staff.

More news on the project to come!

 

 

Updates from the Lands of Life & Work

Apologies for the lengthy radio silence. It’s been a busy and complicated couple of months — so busy that I never did write the 2013 year-end wrap I’d planned. Life and work served up some changes from the predictable, and writing fell off the table. A dose of reality.

In the past, each of these nuggets might have been posts of their own, but to get caught up here’s a mix of work and life highlights in the old USA TODAY Newsline format:

Mass killings interactive: After a year-long effort, last December we published an immersive data viz called Behind the Bloodshed: The Untold Story of America’s Mass Killings. Inspired by the events surrounding the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, it lays out the facts about mass killings over the last 8+ years: They happen often and are most often the result of family issues. My team at Gannett Digital collaborated with USA TODAY’s database team, and a post I wrote for Knight-Mozilla OpenNews’ Source blog explains our tech and process. We and our readers were super-happy with the results. We won the journalistic innovation category of the National Headliner Awards and made the short-lists for the Data Journalism Awards and the Online Media Awards.

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NICAR 2014: The annual IRE data journalism conference, held in Baltimore this year, was great. About 1,000 attendees made for the largest turnout ever, and a “Getting Started With Python” session I taught was packed (here’s the Github repo). Highlights always include catching up with friends and colleagues, and as usual I focused on sessions with practical takeaways, such as learning more about d3.js and Twitter bots. Chrys Wu, as always, rounds up everything at her site. Next, I’m hoping to catch the IRE conference in San Francisco in June.

Relaunching our platform: For the last four months at work, I’ve taken a detour away from interactives to help our team that’s extending our publishing platform across all our community news and TV station properties. In short, versions of the complete makeover USA TODAY got in 2012 are now appearing on sites ranging from the Indianapolis Star to Denver’s KUSA-TV. It’s more than cosmetic, though, as Gannett Digital’s also moving all the sites to a shared CMS and Django- and Backbone-powered UX. In addition to desktop, there’s all-new mobile web, Android, iPad and iPhone apps. It’s been tiring but rewarding. In the process of personally launching the Wilmington News Journal, Springfield News-Leader, Montgomery Advertiser and several other sites, I’ve gained a better view of the breadth of Gannett’s journalism and found some great opportunities for collaboration.

Other cool work things: While I was relaunching websites, the rest of our interactives team collaborated with USA TODAY’s Brad Heath on his project exploring how felons can escape justice by crossing state lines. I’ve started refactoring the scraper behind our tropical storm tracker to get it ready for the upcoming season. We’ve been bringing Mapbox training to our newsrooms, which has given me the chance to finally dig deeper into TileMill and the Mapbox API. And you might have heard we have some big elections coming up in November. Finally, I recently tried both Google Glass and the Oculus Rift. Check back in five years on whether they’ve changed/saved journalism, but overall the experience reminded me of how I felt when I began using a web browser. Clunky but filled with potential.

Goals for the rest of the year: It feels like the year is just getting started. I hope to post more often with Python, data and tech tips. I’ve bought Two Scoops of Django and JavaScript: The Definitive Guide for light summer reading (right), and I continue to plug away on a writing project that I hope to finish soon. And that’s in addition to lots of family and fun stuff we have in sight.

Thanks for hanging in, and please stay in touch!

Again Towards The Analog

The feeling came a few weeks ago as I drove along a back road near the river. I was in the lowlands, about to cross, driving alone during a day in which I’d purposely disconnected from email, Twitter and most things digital.

I think we see things differently on those days.

My car rounded a bend, and through the trees I could see the river. The scene was perfection: bare trees arrayed on a grassy plain. If I’d shot a photo, it would have brushed up against Ansel Adams in intent if not quality. It took my breath, and I gave thanks.

Soon I was on a bridge crossing the river. But the scene stayed in mind as I drove toward my destination, the road now winding through rustic small towns that seemed to take me even farther from the office.

I’ve thought back on those minutes often as 2011 disappeared into time past. I’ve thought how I need many more of those minutes.
Continue…

Persistence

For the last many years, I’ve had an idea for a project. At work, in meetings and casual conversations, if an opening came up for me to tout my vision, I’d take it. Launch the pitch, follow up with an email.

“I’ve said it before, but we really should …”

Sometimes, I wondered whether people were thinking not about my grand idea but rather, “How can I get away from this man?” Mostly, they encouraged me — even though at the end of our talk it would be clear that other priorities held sway, and my pet idea had to go back to the shelf.

And so it did. Until about two weeks ago.

That’s when a spark out of nowhere set fire to the pile of kindling I’d been setting up all that time. Suddenly I found myself giving my pitch and hearing, “Let’s do this.”

And so for the last two weeks I’ve found myself in a room with the very people I’ve been bugging — some of the smartest, most creative people in my company — each one focused on turning this idea into something you’ll be able to see.

And the best part is that the end product is going to be way better than I ever imagined. Because now it won’t be my idea, but OUR idea.

A pile of kindling. A random spark.

Never give up.

A Sense of September

The chill this morning — barely 50 degrees when I left the house at 6 a.m. to meet a friend for breakfast — told me for sure what the progressively earlier sunsets have been hinting at for weeks: The season is changing. Before leaving, I pulled my favorite hoodie out of the closet and enjoyed its warmth for the first time since the spring. A familiar, welcome cocoon.

I feel this way each September, embracing the transition from summer to fall more than any other change in season. This, I am sure, has its roots in the school calendar — 13 years of public school and another half-dozen of college conditioned my psyche to understand that Labor Day is summer’s last hurrah before the start of a new term. September has always marked a new time, a beginning again, another chance.

September seems particularly on time this year. If you’re a journalist, you’ve probably heard that my workplace is reorganizing, the result of long-standing trends in its business and in journalism in general. We’re not alone. All of us who ply the trade have spent a decade watching our ranks thin, our business models implode, and our products change in a frenzy of reinvention that takes on the aura of shooting arrows while blindfolded. Journalists of all kinds — print, broadcast, even web — were slow to recognize the oncoming train of an always-connected digital society in which everyone owns the metaphorical printing press. Just as we laughed at our parents who couldn’t set the time on the VCR — “but you just press these buttons!” — the newsroom data nerds and digital prophets, the ones who heard the train whistle years ago and tried to get their brothers and sisters to just open a spreadsheet for goodness sakes, have had their own chuckle, albeit one tinged with melancholy. We knew the day would soon come when digital ignorance would not be bliss.

And yet, it’s September.

My family moved often when I was young. From fourth grade to ninth, I attended six schools in three school districts.

That’s why September, announced with cool air and a display of stars in the crisp early sky, reminds me that seasons do change. For this I am thankful. And soon  — as leaves turn gold and fall to the ground — we’ll remember that some things need to die before they can live again.