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April 22 2012

16:25

Ben Welsh Teaches You How to Create Robot Reporters in Your Own Image

Ben Welsh of the Los Angeles Times Data Desk spoke at the International Symposium on Online Journalism in Austin yesterday, around the same time that I was speaking on a panel about data journalism with Erik Hinton (@erikhinton), Al Shaw (@A_L) and Andrei Scheinkman (@acheink) at NYU Local Young Media Weekend.

Ben gave this talk at NICAR in St. Louis earlier this year. Lucky for us, ISOJ streamed it, and La Nacion’s data team captured it.

Watch, learn, and dig deeper in Ben’s Delicious stack. Ben also writes terrific material on his site, Palewire and tweets at @palewire.

16:25

Ben Welsh Teaches You How to Create Robot Reporters in Your Own Image

Ben Welsh of the Los Angeles Times Data Desk spoke at the International Symposium on Online Journalism in Austin yesterday, around the same time that I was speaking on a panel about data journalism with Erik Hinton (@erikhinton), Al Shaw (@A_L) and Andrei Scheinkman (@acheink) at NYU Local Young Media Weekend.

Ben gave this talk at NICAR in St. Louis earlier this year. Lucky for us, ISOJ streamed it, and La Nacion’s data team captured it.

Watch, learn, and dig deeper in Ben’s Delicious stack. Ben also writes terrific material on his site, Palewire and tweets at @palewire.

July 19 2011

01:59

What’s it like for women in tech?

Quora product designer Rebekah Cox answers the question (on Quora, naturally).

Note, this is one person’s perspective. Nevertheless, her response is a really important read. For some time now, I’ve been studying how to increase the number of women in tech and as I see it, the hurdles are three: Culture. Education. Mentorship/Role Models.

Of the three, example after example shows culture is the hardest to overcome. Cox illuminates what tech culture is like — and offers valuable advice on how a woman can use perspective to her advantage.

It’s my hope that tech culture will evolve in a way that doesn’t require a hard shell to stay in and excel.

But until then, people who don’t feel like alpha nerds but want to be in tech can learn a lot from Rebekah Cox’s reply and footnotes. Read it and leap.

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February 06 2011

19:11

The Visual Appeal of Super Bowl Sunday

In case you haven’t heard or seen, Super Bowl XLV TV coverage begins on Fox Sports at 2 p.m ET today, with the kickoff at 6:29 p.m. ET.

Fans, sponsors, and more are pulling out the stops for what’s being described as a classic matchup between two old-school, cheerleader-less football franchises in an unexpectedly icy stadium.

For a sport that has never failed to capture national attention, it’s interesting to see the size of each team’s respective fan nations are in landmass — and to notice how the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers areas are almost evenly matched.

Here’s graphic designer Jared Fanning‘s take:

The United States of Football by Jared Fanning

A slightly different, visually exciting version was posted on I Love Charts:

The United States of Football, from I Love Charts

National spectacle knows no bounds, however, and Visa, smartly, is taking advantage with dynamic visualizations of Twitter chatter, including a look at football-related trending topics in the days leading up to today’s big game:

Visa Super Bowl Twitter trending topics map

Not everyone will be focused on Super Bowl pre-game coverage, or at least that’s what Animal Planet is counting on.

The Puppy Bowl is back, offering entertainment to those who prefer tumbling fuzzy animals to the charging bulls of the gridiron. Broadcast starts at 3 p.m. ET (tape delayed to 3 p.m. Pacific).

Meanwhile, advertisers have put up big bank to be a part of today’s big game. “Fox was seeking between $2.8 million and $3 million for 30 seconds of time,” writes AdAge, which rounds up facts on all the spots.

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December 22 2010

08:16

How to Be a Better Journalist


In the course of my career, I’ve spent a lot of time asking about the things that appeal most to editors, those gatekeepers of bylines, the masters of purse strings. Every single one has said, in some fashion, that they want a good story.

On the one hand, you’re probably saying, “Duh.” But you might also be asking, “How do I improve?”

Journalism is as much craft as profession. And the only way you get good at craft is to continually practice and polish. For me, that means reading. A lot. Especially at the end of the year, when I turn to anthologies from the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt “Best American” series.

The first time through, I’ll read for the pleasure of reading. But when there’s a particularly striking story, I’ll go over it again and pick out story structure, think about the questions that were asked and the author’s angle, listen for turns of phrase, look for holes.

Approaching the collection so deliberately takes time, which is why it takes me until December to get around to reading books that were published in January.

This year, I’ve collected the 22 articles from “The Best American Science Writing 2010″ on Delicious. (It’ll be mirrored on Pinboard later today.) They’re by some of the biggest names in science writing, which, in my opinion, is one of the toughest subjects to cover for a mass audience, and therefore, the most interesting pieces to study.

Read, enjoy, and tell me which are your favorites and why. If you get really ambitious (or nostalgic), have a look at the 2006 collection. And for something completely different, read “Trying Really Hard to Like India,” a really funny article by Seth Stevenson that was included the 2006 “Best American Travel Writing” anthology.

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December 07 2010

22:41

Taking Time to Think

There will be more to this post, but for the time being, I wanted to share this video about a magician who took a year to develop a magic trick.


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22:41

Taking Time to Think

There will be more to this post, but for the time being, I wanted to share this video about a magician who took a year to develop a magic trick.


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December 02 2010

08:07

The Knight News Challenge, from One Judge’s Perspective

If you’re in the journalism world on Twitter, you’ve probably been seeing a lot of tweets with the #newschallenge and #knc hashtags over the last few days. It’s because the Knight News Challenge application deadline is looming. (The drop-deadline is Dec. 2, 7 a.m. EST/UTC -5. In other words, there’s still time to finish your application. Get cracking.)

This season, I’ve been helping the Knight Foundation do News Challenge outreach. Almost a year ago, I was sitting in a room with about 20 other people, reviewing approximately 2,300 applications that had come in for the 2009-2010 Knight News Challenge. Our job was to whittle down the applications to 500, and then to 50, which were then passed to a second group of reviewers (the Foundation’s preferred term for judges) before being forwarded to the Knight Foundation board for final cuts and consideration. All the work the reviewers put in was guidance for the board. The board decided who would receive grants, and in what amounts. Ultimately, a dozen projects were funded. You can learn more about them here. The 2009-2010 Knight News Challenge official report by Chris Connell was published June 15, 2010.

For me, the review process was eye-opening and highly educational. Friends and colleagues have not asked about what I learned, but rather what it was like, and obliquely, what we reviewers were looking for. As the 2010-2011 application process comes to a close, now seems like a good time to write this post.

In full disclosure, the Knight Foundation did not ask me to write this. I do so — and this is very important — without knowing anything about how the current application review process will be run. This time, things could be very different. The procedure changes year to year, as do the reviewers, the landscape, the technologies, the applications themselves, and the sense of what’s important and what constitutes innovation when it comes to digitally informing communities.

So take this for what it is: One person’s experience as a reviewer the last time this thing happened.

First, some myth-busting. The reviewers weren’t all journalists. They came from a wide variety of professional backgrounds. Some had worked all their careers in the non-profit world. Others came from journalism academia. Some fell squarely in the technologist/developer camp. Still others came from the startup world as entrepreneurs, often with technical backgrounds. A few were former Knight News Challenge grant-winners. A few had been reviewers the prior year, but in the final round, not the initial rounds. Not all of us were American, or American-born. There was a fairly broad spectrum of ages, from people in their 20s to those whose careers were perhaps twice that. And if I remember correctly, the group was almost evenly split between men and women of varied ethnic backgrounds.

I don’t have a copy of last year’s application, which is different from the current one, but I do remember we were asked to use the application criteria as our guide: The projects had to use open source technology. They had to serve a geographic community. They had to be “innovative,” and we were free to use individual judgement as to its definition. There was one more criterion, but it escapes me right now.

In any case, so long as the application met the criteria, we were free to decide whether it was worth forwarding to the next evaluation rounds.

We worked in teams of three such that each application was read at least once by three people. The Knight Foundation, via random assignment, parceled out the applications. We were encouraged to read other applications too, so long as our assigned batches were finished first. Imagine you’re a high school teacher grading multi-part essays — and last year there was no cap on length. You start to get the picture.

Applications were reviewed, discussed, re-evaluated among teams. In cases where an application referred to something outside one team’s expertise, the group would ask the other judges to review and comment. Inevitably, someone with the necessary knowledge stepped in. If any judge felt there was a conflict of interest, they’d recuse themselves from the review. Those without conflict would step in. We’d leave notes for each other. If we really liked or disliked something, we’d say so and give our reasons why. If we needed clarification, we were allowed to email the applicant ourselves and ask for it. If an application a reviewer truly loved didn’t make a cut, they could petition others for reconsideration. Sometimes it worked.

Hour by hour, day by day, we started noticing patterns and trends. Some applicants had great ideas but no proof they could actually carry them off. Some applicants had solid ideas but the funding request was out of proportion to the project. Some applications were outlandish, outside the scope of the News Challenge, restatements of already-funded grant winners (there were a number of proposals that were, in essence, Spot.Us), or dull rehashes of ideas whose time had passed.

What we were looking for were proposals that could clearly state a need, meet the geographic requirement, and describe an innovative, plausible, workable solution. The “innovative” hurdle was, and I think still is, the highest. In part, it’s because the standard of innovation is subjective by design. But the proposal doesn’t have to be unicorns and magic, it just has to be a really good idea that hasn’t been approached your way before. To paraphrase Jose Zamora, the Knight Foundation’s journalism associate, There are wheels. There’s luggage. But the Rollaboard? Now that’s innovation.

There are a lot of good ideas for the News Challenge out there, and a lot of talented people capable of make them real. Maybe this year it will be you. Good luck.

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December 01 2010

05:52

WikiLeaks Cablegate roundup, or the art of letting someone else be your guide

There are many, many things in this world to be interested in, and one of the major challenges is how to keep up with them all.

Every day, I bookmark and Instapaper lots of things that I mean to deeply explore when I get the time. But as I’ve told many people — journalism students full of fire, ambition and a limited ability to unitask especially — time is our most precious asset, one we all tend to manage badly.

Instead of flailing and failing to keep up, sometimes the best strategy is to sit back and wait for someone who’ll make our lives a little easier.

Today, one of those people was Andy Baio, a.k.a. Waxpancake. He pulled together a solid roundup of WikiLeaks Cablegate reportage, data sensemaking and commentary.

I jumped to two links right away: Dan Gillmor taking everyone to task with “A few questions about the Wikileaks release” and Blake Estrin of The New Yorker’s thoughtful essay about data, privacy and trust.

Should you desire further critical analysis, spend some time with “Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; ‘To destroy this invisible government’” by Aaron Bady, which I was led to via a discussion on Hacker News.

It’s all worth reading if you have the time.

Additional links:

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November 24 2010

00:33

Feather: Aviary’s HTML5 Photo Editor

Here’s something fun and educational: Feather, an embeddable, lightweight HTML5 photo editor by Aviary. For user instructions, see the Goodle doc.

Want your own? Get the APIkey and auto-generated code from Aviary.com

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November 21 2010

19:58

Playing Around in Processing

polka dotsSee those dots? They’re not drawn. I programmed them using a 2D and 3D development environment called Processing.

It may not look like much, but it’s a start, thanks to a workshop taught by artist and instructor Jer Thorp, who’s currently Data Artist in Residence at The New York Times.

Sounds like a very cool job to me.

Meanwhile, this week’s assignment is to build on some of the workshop exercises — and to figure out how to export the files to my server so you can interact with them.

growing boxes

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October 24 2010

15:22

Ramping up for ONA10

2010 Online News Association conference
The annual Online News Association conference is just a few days away. I’m told this year we’ll have more attendees than ever, making this one huge event in our nation’s capital. (If you see #ONA10 trending on Twitter from Wednesday through Sunday, you now know why.)

If you’ve registered, be sure to fill out the 30-second survey to help us organizers figure out the menu. (Check your email.) In exchange, you’ll get the complete list of attendees. (Networking! Get-togethers! See virtual and long-time but distant friends!)

I’ve been a conference organizer since 2007. In that time, things have changed a lot, thanks to free tools, simple-to-use platforms, and the resulting adoption into online culture. What I’m encouraged most by is the growth and expansion of our online community. It’s nice to see the hard work of dozens validated by the proliferation of other related events that’ll be happening because we’re in town.

If this is your first ONA conference, welcome. If you’ve been to one before, welcome back. The official ONA10 conference website (and booklet, which you’ll get when you register in Washington) will be your guide to conference coverage. This year, we’ll be livestreaming all keynotes and sessions for free. My team and I will be curating session discussion, back-chatter, related blog posts and photos. You’ll be able to find that content on the ONA10 website.

For those who like check-in apps, we’ve populated Foursquare with session rooms, and we’ll be launching trips and tips on Gowalla. (Our official account there is http://gowalla.com/ONA10.)

As for practical matters, pack a light umbrella and jacket or coat. The current weather forecast calls for light showers Thursday during the pre-conference workshops and job fair (high: 78 °F/25.5 °C; low: 65 °F/18 °C), and mostly sunny skies Friday and Saturday. (Friday high: 62 °F/16.6 °C; low: 45 °F/7.2 °C | Saturday high: 60 °F/15.5 °C; low: 47 °F/8.3 °C).

There’s no official dress code, but business casual is the norm. In years past, the Online Journalism Awards dinner has been a fancier affair. People have brought tuxedos and gowns. While you don’t have to get that swanky, you will not go wrong dressing up, however you choose to interpret that — especially if you’re a finalist. (Good luck everybody!)

OK. I’ve got more work to do before Oct. 28, so I’m gonna go now. I hope to see you in DC. You can follow me on Twitter @MacDivaONA.



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15:22

Ramping up for ONA10

2010 Online News Association conference
The annual Online News Association conference is just a few days away. I’m told this year we’ll have more attendees than ever, making this one huge event in our nation’s capital.

If you’ve registered, be sure to fill out the 30-second survey to help us organizers figure out the menu. In exchange, you’ll get the complete list of attendees. (Networking! Get-togethers! See virtual and long-time but distant friends!)

I’ve been a conference organizer since 2007. In that time, things have changed a lot, thanks to free tools, simple-to-use platforms, and the resulting adoption into online culture. What I’m encouraged most by is the growth and expansion of our online community. It’s nice to see the hard work of dozens validated by the proliferation of other related events that’ll be happening because we’re in town.



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September 30 2010

01:45

Journalism in the Age of Data

    Featuring (in order of appearance):

  • Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viégas, now at Google
  • Ben Fry, design and software consultant
  • Aaron Koblin, Google
  • Jeffrey Heer, Stanford University
  • Jim Ray, MSNBC.com
  • Amanda Cox, and her colleagues, Steve Duenes, Matthew Ericson, The New York Times
  • J. Paige West, MSNBC.com
  • Scott Byrne-Fraser, BBC News Online
  • Sarah Slobin, Wall Street Journal
  • Nigel Holmes, information graphics designer
  • John Grimwade, Condé Nast
  • Kevin Quealy, The New York Times
  • Richard Koci Hernandez, UC-Berkeley
  • Alberto Cairo, Editora Globo
  • Kris Viesselman, Society for News Design
  • Álvaro Valiño, Publico newspaper
  • Thomas Molén, Svenska Dagbladet
  • Nicholas Felton, information designer
  • Eric Rodenbeck, Stamen
  • Ola Rosling, ex-Google
  • Dana Priest, Washington Post
  • Shawn Allen, Stamen
  • Paul Steiger, ProPublica
  • Chase Davis, CaliforniaWatch.com
  • Eric Dédier, LeMonde.fr
  • Lisa Pickoff-White, CaliforniaWatch.org
  • Prof. Michael Stoll, University of Augsberg, Germany
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    August 18 2010

    17:05

    How to Pitch the Associated Press

    Jon Resnick, Donna Cassata and other editors from the Associated Press explain what they’re looking for in a pitch for a video story. Basically: Do your homework, know why the story’s newsy, describe characters, write tight.

    It’s solid advice for any pitch. Watch below.


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    17:05

    How to Pitch the Associated Press

    Jon Resnick, Donna Cassata and other editors from the Associated Press explain what they’re looking for in a pitch for a video story. Basically: Do your homework, know why the story’s newsy, describe characters, write tight.

    It’s solid advice for any pitch. Watch below.


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    August 04 2010

    14:25

    Client Work: Travis Fox Films




    I was asked to design a logo and website for video journalist Travis Fox, whose “10 Golden Rules for Video Journalists” continues to be a popular post on this blog.

    The site’s been in soft launch, but as of last night, it’s now fully operational, with new “Films” pages, showcasing Travis’s work for The Washington Post, Frontline and other outlets.

    Since some of you have asked, the site fonts are served by Typekit.

    Visit the site at travisfox.com.

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    14:25

    Client Work: Travis Fox Films




    I was asked to design a logo and website for video journalist Travis Fox, whose “10 Golden Rules for Video Journalists” continues to be a popular post on this blog.

    The site’s been in soft launch, but as of last night, it’s now fully operational, with new “Films” pages, showcasing Travis’s work for The Washington Post, Frontline and other outlets.

    Since some of you have asked, the site fonts are served by Typekit.

    Visit the site at travisfox.com.

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    July 24 2010

    20:46

    Once a Copy Editor, Always a Copy Editor


    Lori Fradkin used to copyedit for New York magazine. As a former full-time copy editor myself, her essay, “What It’s Really Like To Be A Copy Editor,” captures the trials of the job and the personality required to do it.

    Copy editors will often say the role is invisible and thankless. Like most jobs, it defines who you are all of the time. But unlike, say, being a lawyer or a teacher, it tends to inspire uncomfortable and sometimes dorky conversations with strangers.

    Fradkin writes:

    No one will look at an edited article and think, I am certain that, once upon a time, there was a double quote where there should have been a single, and a wise person fixed the issue for my benefit. But if you let a “their” slip through in the place of a “there,” you are a complete moron. And if you are working online, commenters will let you know so. Then your boss will let you know that the commenters are saying so in case you didn’t see it yourself. Also, people will want to talk to you—outside of work—about grammar. Aside from the guy who called me “awkward, in a cute way,” I think the worst line I’ve heard was from the dude who asked my thoughts on the serial comma.

    Nevertheless, those of us attracted to the job and who stay in it for a while, are special. In a good way. After all, as I once wrote in my farewell note to my colleagues at the L.A. Times, I saw the job as “readers’ advocate and writer’s champion.” In other words whether you create the story or see the finished product, we’ve got your back.

    Read Lori Fradkin’s full essay at The Awl.

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    July 23 2010

    22:47

    Thought for the Day

    “Enough already with this hyperactive behavior, this techno-tyranny and nonstop freneticism. We need to slow down and take a deep breath.”

    —Bob Herbert
    From his New York Times op-ed, “Tweet Less, Kiss More

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