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I’m speaking at NICAR (come anyway!)

Posted by on Dec 9, 2010 in Blog, CAR | No Comments

We can talk about journalism until the sun sets on the last printing press, but doing > talking. That’s why I’m fortunate to have found a great playground at PBS in DC.

But I wouldn’t be able to attempt half of my experiments without the support of another community – NICAR. The acronym stands for “National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.” But I just call them “my people.” Without them, I wouldn’t be at PBS right now.

Sure, data journalism/teaching yourself programming is hard. Luckily, people who’ve been attempting this with far more success and wisdom than I could ever muster are willing to help. And they don’t just want to help if you become obsessed. I’ve long said not every journo should be a data geek, but we all should at least be aware of what data journ is. Enter hundreds of mentors who specialize in analyzing and presenting data, all in service of the story. I consider them my role models, my friends, my community, who help me reach as far as I’m willing to push myself.

So, if you ask how I got started with programming, the answer isn’t just some great tutorial or book. It’s the encouragement of people who care, who listen to new ideas, who are invested. Just show them energy, enthusiasm and a willingness to work hard, and reap the rewards. You’ll never know what the community can give you until you try it on for size.

Come join the learning party, in person, at NICAR’s annual conference!

Why should you bother heading to Raleigh in late Feb.?

1. It’s where your future employers and colleagues are. It’s where I first met Ben Welsh and Doug Smith, who interviewed me for an internship that would allow me to pursue a part of journalism I’d fallen in love with — hard.

2. It’s the annual gathering of the people who help me every day online, whether I’m talking directly to them, reading their blog posts, listening to podcasts of their classes on iTunes as I ride the subway to work. If you think journalism needs to move beyond the status quo, you’ll find like company. It is a validation, a homecoming, an inspiring indescribable feeling to see the NICARians face-to-face. You just can’t get that in <=140 char. 3. Some sessions are more formal, some less so. My favorites are the hands-on labs, where we don't just talk about how you should learn a certain technique, you get started doing it, under the guidance of someone more experienced at that skill. My first exposure to NICAR was in a CAR class where our professor (if you don't know who I'm talking about by now, read another post on this blog -- okay, it's Willis) showed us a problem a journo was having and posted to the NICAR-L listserv. It was then I realized that Derek, and his friend Matt Waite, weren't the only people in this field -- but there was a whole group of them. Fast forward a year, and I'm delighted to announce that I was approached to speak on a NICAR panel -- and lead a hands-on lab. Convinced Matt Wynn of the Omaha World-Herald to join me on the first one, because frankly, I'm intimidated as heck. I'll be talking about how you can scrape the web using tools that don't require programming. I've never said everyone needs to learn programming, I just don't think anyone should be dissuaded from it. But if you don't want Python right now, and you do want Web scraping, to find your own data set, let's do it. You don't have to wait till your skills are super advanced to get that great story. I could say being asked to speak at NICAR isn't a big deal, and I don't care, but that's not true. I care a lot. I'm next to people who have walked me every step along my journey so far. People I really have no right to be mixed in with. People who've been doing this for years. People who, well, aren't 24. People who didn't graduate in March. But this Web scraping for non-programmers thing is a topic I've discussed before; people seemed to like it. I'm afraid I won't have anything to say. But if you know me, I suppose that isn't really a concern, right? :)

So do me a favor, whether or not you consider yourself a “data journo.” Consider coming to the conference this year. You don’t have to do data every day, but as it becomes more prevalent, it’ll be a part of your job. You can learn as much or as little as you want from sessions geared toward various levels of geekery. You’ll learn even more from random chats in the hall. And you’ll learn enough to know what data-crazed folks might be able to do for your organization. And maybe, someday, you’ll tweet about what you’re working on, and folks from ProPublica, the St. Pete Times and the New York Times will all respond on how you should approach it, and what you should read — all unsolicited (happened to me the other day). Please, check out the website. There’s something there for you, I promise.

You’ll find sessions at NICAR for whatever your skillset is. You’ll meet people you can call on for life to help you push those skills forward. You’ll geek out, make new friends. You’ll find passionate journos willing to answer questions, who will respect your ideas, no matter your experience, or lack thereof.

If you have any questions about the NICAR conference or organization, let me know. We need more newbies, more veterans, more everyones. What do we have in common? Pushing new ideas, thinking about things a little bit differently.

And as for me? I’ll be the one hanging on everyone’s every word, energetically proposing my own ideas, always with a giant grin on my face. Why? ‘Cause they’re my people. They’re your people, too.

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