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May 25 2011


A peek inside the @TribApps Team at the Chicago Tribune.

Open-Web innovation appears to be the name of the game in the Chicago Tribune’s News Applications department. I had a chance to sit down with Joe Germuska, Christopher Groskopf, and Brian Boyer from the @TribApps team yesterday in Chicago, and I had a few questions on my mind:

  • What is the scope of their work? What do they work on day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-over-month?
  • How does the news apps team interface with the editorial and other departments?
  • What is the experience of being an island inside a ‘traditional’ or ‘legacy’ news organization?

The scope of this team’s work is nothing short of awe-inspiring. They’re responsible for a wide range of projects: from classic ‘news apps’ like the 2010 Illinois School Report Cards to the unlikely job of deploying a massive number of Wordpress sites to power the TribLocal.com network.

Nonetheless, they still have the time and opportunity to work on forward-thinking initiatives like the Chicago Breaking News Live Web app, and to release tools like the The Newsapps Boundary Service for other newsrooms to build on.

Through all of these varying demands, open-web thinking seems to permeate everything they do. For example:

  • Chris shares his experiences building news apps with big data for other organizations to learn from;
  • Joe is collaborating with other newsrooms and news apps developers to build tools that will make it easier for reporters to explore and make sense of census data (Joe, do you have a link for me?)
  • The whole team is focused on releasing re-usable code and building a body of knowledge about how to handle the unique needs of a newsroom.

As for the advantages of working in a nimble team like this, Brian put it succinctly when he said “we can roll a new rig every day to improve how we do our development.” Translation: even in the real-world environment of a newsroom, with deadlines and deliverables looming, and despite the challenges of a their IT department, this team is able to rapidly experiment and test new ideas.

Interestingly — and even though the team was started by individuals with a journalism-first background — new team members have come to the job with more technology and computer science experience, than traditional journalism chops.

I was curious about this from the perspective of the Knight-Mozilla fellows that will be heading into newsrooms this fall, and how they might have similar backgrounds.

If the @TribApps team is any indication, I think our fellows will have a fighting chance at survival.

March 08 2011


MoJo goes to NewsCamp, Part II: How newsroom developers are reinventing the Web

Here's the 30-second summary of this post:

  • Some forward-thinking newsrooms are employing software developers, and these developers are influencing the direction of their news organizations from the inside.
  • At the same time, these "news application developers" often face a number of common challenges. For example, long-standing conservative approaches to information technology in print-first news organizations, and the intensely deadline-driven news cycle.
  • Party due to these challenges, they have limited time to A) work on long-term projects, or B) invest in thinking about how technology will have shaped news in a few years time.

This is another opportunity for the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership. Specifically:

  1. To highlight the amazing work that is already being done -- work that is producing tangible demonstrations of what happens when the Open Web is mixed with journalism, reporting, and news production;
  2. To help with some of the common challenges, which -- in turn -- could help to catalyze field-changing innovations.

If you have a few more minutes, you should check out the three-minute video report back from #NICAR11 that inspired this post. (There's also an earlier video report back from the same event here). Read on for the longer post...

Poster Image [There's an HTML video here--load this post with your open video-enabled browser.]

(Featured in this video are Derek Willis, Andy Boyle, and Michael Corey.)

The great thing about working on this initiative is that so many news organization are already rich with "Maker Culture". For example, a growing number of newsrooms are investing in what is quickly becoming know as the field of "news application development" or "news apps" (a term that covers almost anything from interactive time-lines to searchable online databases), and others go further by putting software developers inside the sausage factory to work along side reporters and editors on new forms of online storytelling.

These teams have produced award-winning, information-rich, stories, powerful data-driven narratives, and they have also been known to produce useful open source software along the way. That open source code, on occasion, finds its way into other amazing open-source software projects, and that is exactly the type of exponential innovation that we're hoping for with MoJo too.

However, the challenges facing news innovation are not insignificant. Starting with rather mundane problems like the limitations of archaic, inflexible, corporate content-management systems or servers that are secured to the point of not being experimentation friendly, and extending all the way to the ever-present question of return on investment -- news app developers are both at the vanguard and staring over a cliff. (For more on this, read Steve Myers' excellent piece.)

But there's another story here too: faced with these challenges, these "of the Web" teams -- like the Internet itself -- route around the problems to get their products into news users' hands, using agile development approaches, open-source frameworks, and cloud-based hosting. More importantly, they demonstrate how to take an idea from napkin sketch to prototype, from prototype to launch, from launch to Web scale, all with limited time and resources. The "learning labs" that we're developing for MoJo will be specifically focusing on helping our participants develop these types of skills.

I hope that the MoJo community can start to think about what resources we have to collectively address some of the types of challenges that Andy and Michael talk about in the video above from the NICAR "Hack Night", challenges like finding examples of prior art, or having a rich enough set of general solutions that can address broad categories of day-to-day newsroom requirements.

Let's start experimenting with how to make exponential innovation in the news-technology space more likely. I hope you'll stick around, or -- better yet -- join in.

Sponsored post

August 04 2010


Semi-comprehensive list of newsrooms doing news applications

News App Teams

  • Chicago Tribune: The News Applications Team ( Christopher Groskopf, Brian Boyer, Ryan Mark, Joe Germuska)

  • Cincinnati Enquirer

  • CQ-Roll Call Group

  • Dallas Morning News

  • LA Times: The Data Desk

  • New York Times (Aron Pilhofer, Brian Hamman, Ben Koski, Derek Willis, Jacob Harris, Jacqui Maher, Alan McLean, David Nolen, Tyson Evans, Andrei Scheinkman)

  • ProPublica

  • St. Petersburg Times

  • Texas Tribune

  • Washington Post

  • MSNBC.com

Several Journalist-Developers, Not Formally in a Team

  • Arizona Republic

  • Des Moines Register

  • PBS NewsHour

  • The (Eugene, Ore.) Register-Guard

  • The Palm Beach Post

  • Seattle Times

  • Spokane Spokesman-Review

  • USA Today

Solo Journalist-Developers

  • Talking Points Memo (Al Shaw)

  • The Oregonian

  • Scripps Howard News Service

  • Palm Beach Post


Reviving Older Post: Please add yourself to news apps list!


I made a few edits to an old wiki/question on hack-shackers, trying to make a comprehensive list of news application teams. Please add your newsroom here (or correct your information):


If folks want to have a robust discussion about what counts as news app development, I guess have it there, too.


Tags: newsapps
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