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Oh, hi, blog readers — it’s been a while!

Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Blog, Uncategorized | No Comments

Today, I am a quarter of a century old. No longer can I claim to be in my early 20s. No longer can I claim to be a frequent blog writer either, as it closes in on two months since my last post.

I could make up excuses. I’m learning to conquer Fusion Tables and R and Flot and Protovis and HTML5 and CSS3 and inter-corp outreach and project management. And not just to rack up tools, but to think about how to tell stories. Oh, yeah, and for a month I was out of work to a serious flare up of kidney disease on my almost-five-years-old kidney transplant. So, I’m on a mild dose of chemo that’s having almost no negative impact on my life — thankfully. And every day I race to see how fast I can take 27 pills at night (record so far is 115 seconds. Yes, I time it.)

But I blame no one for my lack of posting. I haven’t really shut up on Facebook or Twitter, so perhaps you feel I haven’t really left. But it’s not good. Because I learn things, and have neglected to share. And I have thoughts, and I haven’t put them out for the world. Because obviously the world needs to hear my thoughts on everything. #notreally

So, if you missed me — I’m back! And if you liked the quiet, it’s over for now! Because it’s my birthday, and I’ll do what I want to, here are some random journalism-y thoughts I’ve been pondering. Each one could, and may, become a complete post.

–It’s still way too easy for people to think an interactive is cool ’cause you can click on it. If the data is inaccurate, as in this USDA food map, you’ve done a greater disservice than by posting nothing. Whether it’s a story you tell through text, video or code, our first responsibility is to have correct info. This is why I’ve spent the last week verifying a specific set of Census data for Every County in the US. Yeah, when I map it, it looks cool, but more importantly, it’s right.

–Speaking of accuracy, we should never take our data geeks for granted. A lot of them aren’t on Twitter, or are quiet on social media, but they sit and code and make sure data visualizations are accurate. People like Doug Smith, Maloy Moore and Sandy Poindexter of the LA Times. People like Rob Gebaloff at the NYT. People like Tony DeBarros, Paul Overberg and Chris Schnaars over at USA TODAY. I vow to learn more about their techniques, not just sexy mapping and charting. Because content isn’t just about a nice font, but what you write.

–There have been some debates about whether the corporate CMS’s that many legacy media orgs are tied to are preventing innovation, esp. via linking. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, but let’s stop ranting about how tools are preventing us from doing work. Let’s work with the tools we have, and push them as far as they can go. Don’t have control over a separate server? You can still use cool JavaScript libraries. Your producers don’t have time to add links for reporters? Teach reporters to do it. We can spend our whole lives setting up new tools, arguing, pushing, refusing. We make the argument for the right to have nice things by doing exceptional work with what we’ve got, and then saying “We could do EVEN BETTER if we had x.” Make the argument.

–If you’re a recent journalism student doing self-teaching, and you’re still on Flash — power to you. But if you want to go where the future is, show you’re Web savvy, would you embrace true Webbiness and get on the JavaScript train already? Don’t tell me linking and getting images off of TwitPic makes you of the Web, make things. Make them accessible across platforms. You can make your interactive work on the iPhone without learning Objective C, just Don’t. Use. Flash.

–When discussing innovation, acknowledge that hacking at the core of the CMS does not merely mean rewiring our articles with better metadata, but rewiring all story forms. Why is using raw code to craft a Web project still bizarre? Technologists looking to help out journos must get that some journos practice their craft through tech. That shouldn’t be so foreign in 2011.

–I’m frantically crunching on my IRE panels happening in a few weeks. Less nervous about the one on my own, more nervous about doing one alongside Steve Doig. (Hi, Steve!) Amazed to be collaborating with someone whose work I studied at Medill. Even *more* nervous when he tells me I remind him of Matt Waite “when he was coming up.” And Aron told me I reminded him of a Derek Willis. It’s funny, because those are the two guys who got me started on this path, and it’s starting to come full circle. Derek and Matt: I will destroy your legacy. Not on purpose, but it’s just going to happen.

–Something about Flot vs. Raphael vs. Google Charts. These are all JavaScript libraries that make interactive charts easier to make, and in playing with them, I think they’re all better for certain uses. I’ll do a big post on this at some point (since six [SIX] people on Twitter said they were interested…)

–We’re too dependent on formal databases. Yes, we need them sometimes, but not everyone needs the Django model-view-controller treatment. Can we do more lightweight development for smaller pieces? How can we create database-less data projects? How can we template this type of work so it’s not all locked up in prog-journo world?

–I’ve learned a lot of things about fancy footwork with Fusion Tables for mapping in the past few weeks, and I think it may be worth sharing a walkthrough. This might be a good opportunity to screencast something on this blog. About time.

–I’ve talked about DataTables on this blog before, and the walkthrough has been a component leading to use of the library by the Star Ledger and USA TODAY. Good steps in paying it forward and collaboration among data journos. A reminder that this blog isn’t always just pumping content into the ether.

–Not a blog idea, but Brian Boyer and Marcel Pacatte informed me that some Medill students were pointed to this blog to learn about data. Um, I’m really, really sorry. You should go back through the archives to find better posts. Really. And I’m also sorry because the posts get long and tedious and are very stream of consciousness.

Because you see, I’m back, baby! If you want silence, if you want normal, please go elsewhere. More on the above topics, and other random data thoughts as the days progress. That’s a threat.

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