NICAR Lightning Talks: A round-up

Undoubtedly the most attended session at NICAR 2013, the Lightning Talks provided a delightful relief from the heavier (thought certainly worthwhile) information-laden talks that make up the bulk of the conference. Eleven journalists took on the challenge of presenting a topic of their choice in five minutes or fewer.

It was lighthearted and fun, but concise but valuable. There’s a rumor that a video of the talks will appear sometime soon (and pictures have surfaced), but in the meantime, here’s a roundup:

We learned 5 algorithms in 5 minutes from Chase Davis, founder of Hot Type consulting and a former Director of Technology at the Center for Investigative Reporting. The algorithms were designed to help journalists do everything from finding outliers through scatter plots to clustering documents in linear time. These algorithms are extremely useful in generating analysis when dealing with massive amounts of documents.

Designer-developer-journalist of The Washington Post, Katie Park dished about optimising projects for the mobile web, focusing on lowering load times and for graphics and data projects.

Ben Welsh, database producer for the LA Times, handed down some life-changing advice on how coding like a web developer can make you a better investigative reporter, along with some Django Unchained lessons. His final tip was to keep pushing out stories, joking that “there’s nothing a geek likes more than starting a new project.”

If you’re a Nate Silver fan, Jeff Larson, a web developer at ProPublica, had some tips on how to be like him. Larson introduced the audience to the probability density function and the cumulative distribution function.

Sisi Wei, news applications developer of ProPublica, advocated the idea of incorporating games in news, demonstrating the idea via the game Gauging your Distraction by The New York Times. Wei went over some rules about what makes games work, and the distinct experience news games bring to the users.

Rob Gebeloff, part of the data-analysis team at The New York Times, broke down z-scores, an index used to compare variables with different scales. Creating z-scores allow comparisons of performance, satisfaction and diversity amongst schools on the same scale. Look at SchoolBook by WNYC for a great example of z-scores in journalism.

Survivor of the 2012 Election and senior software architect and news hacker at The New York Times, Jacob Harris, grumbled charmingly about how every state’s election is weird and that myriad “edge cases” — inconsistencies in caucuses and state-specific election policies — create the need to test and write code for very specific functions.

Al Shaw, interactive news designer and developer of ProPublica, introduced techniques to keep users on your site on the basis of Casino Driven Design. By using techniques like glass doors, mash buttons, and sharing contexts, users have no reason to leave your page.

With freshly collected data about how the TSA treated his luggage during his flight from Nebraska to Kentucky, Matt Waite, journalism professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, presented his DIY data-collecting machine, that included an accelerometer, micro controller, and an SD card reader to store information. These simple DIY machines present great possibilities because they can be used to collect data that no one else have. One machine might not change journalism, but imagine deploying 600 to do something like monitor air quality or noise in your city.

Wrapping up, Jennifer LaFleur and Jeff Larson of ProPublica introduced a polite language ILENE. The program starts running with “shall we begin?” and close with “that was delightful”. All commands have to start with pls (please) and end with tu (thank you).

About the author

KK Rebecca Lai

Undergraduate Fellow

Latest Posts

  • With the 25th CAR Conference upon us, let’s recall the first oneWhen the Web was young, data journalism pioneers gathered in Raleigh

    For a few days in October 1993, if you were interested in journalism and technology, Raleigh, North Carolina was the place you had to be. The first Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference offered by Investigative Reporters & Editors brought more than 400 journalists to Raleigh for 3½ days of panels, demos and hands-on lessons in how to use computers to find stories in data. That seminal event will be commemorated this week at the 25th CAR Conference, which...

    Continue Reading

  • Prototyping Augmented Reality

    Something that really frustrates me is that, while I’m excited about the potential AR has for storytelling, I don’t feel like I have really great AR experiences that I can point people to. We know that AR is great for taking a selfie with a Pikachu and it’s pretty good at measuring spaces (as long as your room is really well lit and your phone is fully charged) but beyond that, we’re really still figuring...

    Continue Reading

  • Capturing the Soundfield: Recording Ambisonics for VR

    When building experiences in virtual reality we’re confronted with the challenge of mimicking how sounds hit us in the real world from all directions. One useful tool for us to attempt this mimicry is called a soundfield microphone. We tested one of these microphones to explore how audio plays into building immersive experiences for virtual reality. Approaching ambisonics with the soundfield microphone has become popular in development for VR particularly for 360 videos. With it,...

    Continue Reading

  • Prototyping Spatial Audio for Movement Art

    One of Oscillations’ technical goals for this quarter’s Knight Lab Studio class was an exploration of spatial audio. Spatial audio is sound that exists in three dimensions. It is a perfect complement to 360 video, because sound sources can be localized to certain parts of the video. Oscillations is especially interested in using spatial audio to enhance the neuroscientific principles of audiovisual synchrony that they aim to emphasize in their productions. Existing work in spatial......

    Continue Reading

  • Oscillations Audience Engagement Research Findings

    During the Winter 2018 quarter, the Oscillations Knight Lab team was tasked in exploring the question: what constitutes an engaging live movement arts performance for audiences? Oscillations’ Chief Technology Officer, Ilya Fomin, told the team at quarter’s start that the startup aims to create performing arts experiences that are “better than reality.” In response, our team spent the quarter seeking to understand what is reality with qualitative research. Three members of the team interviewed more......

    Continue Reading

  • How to translate live-spoken human words into computer “truth”

    Our Knight Lab team spent three months in Winter 2018 exploring how to combine various technologies to capture, interpret, and fact check live broadcasts from television news stations, using Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant device as a low-friction way to initiate the process. The ultimate goal was to build an Alexa skill that could be its own form of live, automated fact-checking: cross-referencing a statement from a politician or otherwise newsworthy figure against previously fact-checked statements......

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

We build easy-to-use tools that can help you tell better stories.

View More