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.



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!

Favorite Albums List

I bought my first record sometime in the late 1960s/early 1970s. It was a 7-inch, 45 RPM disc featuring “I Like Science” b/w “We Need the Rain.” Artist unknown.

Nerd from the start is what I say. I also ran the projector in elementary school.

Since then, some of the music I bought has endured — as in my beloved progressive rock — but a lot hasn’t. I regret telling my boss at WPDH-FM, where I played music in the ’80s, that I would always listen to Judas Priest.

Today, here’s what has lasted — for me. To make this list, the album in general or the song specifically still has to raise the heart rate:

A Map of the World — Pat Metheny
The Fire Theft — The Fire Theft
Seconds Out — Genesis
A Trick of the Tail — Genesis
Wind and Wuthering — Genesis
Friction — Stavesacre
Absolutes — Stavesacre
— Spock’s Beard
The Kindness of Strangers — Spock’s Beard
Hitch a Ride (song) — Boston
Moving Pictures  — Rush
Live from the Royal Albert Hall — Joe Bonamassa
Did I Step On Your Trumpet? (song) — Danielson
Bridge Across Forever — Transatlantic
— The David Crowder Band
Structural Damage — Steve Morse Band
The Rising Tide
 — Sunny Day Real Estate
World Renown for Romance
— Denison Marrs
As the World — Echolyn
Alive on Planet Earth — The Flower Kings
Chasing After Shadows … Living With The Ghosts — Hammock
Raising Your Voice … Trying to Stop an Echo — Hammock
Heaven’s Bright Sun — Iona
Professor Satchafunkilus … — Joe Satriani
Two For the Show — Kansas
Easter (song) — Marillion
Bitter Suite/Heart of Lothian (song) — Marillion
Matt Redman in general
Question Mark
— Neal Morse
Testimony 2 — Neal Morse
As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls — Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays
Forget and Not Slow Down  — Relient K
Ghosts  — Sleeping at Last
Spectral Mornings — Steve Hackett
Elemental — Tears for Fears
Going for the One — Yes
And You and I (song) — Yes

Again Towards The Analog

The feeling came a few weeks ago as I drove along a back road near the Potomac River. I was in the lowlands, about to cross from Virginia to Maryland, 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, standing watch next to the Potomac. 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 and then into Maryland. 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.

My First Earthquake

I was looking at my watch because the meeting was scheduled for an hour, and the hour was nearly over.

We were in a second-floor conference room in the USA TODAY building in McLean, Va. That side of our glass-enclosed HQ faces the intersection of the Dulles Toll Road and the Capital Beltway, and for the last few years we’ve been front-row-center to the construction of new HOT lanes for the Beltway and the work going on for the new Metro Silver Line.

Loud noises are not uncommon.

At 1:50 p.m. I checked the time. I have a bad habit of frequently and obviously looking at my watch, which implies that I am bored or inpatient. I’m not; I just like to know what time it is. I’ve always been a clock-watcher. I’m always on time. So, I looked, mentally noting that I had a free hour until my next meeting at 3.

A moment later, the floor began to vibrate. There was a sound, rumbling, like the bulldozers and cranes that had been outside for months, but somehow different.

“Is that a crane coming toward the building?”

I stood to push back the shade and look out the window. I never got that far. The room began shaking from side to side, and people in the next room started exclaiming.

Earthquake, I thought. I dove under the conference table and lay on my side while the room pulsed.

Part of me was in disbelief. They always said earthquakes don’t happen here.

And then it was over, and someone said, “Let’s get out of here!” And then we were outside, everyone trying to make a call on a cell phone and no one getting through.