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Why technology matters: It’s about reporting

Posted by on Jan 11, 2010 in Blog, CAR, programming, theory, web | No Comments

“Figure out what you want to do, and get really good at it.”  That’s been the overarching advice I’ve heard in the past few weeks, as I seek to understand where I might fit in the “new media” world.  It all sounds fine, although the more I meet interesting people who’ve been looking at data analysis and web presentation for a long time, the more it becomes apparent that getting “really good at it” is a lifelong endeavor.  But what curious journalist wouldn’t find that a plus?  My struggle has been figuring out the first clause of that sentence, what I want to do.  There’s about 85 answers I could give, and they all have to do with journalism and technology.  But the sooner I figured out where my primary interest was, the sooner I could focus on getting those skills down.

I’ve been talking to a lot of mentors, and suddenly, it all became clear to me.  When I first met people doing CAR, I thought to myself, “I didn’t know you could do that!  That’s so cool!”  It didn’t seem like work, just a fun endeavor.  And then it hit me.  I’m a reporter.  I love and respect everyone across journalistic disciplines, and I’m not adverse to working out of an office.  But I report things, I dig things up.  Properly placing a heading is interesting for a while, but ten years from now, I just see it becoming a frustration.  New media and technology is great, and as journalists, we say our medium isn’t dying (because it’s not!) because it’s just new ways of delivering content.  I guess that’s supposed to allay our fears.  But I never really thought of new media as something to be afraid of.  So telling me that Twitter doesn’t change the content I create, that online communities are just about bringing others into the content creation process, that doesn’t make me feel better.  But tell me that I can code to report, take hundreds of thousands of rows of gobbelty-gook, and get a story out of it?  I’m there!  Tell me those new tools are going to help us keep better tabs on our government, are going to help us find out information about our world that isn’t explicit.  I’m there!

It all seems obvious now, and perhaps I should have known this was the direction I was pointing in all along.  I know it’s right, because I can stay up a whole night learning to parse HTML, and never bat an eyelid until the alarm clock goes off and I realize I never really went to sleep.

Oops.

The next step is striking a balance.  And attacking these technologies, which various Medill and industry experts say are essential to the backend: Python, Django, PostgreSQL, PostGIS, R and Javascript.  But the interesting part isn’t just learning them so I can lump them on the resume page of this site.  The real fun is seeing how I can apply them, make sense of our world and get the stories out there to the people who really matter — the public that we journalists serve.

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Data Delver: Ted Mellnik, Charlotte Observer database editor » »