Posts

Archive of posts with the category
Ideas

  • 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...

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  • 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...

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  • 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...

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  • 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...

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  • Phone stories

    How a 100-year-old-technology helped Pop-up Magazine make news convenient for audiences

    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. As news organizations look increasingly to social networks, apps, and other recently-emerged technology to find new audiences, at least one has gone in the completely opposite direction. Pop-Up Magazine this year launched a product...

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  • Cat and mouse

    Reaching readers who live under heavy government censorship

    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 had just moved into my dorm in Beijing. After connecting to Wi-fi, I opened Twitter to check out the news. It wouldn’t load. Then I tried to open my Northwestern email. Same thing....

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  • Want to build a successful digital community? This old book may help

    If we ever meet I’ll probably ask you for advice on my latest project, Gun Memorial. I’ll explain that we’re trying to humanize reporting on gun violence in America by showing the face of every victim. I’ll say that we’re getting lots of traffic but we need more contributions from “citizen journalists” to sustain the project. I’ll ask, “do you have any suggestions?” I was surprised when two people recommended the same book to me...

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  • How to reach audiences that don't have internet access

    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. “Our audience” is a phrase that has been used so much during my time in various newsrooms that it has sometimes become as soothingly monotonous as white noise. "Who is our audience?" "How do...

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  • Limited connectivity

    Including readers whose only access might be a mobile phone

    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. Although internet adoption rates have neared saturation among young adults and people with higher education, a broader, more diverse audience lags behind when it comes to internet connectivity, often relying on slow, mobile-only connections....

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  • Translation: How and when to translate news and news 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. More than 60 million people in the United States speak a language other than English at home. Of those, 25 million report that they “speak English less than very well,” according to Census Bureau...

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  • A bigger tent

    How new techniques and technology can help journalists reach more people

    In the last few years we've seen a rush of new storytelling technology and techniques — from virtual reality to scrollytelling to chat interfaces. For many of us, these advances have made the experience of consuming news richer, more convenient, and more illuminating. We can learn more quickly, see the world with fresher eyes, and immerse ourselves in stories in ways that go far beyond text on a page or moving images. For those of...

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  • Getting started with conversational bots using Wit.ai

    Bots. The word is everywhere and each week seems to bring a new project or piece of technology — from Facebook's new bot-building platform to Microsoft's Bot Framework to Taco Bell's bot for Slack. Journalism is not immune. Platforms like Quartz and Purple use bots to bring a conversational feel to news with a mobile apps and SMS interfaces while CNN’s bot will send you personalized news right through Facebook Messenger. The potential appeal of...

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  • Ten lessons learned after launching the Miami Herald online in 1996

    The Miami Herald homepage on the day it launched, May 11, 1996. Check out a complete, saved copy of the site here. Twenty years ago today, The Miami Herald went live on the World Wide Web, unveiling its website a couple of weeks ahead of schedule because of breaking news: the crash of a passenger airplane into the Everglades about 25 miles northwest of The Herald's building on Biscayne Bay. At the time, when newspaper...

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  • A quick look at recommendation engines and how the New York Times makes recommendations

    A recent prediction that algorithmic curation would be one of the major trends of 2016 got me thinking about news recommendation engines. I’ve always been curious about the technology so I recently started digging into what makes them work and realized there is a whole lot to learn. But a little research and conversation with a newsroom technologist at New York Times helped me to understand how they work. First you should know that the...

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  • Transforming type: The changing landscape of digital type design and typography

    I’ve been involved in print design since my high school days of working on the school newsmagazine. It’s where I got my start learning the basics of design, layout, typography, and it’s what became the foundation for all my other design-related ventures. Only within the past school year, however, have I started getting into type design and studying typefaces. Type is a very nuanced field to get into—there’s a lot of history to a practice...

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  • Paying dinosaurs: Lessons learned from many hacky deployments with Heroku

    As a hobby developer and computer science student, I find myself using Heroku to release many of my projects. Heroku is a cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS) business that provides server power for developers, and I have taken recently been taking advantage of their Free and Hobby plans. While Heroku offers a simple, cheap solution to developers, it’s not perfect. The documentation isn’t always clear and there are many small hurdles that come up...

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  • The challenges awaiting journalists heading toward virtual reality

    While virtual reality has just recently emerged as a storytelling tool for journalists — The Columbia Journalism Review even calls it “journalism's next frontier.” — filmmakers and gaming enthusiasts have been experimenting with the technology for much longer. To get a sense of where the technology might be headed and the challenges journalists are likely to face as they adopt the technology, I talked with two people who have been working with VR for quite...

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  • Uncle Sam's digital makeover and the lessons it holds for publishers

    The website for the US Digital Services Playbook looks like anything but a typical government website. Find it at playbook.cio.gov/. In September, 18F, a team of designers and developers within the General Services Administration (GSA), and the United States Design Services (USDS) released the US Web Design Standards, a project that aims to unite all government websites under a single set of guidelines that guides visual design and user experience. This idea of creating a...

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  • Big tech wants to help journalism. What's that mean for creative storytelling and the user experience?

    As a typical #millennial I get most of my news from the organizations and friends I follow on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve also started regularly checking Snapchat Discover for curated entertainment content at my fingertips. This year, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Snapchat and Apple all released new news aggregation and presentation features and apps for mobile. There are so many new ways to get your daily dose of news and information that it can be overwhelming to...

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  • 30 tabs deep — How can we build a tool to track our journeys around the Internet?

    These days curiosity is likely to lead you on a long trek through the depths of the Internet. You read one article and you stop at a shiny hyperlink that screams, “click me!” Before you know it, you are 30 tabs deep and way off topic. I value these journeys for the unexpected treasures that lie along the way, but sometimes the connection of that treasure to your origin isn’t clear. Though you have the...

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  • MozFest 2015: From climate change to digital design, you may need to change your language

    Ask me what my biggest take-away was from hours of logging tape for NPR’s ongoing series on the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris, and I will say, “If you want to ensure that your audiences are educated, empathetic and responsive, responsible you'll have to speak their language." In the past few weeks, I’ve listened to (and rewound, slowed down, and re-listened to) some of the world’s leading scientists describe what went right...

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  • MozFest 2015: Why open-source, -science, -knowledge, etc. can't be passive

    At MozFest you’ll hear the word “open” a lot – open data, open news, open knowledge, open science, open web and so on. I wondered, though, what does “open” really mean? A few years ago, I found out about open source software. My understanding at the time was that open sourcing a project was simply allowing other people to see its code. That simple understanding was enough to get by. But after hearing “open” prepended...

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  • MozFest 2015: Why data visualization for mobile shouldn't hurt

    As data journalists, we tend to focus on visualizing our numbers beautifully for desktops. We pour over D3.js line charts and spend hours getting the tooltips on our maps just right. And right before our deadlines, we’ll throw in some CSS media queries for mobile screens and call it a day. I know I’ve been a culprit more than once. One of my favorite sessions was Aaron William’s MozFest session “Crafting new visualization techniques for...

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  • Why you shouldn't talk yourself out of attending your first hackathon

    For some reason, in my head, I’ve always had a really vivid image of what a hackathon might look like: a conference for brilliant individuals (who probably self-taught themselves how to code when they were 11-years-old), madly typing away on their computer and seeing possibilities that I couldn’t see. I’d probably meet the next CEO of Silicon Valley’s newest tech start-up. Or, meet other superhero geniuses in the form of young 20-year-old bodies. So, when...

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  • Seven coding lessons learned building "Your CPS"

    I have been a journalist and journalism student for a decade. When I started my first professional job, in 2007, the dream of every young reporter was to have a scoop stamped on the front page of the paper the next morning. At that time, of course, we didn't have the Internet on our phones and social media was 100 percent something called Orkut — at least in Brazil, where I am from. For years I worked reporting, writing,...

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  • What we learned about using data to generate custom content

    A year ago, I was struggling to choose between offers to study journalism or computational analysis and public policy. I ultimately chose computational analysis and public policy as I was excited by the prospect of learning about the frontiers of data and policy. I quickly developed a fascination with civic hacking and the open government movement. Aspiring to use my data science skills for social good and to return eventually to journalism, I applied for...

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  • Plotting a course and finding direction for a new podcasting project

    Since joining Knight Lab as student fellows in April, Michael Martinez and I have been thinking about podcasting technology and online audio in hopes that a project idea would emerge. We're obviously not alone. The last 12 months have seen the rise of highly popular shows like Serial and advanced mobile or in-car "podcatching" platforms. Just last week, podcasts marked another milestone when President Obama appeared on Marc Maron's WTF podcast. Unfortunately, a handful of...

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  • Combatting imposter syndrome with community

    Knight Lab squad at NICAR15. Photo by Anne Li. Until college, I never thought coding was for me. I never intended on learning about the “push” and “pull” of GitHub. I was perfectly content not knowing about the existence (and immense power) of the web inspector. I simply fell into it. It’s been exciting to learn and build new things, but part of “falling into” coding has meant that I can’t seem to shake that...

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  • How Byron Lutz untangled the Calderon family's connections and what it tells us about social network analysis

    On Friday, February 21, 2014, two members of a Southern California family dynasty were indicted on a series of political corruption charges, including tax fraud, money laundering, and bribery. Two members of that family — Tom Calderon, a consultant and a former assemblyman, and Ron Calderon, a state senator — would surrender themselves by the following Monday, both pleading not guilty to the charges. Tied to their alleged wrongdoings was an extensive network of people...

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  • Event recap: Kickstarter for Journalism

    On Friday, Knight Lab co-sponsored an event with Kickstarter and Cards Against Humanity, whimsically entitled "How to journalism in a Scary World if you don’t have a Fancy Grant." The event brought together journalists and other storytellers to talk about how they’ve supported their work and the various funding models you might be able to use as well. Nicole He was on hand to make a pitch for Kickstarter, which last year launched a journalism category. It’s obviously...

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  • Long a challenge, Snapchat delivers crowd-sourced storytelling

    In the last few months, I cheered from the sidelines of the Macy’s Day Parade, I built a kite to fly in India, I strutted the streets of New York Fashion Week and I tailgated a football game in the dead of January. All from the comfort of my bed. How did I do it? Well, I watched these events unfold via Snapchat, an app I normally reserve for sending selfies to friends. I didn’t see...

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  • Newsroom love stories start with collaboration and communication

    This twice-weekly exchange has been going on since my first editor’s meeting two years ago when I first joined the editing team of North by Northwestern, Northwestern’s online student-run news magazine: “We’re going to do a story on the architecture on campus for this Sunday,” a section editor declares excitedly at the editorial meeting. “It’s going to be interactive. It’ll be so cool!” “That’s great,” a managing editor responds. “Have you talked to the interactive...

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  • Learning by copying: Why pulling inspiration from existing ideas is great

    Back in September I finally started to build my portfolio site from scratch. This was back when the extent of my coding knowledge pretty much ended at how to save a document as an HTML page. Making my own website? Forget it; I had no idea where or how to start. Former student fellow KK Rebecca Lai suggested I find a bunch of websites, study the elements I liked through the console (the box that...

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  • How news organizations are using SnapChat to report and distribute news

    On the surface Snapchat would seem like a poor service for journalists seeking to convey information. Users are restricted to images, text or drawings that last no more than 10 seconds before disappearing. And the only people who will see your content are people who already follow you. But that hasn’t stopped a few enterprising news organizations from experimenting, adding their own voice to the more than 500 million Snaps sent each day. Especially with...

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  • Nine tools for journalists to cut Twitter list creation and management time

    Journalists know Twitter can be a pretty crazy place, but it’s not like they can just leave. News occasionally breaks amidst the chaos! To cut down on all the noise Twitter offers a little-used but very helpful feature, lists. Lists allows users to cut Twitter down into bite-size Twitter chunks.  With lists journalists can specify which accounts they’re interested in and then view the accounts separately from their main Twitter feeds. Each list will ideally...

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  • How the git mergetool solved my anxiety, fears, and most importantly, my merge conflicts

    Back in March, another student fellow Nicole Zhu and I worked on a team challenge for which we were the primary coders. One day, she emailed me: “Uhh. I messed up. Sorry. I think you have to delete your repo.” She had been attempting to resolve a merge conflict, ended up in vim somehow, nope’d out of there, and messaged me to let me know her solution was to delete everything and re-clone. More sadly,...

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  • The devil is in the details: shifting gears from developer to designer

    For an entire quarter, I had the privilege (a curse to some) of focusing all my time on a single project. Romaine, a social platform/tool for selecting courses, had a simple goal: how do we harness the community nature of the question, “what class are you taking next quarter?” My initial solution was laughably naive and simple. ‘Just link each course to Facebook!’ I thought to myself. We’d be done in no time. Ha, ha....

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  • What can we learn from the history of social network analysis?

    When I joined Knight Lab as a student fellow six months ago, I became determined to make progress on a social network analysis (SNA) tool. As journalists we continually look to provide quality information through captivating perspectives and I believe that network data fulfills a part of that purpose in capturing the details of our society from a structural point of view. But the fact is that network analysis is a tough problem to tackle....

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  • Resources to build and deploy web applications quickly

    Beginner coders often look to learn specific languages, like JavaScript or Ruby on Rails. While this is important to understand concepts like control flow and functions, as learners become more comfortable with these technologies, their focus shifts from tutorials and side projects to designing solutions for real-world problems. These solutions typically include common core features that start to require backend and devops experience: data and user storage, a presentable user interface, and a live link...

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  • Pop Up Archive's Anne Wootton and Bailey Smith on born digital audio, search and transcriptions

    "Obligatory question: what shows do y’all love to listen? Give ‘em to me. The more obscure the better." "Oh my god, Miranda. There's this podcast, Serial, that is so good." Unless you've been ignoring the future-of-journalism chatter completely, chances are you've begun to tire of the whole "podcasts were dead and now they are back" discourse. This story is everywhere and it’s not exactly accurate, as they never really were "dead." That said, if you...

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  • In our ears… November edition

    Around the Lab, some of us are long-time podcast junkies and some of us were about eight years old when podcasts came on the scene. We've been publishing our research into web audio from our primer on its history to why it feels stagnated. However, we haven't published much about podcasts or podcasting (because everyone else is writing about it, including listicles from just about everyone from The Atlantic to The Huffington Post) or about...

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  • How to get rich in the podcasting gold rush: Steal these 6 ideas from Odeo

    Odeo’s vision for casual content creation didn’t take off in the mid-00’s, but with new interest in web audio maybe these ideas are worth another shot. Before there was Twitter there was Odeo, the web-app that aimed to make podcasting accessible, discoverable and social. While it’s mostly remembered as the humbling misstep Ev Williams, Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone took along the path to building Twitter, it was filled with innovative audio ideas the net...

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  • Leaps and sounds: 6 product categories creating the future of web audio

    In our "Why web audio can’t grow up" article, we presented the case for moving away from “podcasts” as the de-facto definition of web audio, to create new audio platforms and new ways to experience interacting with audio on the web. Quick summary: Podcasts are difficult to share, tough to discover and not inherently suited to community building. They just feel old! Luckily we’re not the only ones who’ve noticed the problem, innovators of all...

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  • The 4 Stages to Internet medium maturity: Why web audio can't grow up

    Audio storytelling on the net has looked the same for about a decade - why are we accepting the status quo while text and music evolve? Screen grab from Comedy Central. The current state of audio on the 'net It doesn’t take a genius to see web audio has problems. In a Knight Lab brainstorm we pinpointed more than 20 things we can’t stand about how audio storytelling works on the net. Plus we’re not...

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  • From Carl Malamud to Dr. Dre to Ev Williams: The history of web audio

    When Dr. Dre sued Mega Nerd, and now famous serial-entrepreneur, Sean Parker’s Napster back in 2000, digital music distribution seemed like the biggest danger to the rapper’s fortune. Maybe the threat triggered something in the hip-hop mogul’s mind. What was once a threat became booming business for the good doctor in May when he sold Beats Music to Apple as part of a massive deal. Dre nearly became hip-hop’s first billionaire in the process, and might...

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  • Rethinking the listicle. What can it do for "serious" news?

    Odds are, you’ve read more than a handful of listicles. They proliferate social media, they’re sweet and short (but short on nutrition), and in a culture of distraction, it's hard not to love a numbered article. This October, I facilitated a session at Mozilla Festival, seeking to discover where these listicles belong "serious" news reporting. The proposal might sound strange considering that most listicles are headlined with some variation of “50 hottest …” “8 simple...

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  • How to learn to code: Tell everyone, then ask questions

    The second you decide to learn to code, let everyone - your parents, your grandparents, your Twitter followers - know. Coding might be portrayed as a loner activity in the media, but I've found that when coding your best friend is the universal coding community. I built my first portfolio site with the help of learn.knightlab.com last fall. The feat took me a year to complete. In hindsight, I realize that part of the reason...

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  • What I learned building my first news product, JuxtaposeJS

      Just in time for last week's Online News Association Conference, Knight Lab announced the launch of JuxtaposeJS, a lightweight, easy-to-use, image comparison tool. Any product launch is exciting and I'm excited to see how journalists use JuxtaposeJS to tell stories. But from a personal perspective JuxtaposeJS is more than just a tool — it’s the first tool I’ve ever built from start to finish. It was also my first major Javascript project and I...

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  • Technology and teamwork: How to get the most out of your interdisciplinary team

    With code sometimes you have to run before you can walk. Tutorials and W3Schools are great for learning the basics, but at some point you just have to open a blank window in Sublime Text, focus on a project and start writing code from scratch. If you’re like me and aren’t a disciplined runner, it can be hard to keep up the momentum when working on your own. Having teammates keeps you on track and...

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  • Event recap: Twitter talks elections, politics, and data

    In the eight years since Twitter launched, the platform has become an essential tool for modern journalists. Yes, it’s great source of interesting content and anecdotes for coloring your work. It’s also an undeniably effective platform from which to promote your work. But with more than a billion tweets posted every two days, the data and insight derived from those tweets is probably even more intriguing. Late last month, several members of the Twitter for...

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  • Six social search tools to help journalists find and analyze trends on Twitter

    This is the third post in a series highlighting research and possible new directions for our Twitter search tool, twXplorer. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are bursting with information thanks to people and organizations the world over ready and willing to share. For journalists these platforms can make for invaluable resources – that is if they know how to use them. In my work researching possible future directions for twXplorer I came across...

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  • Five mini programming projects for the Python beginner

    After Shelly wrote this post, Webucator, a company that provides Python training, volunteered to create solutions for these projects. They've made a series of videos that'll help you out if you need it. Learning a new programming language is both the most exciting and the most humbling experience. For me, that language has recently been Python, which I’ve been learning over these last few months. And as every coder knows, the best way to learn...

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  • Keyboard shortcuts for tech-savvy journalists, no matter if they write code or articles

    Rebecca Lai watches me type every letter of a long file name — something like pythonreallylongfilename1234567.py — into Sublime. After the first couple letters, she cannot contain herself. “TAB COMPLETE! TAB COMPLETE!” If there's an apt analogy for the way Lai must feel when I forget to tab complete (keep reading if you're unfamiliar with the term) as she helps debug my code, it must be something like this: you're watching over your mother’s shoulder...

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  • Five tips to help you make the most of your first hackathon

    [caption id="attachment_5488" align="alignnone" width="850"] The author's project from HackIllinois.[/caption] Last weekend I participated in HackIllinois, a 36-hour hackathon hosted at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There wasn’t a set theme other than to create something awesome, which left participants open to hack on whatever they wanted — web apps, mobile apps, hardware hacks, and anything else you can imagine. While all this creative freedom sounded great at first, my teammates and I — all first-time...

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  • How the NYT graphics team prepped for and carried out its Sochi Olympics plan

    The New York Times’ graphics team began working on the many explanatory, video-based interactives and composite images for the Winter Olympics many months in advance. When the Olympics roll around every two years, virtually every news site covers it in one way or another. For interactive teams in particular, the Olympic spectacle provides a wealth of opportunity to craft stories that are beautiful, functional and informational. For Sochi many newsrooms put together great packages (some...

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  • Building a content creation ecosystem: journalism and collaboration on the web

    Editorially, one of the first and prominent of the collaborative "pre-CMS" tools, recently announced that it will shut down May 30 despite much fanfare from users. I once worked at a content creation agency in Boston where we churned out an exorbitant volume of content for client companies’ websites on a daily basis. Each writer was responsible for 15-20 stories per day that ranged from 200 to 500 words. We peer-edited and posted all of...

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  • How humans make crime data apps more compelling

    Although the Chicago Tribune's homicide application makes extensive use of Chicago’s Data Portal, humans play the crucial role of sourcing and compiling the individual stories. I’m constantly in awe of the newest “data-driven news app.” I ooh and ahh at choropleth maps and play around with filters, marveling at what I’ve always thought to be the product of exclusive scraping, APIs and D3. I didn’t really think beyond the data wrangling and visualization toolkit. When...

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  • Five data scraping tools for would-be data journalists

    This past Fall, I spent time with the NPR News Apps team (now known as NPR Visuals) coding up some projects, working mainly as a visual/interaction designer. But in the last few months, I’ve been working on a project that involves scraping newspaper articles and Twitter APIs for data. I was a relative beginner with Python — I’d pair coded a bit with others and made some basic programs, but nothing too complicated. I knew...

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  • Preserving interactive news projects with Newseum, OpenNews and Pop Up Archive

    Photo by Ted Han during the #apparchive designathon at Newseum with OpenNews and Pop Up Archive On Sunday, March 2, Knight-Mozilla OpenNews, the Newseum and Pop Up Archive hosted a one-day conference focused on solving a fairly new problem: How to preserve the new breed of complex interactive projects that are becoming more prevalent in news. While print newspapers are relatively well-preserved, we as an industry do a poor job of preserving interactive databases and...

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  • A beginner's guide to collecting Twitter data (and a bit of web scraping)

    As a student fellow at the Knight Lab, I get the opportunity to work on a variety of different projects. Recently, I’ve been working with Larry Birnbaum, a Knight Lab co-founder, and Shawn O’Banion, a computer science Ph.D. student, to build an application that takes a user’s Twitter handle, analyzes their activity and returns a list of celebrities that they tweet most like. It’s not an earth-shattering project, but it is a fun way for...

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  • Googling for code solutions can be tricky — here's how to get started

    Mad Libs was driving me mad. In order to learn JavaScript earlier this quarter, I set out to build a web application that would mimic a game of Mad Libs and immediately got stuck. The idea was that the game would prompt you to enter a set of random words according to specific parts of speech, and then return to you a story whose blanks had been filled in with those words. Cue a hilarious...

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  • If you want to learn to build the web, start by building your community

    Students at Open Lab Hours. Photo by Suyeon Son. For the last two quarters, student fellows at the Knight Lab have been hosting Open Lab Hours each week. The atmosphere, conversations and community that have developed have been more than we have expected. Friendships were born, pizza was consumed, and, most importantly, new projects were pushed online. The idea behind Open Lab Hours is simple: create a space for students interested in journalism and technology...

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  • Let's get physical: Discovering data in the world around us

    The world of a data journalist is mired in numbers. Stats after stats, spreadsheets after spreadsheets — gathering, cleaning, and processing data is undeniably a tedious process. They are worthwhile and necessary endeavors, yes, but as a budding journalism student it seems learning all of that process could make developing the skills of the data journalist seem inaccessible. It’s hard to remain invested in a project before its narrative has been fleshed out, when all...

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  • Hack or Hacker? Know when it is appropriate to access data and when it is not

    Attending NICAR14 as a computer science student without a journalism background was an interesting experience, to say the least. Never have I been surrounded by so many journalists (and developers) who were so passionate about data and the tools that can help them attain it. As the journalism and developer worlds are converging and as access to information is becoming ever more important, the question of “when it is appropriate to access data and when is...

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  • Displaying of aggregate info: Dynamic storytelling with Google Fusion Tables

    Slides from "NewsCamp::The next generation of data viz" Alberto Cairo gave the first talk I saw at NICAR. The room was packed. He is the author of The Functional Art, maintains a blog the same name, and has become a highly respected expert in data visualization. Cairo’s talk was titled "NewsCamp::The next generation of data viz," and he made the slides available. Cairo said something that really stood out for me. “We should not focus...

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  • Brainstorming ideas for social network analysis in investigations and journalism

    Some of the "How might we…" questions at the NICAR14 designing new tools for social network analysis journalism session in Baltimore Sunday morning. This year's CAR conference has had many discussions about organizing data and surfacing stories, whether it’s through crowdsourcing personal stories in Al Jazeera’s “Uganda Speaks” project or by analyzing 80,000 censored Weibo posts in ProPublica’s “China’s Memory Hole.” Social network analysis, which is the analysis of the connections linking people, businesses and...

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  • Don't believe your eyes: Learning how to be critical with Alberto Cairo

    A previous version of this story misstated Alberto Cairo's position on the proportion of people who oversimplify infographics. We've removed the number. Read Cairo's take on thinking critically about data visualizations, including his reaction to this piece, here. Not 15 minutes into the first session at my first NICAR conference, I felt utterly mortified. Here was Alberto Cairo, author of “The Functional Art,” telling me the graphic I retweeted not two weeks ago with the...

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  • Behind the dialect map interactive: How an intern created The New York Times' most popular piece of content in 2013

    NYT's most popular piece of content in 2013 — “How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk” generates a personalized dialect map based upon user responses compared to data from more than 350,000 survey responses collected in 2013. How do you create the most popular piece of content of the year at one of the nation’s most prestigious news outlet? Well, for starters, study or consider careers in politics, law, and philosophy before eventually deciding that...

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  • 'The master conductor': product management in journalism

    My fellowship at the Knight Lab has been a deep dive into news media product development. I have spent the past year helping create tools such as twXplorer, which helps reporters leverage Twitter as a research and reporting tool, and Untangled, the Lab’s network analysis research initiative. I believe that digital innovation can drive social impact and that news media product teams are uniquely positioned to change the course of journalism's’ development and sustainability. So...

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  • 'You have to put in the reps' and other advice to help you learn technology

    As my third quarter at Medill came to a close in September I found myself at a crossroads, because after years of being paid to simply put words on a page, I was switching teams. I had earlier enrolled in the school’s interactive track because deep down, I knew I wanted to learn to code — or rather, I knew I liked the idea of learning to code. Technology is constantly evolving, and journalism technology...

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  • Three lessons from Hacktucky on how to build and launch projects in real life

    Screenshot from Hacktucky.com Last weekend I participated in Hacktucky, the Society of News Design's first annual hackathon (held this year in Kentucky). The goal of the hackathon was to build and ship something of local interest within 24 hours. It was an amazing learning experience and it reminded me that habits that are absolutely essential at hackathons should also be used in the real world. The team I worked with had very a diverse background...

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  • MozFest 2013: If it ain't broke, break it — how and why to test your news site

    Moments following the Boston Marathon bombings, the Boston Globe's website shut down due to excessive traffic. And it stayed down. For hours. Suddenly, the state's most prominent news provider was no longer an information resource for arguably the state's most newsworthy event in years. As Dan Sinker, head of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project, and speaker at this year's MozFest so eloquently put it: this is a really stupid problem to have. Sinker teamed with Dylan...

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  • MozFest 2013: For journalists, web literacy is not quite enough

    One of Mozfest’s most prominent themes this year has been “Build + Teach the Web.” Throughout the keynotes and sessions, Mozilla has pushed its new initiative, Webmaker, as a rallying point for all of us interested in educating the world in becoming creators of the web rather than users. It’s a great initiative. Nothing is more important for us as makers than getting more people onboard, especially in journalism. But journalism has a specific set...

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  • MozFest 2013: Measuring news engagement and impact

    I’ve been thinking and writing recently about how news organizations can purposefully and meaningfully measure engagement and impact. It turns out to be a common question and at MozFest on Saturday morning Knight-Mozilla OpenNews fellows Brian Abelson, Stijn Debrouwere, Annabel Church, Sonya Song and MIT Center for Civic Media researchers Erhardt Graeff and J. Nathan Matias helped lead a session on the subject. Organizing thoughts and ideas in the news analytics sessions. The session started...

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  • Designing tools for investigation at the Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires Media Party

    Above, Bike Storming's Mati Kalwill and the Lab's Joe Germuska exchange ideas and show each other project demos at the #hhba #mediaparty media fair. As I recently wrote, last week Joe and I had the privilege to participate in the Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires Media Party. We prepared a couple of talks and spoke to the group: mine was about the current state of Knight Lab, and Joe's was about the future of journalism. We also prepared and facilitated a workshop on designing...

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  • A guide to online tutorials for the code-curious journalist

    “I definitely think that coding now is a kind of a literacy, no matter what position you are in,” - Louise Ma, WNYC’s data news interaction designer, in CJR Here’s a fact: The occupation of newspaper reporter was recently rated by one career services website as the No. 1 worst job of 2013. With a negative six percent projected job growth and a painfully low median salary, it's become clear that the concept the “traditional” journalist is...

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  • User testing: how news designers and developers add context to quantitative data

    Last week I wrote about how news organizations use A/B testing to help iterate on design elements such as page layout and headline writing-style in order to increase reader engagement. The technique provides essential information about what a reader is doing, but it does have limitations. “When you’re only looking at metrics you see the what, but you don’t see the why,” said Steve Mulder, director of user experience and analytics at NPR Digital Services....

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  • New journ-tech community in Miami + Follow-up to the Code with Me Miami workshop

    The February, we sponsored Code With Me's second workshop in Miami. We asked our friend, Miami-based journalist and Code with Me Miami mentor, Rebekah Monson, to give us a follow-up explaining how journalists in the area have since started their own Hacks/Hackers chapter and have been hosting weekly open hack nights with the Code For Miami Brigade at one of the city's co-working spaces called The LAB Miami. Code With Me Miami aimed to teach 18 local journalists basic HTML, CSS and jQuery...

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  • Designing from data — How news organizations use A/B testing to increase user engagement

    Back in November I had a minor journalism crisis, questioning journalism’s impact on society and the business models that are trying to sustain news organizations. This prompted me to look into other ways that people interested in social impact were developing and organizing businesses. Long story short, I applied and was accepted into a 6-month program at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management called NUvention Impact. It’s an interdisciplinary social entrepreneurship program that gives Northwestern graduate...

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  • Early adopter: Why an incoming freshman wants to be a hacker-journalist, discovering Knight Lab

    [sc:editors-note notetext="This spring incoming Northwestern freshman, Alex Duner, reached out to us in utter excitement about newsroom programming and eager to get started. He's come to this niche of computer science and journalism earlier than most, so we asked him to write about why he wants to study computer science and journalism." ] Alex Duner, incoming NU freshman. Plans to study journalism and computer science. Hello! My name is Alex Duner, I am a recent...

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  • How our university lab is helping prepare future hacker-journalists

    Medill “unicorns” at graduation (left to right): Assistant Prof. Jeremy Gilbert;Hilary Fung; Dan Hill; Sarah Adler; Katie Zhu, Prof. Rich Gordon The Knight Lab produces software -- but not just software. We also help produce a new generation of journalists who can thrive at the intersection of journalism and technology. The lab is contributing to Northwestern's educational mission, while also giving students a platform to prepare themselves to have an impact after they leave. Cases...

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  • How to: Portfolio sites for journalists, GitHub makes them cheap and (kinda) easy

    Time and time again, new journalists are told to market themselves and make a brand for themselves. The new media heroes of the day have all done it — Nate Silver and fivethirtyeight, Andrew Sullivan and The Daily Dish, Brian Stelter and TVNewser, Matt Thompson, Kat Chow, Touré, Danyel Smith — the list goes on. Sometimes, though, all you need is a static site to tell people who you are and what you do — a personal, or portfolio site with contact info and...

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  • Six things to know about successful open-source software

    In the community of media and journalism innovators, it is commonly accepted that releasing software with an open-source license is the best way to maximize the chance that others will use your code. Yet, by any measure, the vast majority of open-source software goes nowhere. That's why we've spent some time at Knight Lab trying to understand the dynamics of software adoption — especially the factors that cause open-source software to be widely adopted. After...

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  • Fact checking Chicago Public Schools using algorithms, statistics and data mining

    Some students take it easy for the spring semester of their senior year; I loaded up on Introduction to Algorithms and Statistical Methods for Data Mining. The stats class covered theoretical foundations for data mining techniques like logistic regression and neural networks and finished with an open-ended group project assignment. As it happened, the class coincided with Chicago Public Schools' decision to close 49 schools. The move drew ferocious criticism from community groups (including the...

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  • The Department of Better Technology wants to get us one step closer to "Government as a platform"

    In our profile series, we often ask the question: If you could design an application that would solve any problem in the world, what would it be? Clay Johnson, the subject of our most recent profile, was recently awarded a Knight News Challenge grant, so he was ready with an answer substantial enough to deserve a piece of its own. With Adam Becker, Johnson has started a company, the Department of Better Technology. They are designing...

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  • Newsroom developer? Why? Journalism matters and it is in crisis is why.

    I care deeply about journalism and it is in crisis. Journalism matters. The free press is important to a functioning democracy. Journalism has the power to change the world. There are few moments in time more innovative, entrepreneurial and exciting than right now in the news industry. It amazes me how often I find myself talking about journalism's design problem and that technologists are struggling to understand why the digital transition has been so painful for...

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  • Want to build a data journalism team? You'll need these three people

    When I started using software to analyze data as a reporter in the late 1980s, "data journalism" ended once my stories were published in the newspaper. Now the publication of the story is just the beginning. The same data can also be turned into compelling visualizations and into news applications that people can use long after the story is published. So data journalism — which was mostly a one-person job when I started doing it...

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  • On receiving Google Glass: The world – well, the Web – #throughglass

    This post by Knight Lab founding faculty member Owen Youngman originally appeared on his personal blog. Glass, meet Owen. Owen, meet Glass. Wednesday, June 19 — my grades turned in, and commencement yet to come — I headed to Google’s Chelsea Market space in New York City, across the street from the massive New York headquarters building the company bought for $1.9 billion in 2010 (check out Andrew Blum’s book “Tubes” to learn an interesting reason the...

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  • Web scrapers for journalists: Haystax and other graphical interface systems

    I’ve spent my last weeks as a Knight Lab student fellow exploring web scrapers for non-programmers through an open source browser plugin called Haystax. As a journalism student who picked up computer science, I love scraping because you create a program that acts like a reporter, tracking the information you want from web pages you specify. It’s a useful technique to save journalists time copying and pasting data from an organization’s website, and scraping can...

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  • On being a journalist at Confab 2013, a content strategy conference

    Content strategy is a kind of floofy term, and it refers to a relatively new field. I didn’t know what it meant before I spent some time last week in Minneapolis at Confab 2013 with the Facebook content strategy team, learning from the great Kristina Halvorson and her gang of accomplished mavericks changing the way companies think about content creation, delivery and management. Many conference attendees complained that, at their companies, content wasn’t considered until...

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  • Getting GitHub: Why journalists should know and use the social coding site

    The famous GitHub logo. If you've been hanging around newsrooms or journalism classrooms lately, you've probably heard the word GitHub. It might sound a little scary and mysterious, but even the most traditional pen-and-notebook journalists should know about this super helpful tool (to say nothing of aspiring newsroom programmers). So, what, exactly, is GitHub? Why do you need to get it? GitHub is a social coding site. Designed for the purpose of democratic and collaborative...

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  • Journalism, computer science students to unveil eight collaborative projects

    Next week, journalism and computer science students from Northwestern’s “Collaborative Innovation in Journalism and Technology” class will unveil the prototypes they’ve built over the past 10 weeks. And you’re invited to see what they’ve come up with. The students have been working since April, when I and my Knight Lab colleague, Associate Prof. Larry Birnbaum of the computer science department in the McCormick School formed eight interdisciplinary teams out of the 27 students enrolled in...

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  • Beyond spreadsheets for CAR reporters: Algorithms

    The lightning talks at NICAR are often the highlight of the computer-assisted reporting conference, but Chase Davis (who recently did a Q&A with us) really grabbed my attention with his “Five Algorithms in Five Minutes” talk, complete with a mic drop. So much so, that three months later I'm still thinking about it and all of the ways that I might put these algorithms to use. NICAR coincided with my internship at The Sacramento Bee,...

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  • A journalist's beginner guide to code and web proficiency

    It's really easy to make it through journalism school without picking up a stitch of coding knowledge. But you know this already. Hacker journalists have written article after blog post about how the new crop of journalists needs to sit down, plug in and plain learn the essentials of the web. Well, some of us are listening. [sc:pull-right pulltext="All you need is a computer, the Internet and the will power to add some new abilities...

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  • Semantic APIs, what to consider when picking a text analysis tool

    Today, our online experiences are richer and more interconnected than ever. This is in part due to the existence of third-party services called Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs for short. APIs allow computer systems to speak with each other and exchange information. Facebook and Twitter’s APIs, for example, allow Twitter to repost your Facebook updates, and vice versa. At the Knight Lab, we often make use of semantic APIs. These APIs will usually take text...

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  • A model for every story type or smarter story modeling?

    This post by Knight Lab student fellow Tyler Fisher, originally appeared on Medium. For about seven months, I have been developing my college publication’s homebrew Django-based CMS (not to be confused with django-cms). I suppose “maintain” would be the more appropriate word; I didn’t actually build the CMS. Instead, I’ve added a few features, subtracted a few useless ones and optimized for performance. These days, it works well, and my editors know how to use...

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  • Designing newsrooms for digital: No more silos, try pods

    NOTE: This post was written by Knight Lab student fellow Katie Zhu for the AP-Google Journalism and Technology Scholars blog series, and originally appeared on Online News Association's AP Google blog. http://twitter.com/saila/status/249646241758199808 As a programmer-journalist studying journalism/computer science, I’ve found myself at the “intersection of journalism and technology” or in the emerging field of computational journalism. I used to think the technical stuff was the hard part. I spent my time trying to grasp scope in JavaScript, scraping webpages...

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  • It's all about storytelling at SND Awards

    Earlier this month, I joined 15 professionals digital designers as a student helper on the Society of News Design’s Best of Digital Design awards. It was my second time helping and I took away a few great lessons on the development of online news from the judges’ deliberations. (Check out snd.org for winning entries, or twitter and sndlive.tumblr.com for some more light-hearted coverage.) The biggest lesson was that while many of the winning entries featured...

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  • Students! Learn about content strategy and get paid

    Calling all journalism students! Apply for a fellowship at Facebook. Facebook is offering students a pretty fantastic opportunity to apply for content strategy fellowships and attend one of the leading content strategy conferences, ConFab Minneapolis, this summer. Three fellowship winners will receive the following: A full conference pass to Confab Minneapolis (June 3-5) All-expenses paid travel (flight, hotel and stipend) A private reception to introduce the winners Opportunity to apply for a paid 12-week internship in Menlo Park,...

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  • Questions and consequences when publishing public data

    Over the past few months something unusual has happened to public data projects: they’ve made national headlines. For journalists the most well known project was the gun permit holder map the Journal News in White Plains, New York published late last year featuring names and addresses of all registered gun owners in two New York counties. The map was controversial and inspired journalists and journalism pundits to weigh in on the project’s virtues and faults...

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  • Pair-programming-ish learning model and Code With Me Miami thoughts

    First, this post is incredibly tardy, yet I am going to publish it anyway. This Lab-hosted event was just too cool! Two weekends ago, Feb 2-3, Knight Lab hosted a Code With Me workshop at the University of Miami's School of Communication. This was the second of the two-day introductory web-making workshop for journalists offered by co-founders and Medill School alumns Tom Giratikanon and Sisi Wei. The first one was hosted by NPR in D.C. last...

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  • What j-schools can learn from music conservatories: CompJ

    Was Computation + Journalism an academic conference or an industry conference? It's hard to say, especially when nearly every panel through its two days featured a working journalist and an educator, and an equally diverse audience pressed questions from many ends of the field. Unsurprisingly, the debates that came to the fore early and often centered around that intersection between educators and practicing journalists. As a student in a journalism school, I paid special attention...

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  • Moving the Needle 2012: Glimpses of the future

    While we’ve spent the week looking back at 2012, what we’re really excited about is 2013 and beyond. Nieman Journalism Lab has a whole series on what to look for in 2013, from a not-so-shabby group of journalism and technology gurus — Amy Webb, Matt Waite, Erin Kissane and our own Miranda Mulligan among them. At the Knight Lab, we saw glimpses of the future in a many projects that launched this year: Summly’s launch got...

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  • Moving the Needle 2012: Glimpses of the future

    While we’ve spent the week looking back at 2012, what we’re really excited about is 2013 and beyond. Nieman Journalism Lab has a whole series on what to look for in 2013, from a not-so-shabby group of journalism and technology gurus — Amy Webb, Matt Waite, Erin Kissane and our own Miranda Mulligan among them. At the Knight Lab, we saw glimpses of the future in a many projects that launched this year: Summly’s launch got...

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  • Moving the Needle 2012: Kickstarter journalism and alt. approaches

    This week we have been taking time to acknowledge what we think are significant achievements, advances and cool projects from the past year in the technology + journalism space for our Moving the Needle 2012. The recently published Tow Center report, "Post-industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present," documents the collapse of the long-standing advertising subsidy, pointing out the need for new business models. Today, we look at a few new approaches: For a few journalism projects, Kickstarter provided a...

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  • Moving the Needle 2012: Our news nerd community

    It's not as though 2012 was the year in which a digital journalism community popped fully-formed into the world. However, looking back, there are some developments in our world which deserve to be called out. For this installment of our Moving the Needle 2012 series, we take a look at some of the best. As always, we expect we've missed a few, so please fill in the gaps in the comments below, or on Twitter...

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  • Moving the Needle 2012: Some design and presentation projects

    This week, Knight Lab is posting daily as we look back at 2012, taking a moment to call out some significant achievements, advances, or cool projects of the past year that move us just that much closer to saving journalism. Yesterday, Ryan Graff highlighted some of the storytelling that made 2012 great, delicately skirting a “Best of” list and instead noting some of the ideas that we thought were intriguing. Today is dedicated to design...

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  • Moving the Needle 2012: Storytelling highlights

    In the great tradition of news organizations for at least the last few decades the Knight Lab is taking a look back at the year gone by. It’s safe to say that for the technology and journalism community, 2012 was a great one. Every event and gathering seemed to have more people, more energy, and more ideas than in years past. All those people, ideas and energy produced some great work. Each day this week,...

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  • NewsFoo 2012: What we learned, where we're going

    We wanted to take advantage of the great brains assembled at last week's News Foo event, so we proposed a panel to suss out "big questions in journalism" that the lab should tackle. As might be expected from an unconference, the conversation ranged a lot more widely than our official topic. For starters, a number of folks had general questions about how the Lab works: Who are your stakeholders? Will your tools mostly be journalist-facing...

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  • Ignite #NewsFoo 2012: 'Design is the missing link'

    Over the weekend, some of the Knight Lab team participated in News Foo, an unconference at the Cronkite School of Journalism, hosted by O’Reilly Media and the Knight Foundation. It's in its third year, deliberately maintains small – somewhat controversial – attendee list of about 150 "campers," all of which are involved in technology and/or journalism an interesting ways. It was overwhelming and exciting and we feel incredibly grateful have had the opportunity to participate. I...

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  • Gold coins for tablet users

    This afternoon a team from Medill and Poynter presented their findings on an Eye Track Study for tablets, that sought to answer two questions: 1) How do people choose what to read, and 2) How do they go about reading. It’s clearly a difficult riddle to unravel, but the team — Mario Garcia, Jeremy Gilbert, Dave Stanton, Sara Quinn — managed to suss out some themes, interesting ideas, and solid takeaways for designers and developers...

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  • Following @Sweden's bold example

    Remember all the fun and trouble caused when Sweden gave regular old citizens control of @sweden on Twitter? Yup, we do too. And since it seems like the embarrassment to entertainment value bends toward entertainment we’re doing the same thing with @KnightLab. Starting next month @KnightLab will be handed to Northwestern students for a month at a time. Since Northwestern students are a pretty bright lot we’ve got some confidence that we’re making a good...

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