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.

Latest Posts

  • A Google Spreadsheets change affecting TimelineJS users

    Google recently changed something about their Sheets service which is causing many people to run into an error when they are making a new timeline. Note: there should be no impact on existing timelines! After this change, many of you click on the "preview" and get this message: An unexpected error occurred trying to read your spreadsheet data [SyntaxError] Timeline configuration has no events. There is a straightforward work-around, but it requires those of you who have...

    Continue Reading

  • How Americans think and feel about gun violence

    A man killed his wife, then himself. I want you to see his face and learn that he enjoyed fishing with his grandchildren. A small-time drug dealer is shot by two men in a parking lot. I find his Facebook profile and a photo shows him striking a playfully irreverent pose, giving the camera the middle finger. The photo’s comments take a mournful turn after a certain date. “Rest easy bro ???” Gun Memorial runs...

    Continue Reading

  • Software developers interested in journalism: Northwestern and The Washington Post want you!

    Northwestern University and The Washington Post are offering a unique opportunity for two talented software developers interested in applying their programming skills in media and journalism. Here’s the proposition: (1) a full-tuition scholarship to earn a master’s degree in journalism at Northwestern University, followed by (2) a six-month paid internship with The Post’s world-class engineering team, with the possibility of subsequent full-time employment. These opportunities are made possible by the John S. and James L....

    Continue Reading

  • What happened when Gun Memorial let anyone contribute directly to victim profiles

    If you’re reporting local or niche news, there’s a good chance that your audience collectively knows more about the story than you do. That’s especially true for us at Gun Memorial, a small publication with a nationwide mission of covering every American who is shot dead. In our latest, mostly successful, experiment, we let readers add to our stories without editor intervention. This article shares some lessons from that experience. Asking for reader contributions A...

    Continue Reading

  • How conversational interfaces make the internet more accessible for everyone

    This story is part of a series on bringing the journalism we produce to as many people as possible, regardless of language, access to technology, or physical capability. Find the series introduction, as well as a list of published stories here. In 2004, human-computer interaction professor Alan Dix published the third edition of Human-Computer Interaction along with his colleagues, Janet Finley, Gregory Abowd, and Russell Beale. In a chapter called “The Interaction,” the authors wrote...

    Continue Reading

  • Three tools to help you make colorblind-friendly graphics

    This story is part of a series on bringing the journalism we produce to as many people as possible, regardless of language, access to technology, or physical capability. Find the series introduction, as well as a list of published stories here. I am one of the 8% of men of Northern European descent who suffers from red-green colorblindness. Specifically, I have a mild case of protanopia (also called protanomaly), which means that my eyes lack...

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

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

View More