NICAR14 reflections from a graduating visual journalist

I joined the relatively large crew of Lab student fellows this past weekend at my first NICAR conference, a crowd of fellow young journalists and I were invited to an “Unsession” about job searching for millennials.

Jeremy Merrill, an interactive developer at the New York Times, and Sisi Wei, a news apps developer at ProPublica, put the event together to create a judgement- and stress-free zone for us to ask questions about applying for journo-tech jobs. Recent college graduates who are now employed also participated and helped answer questions.

The questions ranged from networking …

Advice: If you want to talk to someone you admire, you probably have a reason for admiring him/her, so bring that up in conversation.

… to developing a portfolio.

Advice: Just keep making things, no matter how ugly it may be. Showing creativity and effort is way more important.

But there was one thing that stuck out to me: The professionals in this field are significantly invested in helping out the next wave of technology-journalists.

“In this community, we all want to help. Everyone is so friendly. If you have a question, ask it,” said Michelle Minkoff, an interactive producer for the Associated Press.

And it’s true. A little more than a year ago, I had no idea NICAR even existed. (Was it a misspelling of Nascar or something? But like, said with more oomph?)

Fast forward to now: I’m a graduating senior with plans to find a job writing code for journalism, attending her first NICAR and having an absolute ball with all of the data/coding jokes flying around. I now realize more deeply than ever how freely my mentors gave me their help so I could reach my current point.

They pushed me to do my best work, to keep learning, and to keep innovating. They even actively tried to connect me to others in the field for more opportunities and were always willing to teach me something I didn’t understand.

I suspect this spirit of collaboration prevalent throughout the NICAR community is rare. I’ve bounced around from a lot of different potential career paths. While I’ve had great mentors on those paths as well, I can confidently say that nowhere else have I had advisors this invested in my future. Nowhere else have so many people helped me before I even asked for help. Nowhere else did I feel like people cared quite as much. As long as I was willing to put in the work, I always had people willing to help.

That collaborative mentality is evident throughout NICAR. Whether it’s through an “Unsession” or a simple session on the basics of Python, everyone here is psyched to both learn and teach. But beyond just teaching, there’s a desire to encourage, to help people understand that effort and a drive to learn matter far more than knowing everything right now.

“There will be moments in your life where you feel like there’s too much to learn. I’ll let you in on a secret: That never changes,” said Wei.

Maybe this collaborative spirit is just part and parcel of this field. After all, “open source” is a pillar of data journalism and coding. Maybe that applies not just to the products that we create, but to the personalities of people in this field as well; advice is open-source here, and there are no secrets to success.

I’m still learning and will always be learning. But as I’m surrounded by fellow NICAR-ians, that wall of unknown “stuff” seems a little less intimidating, and I can’t wait to jump in.

Every year New York Times' Chrys Wu curates 'Slides, Links & Tutorials' from the annual CAR conference: 2014, 20132012 and 2011. They are a fantastic resource for all journalists and investigators of all skill levels.

About the author

Shelly Tan

Undergraduate Fellow

Latest Posts

  • Introducing StorylineJS

    Today we're excited to release a new tool for storytellers.

    StorylineJS makes it easy to tell the story behind a dataset, without the need for programming or data visualization expertise. Just upload your data to Google Sheets, add two columns, and fill in the story on the rows you want to highlight. Set a few configuration options and you have an annotated chart, ready to embed on your website. (And did we mention, it looks great on phones?) As with all of our tools, simplicity...

    Continue Reading

  • Join us in October: NU hosts the Computation + Journalism 2017 symposium

    An exciting lineup of researchers, technologists and journalists will convene in October for Computation + Journalism Symposium 2017 at Northwestern University. Register now and book your hotel rooms for the event, which will take place on Friday, Oct. 13, and Saturday, Oct. 14 in Evanston, IL. Hotel room blocks near campus are filling up fast! Speakers will include: Ashwin Ram, who heads research and development for Amazon’s Alexa artificial intelligence (AI) agent, which powers the...

    Continue Reading

  • Bringing Historical Data to Census Reporter

    A Visualization and Research Review

    An Introduction Since Census Reporter’s launch in 2014, one of our most requested features has been the option to see historic census data. Journalists of all backgrounds have asked for a simplified way to get the long-term values they need from Census Reporter, whether it’s through our data section or directly from individual profile pages. Over the past few months I’ve been working to make that a reality. With invaluable feedback from many of you,......

    Continue Reading

  • How We Brought A Chatbot To Life

    Best Practice Guide

    A chatbot creates a unique user experience with many benefits. It gives the audience an opportunity to ask questions and get to know more about your organization. It allows you to collect valuable information from the audience. It can increase interaction time on your site. Bot prototype In the spring of 2017, our Knight Lab team examined the conversational user interface of Public Good Software’s chatbot, which is a chat-widget embedded within media partner sites.......

    Continue Reading

  • Stitching 360° Video

    For the time-being, footage filmed on most 360° cameras cannot be directly edited and uploaded for viewing immediately after capture. Different cameras have different methods of outputting footage, but usually each camera lens corresponds to a separate video file. These video files must be combined using “video stitching” software on a computer or phone before the video becomes one connected, viewable video. Garmin and other companies have recently demonstrated interest in creating cameras that stitch......

    Continue Reading

  • Publishing your 360° content

    Publishing can be confusing for aspiring 360° video storytellers. The lack of public information on platform viewership makes it nearly impossible to know where you can best reach your intended viewers, or even how much time and effort to devote to the creation of VR content. Numbers are hard to come by, but were more available in the beginning of 2016. At the time, most viewers encountered 360° video on Facebook. In February 2016, Facebook......

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

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

View More