Returned yesterday from my third time at the Computer-Assisted Reporting conference — this time in St. Louis. Like clockwork, I talked myself out of a voice, as I do every year. But this year — it was different in other ways.
I still can’t believe that two years ago, I came to NICAR as a student at Medill, hoping to one day get a job in the field, anywhere, and two years later I’m speaking at three sessions, including holding one down solo, attending panels to soak up knowledge and constantly chatting with folks. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the ego boost of walking down the hall, and having people know my name, of having people stop me to ask for coding help. Which I’m delighted to be in a position to give. And any conceivable question I have about my own work can be discussed. I spent hours debating the best map projections to use, and I loved it. (Spoiler alert: there’s no “right” answer to this question.)
While I was there, I felt a surge of pride in what we’ve accomplished. I can stand in front of a room, hold my own, take a deep breath, and share it with the community. Knowing that I stand on the shoulders of my team members and giants, but also knowing that I’ve made…some things. And I can help others, and we can all make journalism a bit….better. I understood complicated talks better than ever before, and I can feel myself leveling up a frightening amount. (Some have called it getting Jonathan-ized. I take this as a high compliment.)
And when I had breakfast with Jennifer LaFleur and Cheryl Phillips, two of my great NICAR role models who I once hoped one day to meet, and now see/talk to every so often, one of them says to me, “You’re one of us, you belong here.” And I know I’ve arrived.
That’s all normal, and a large part of what makes NICAR special. But the coolest part is that hours after my plane lands at DCA, I walk back into AP, and I tell my colleagues all about it. They get it, and we start applying what I’ve brought back right then and there. I’m always even more intense with post-conference inspiration, and here, it doesn’t freak anyone out — we just work to make the most of the learnings.
Later today, Jonathan helps me solve a problem by mentioning “binary search”, which is yet another new-to-me supercool technique for efficiently determining where a piece of information is when it’s one of many in a series. I realize this is a learning that could just have easily have happened at a NICAR panel. And just like panels come with tipsheets, I’m armed with a few references that clarify the technique.
Whereas in past years I’m sad when NICAR is over, because I don’t know when I’ll be around my people, it’s different now. My people are at NICAR, and at AP. And the ones at AP will help me apply all that the NICARians taught me, and I spent NICAR sharing what AP has taught me. It’s…just a beautiful cycle. I smile, feel warm and fuzzy. After only two real years of this, I can’t imagine doing anything else, at least at this point in my life. I know I have so, so much to learn, but I have the confidence to know I have a great deal to contribute and share as well. I’m thankful to AP for helping me to accelerate faster than I ever dreamed I could.
Thanks to all the NICARians for joining in the mission, your support and your teachings! Together, we’re going to rock 2012!