Talk to me about journalism for a few minutes, and I’ll pull out the phrase “the mission”. To me, that means constantly teaching and learning, in order to tell more engaging and understandable stories about our world, where people can manipulate information as they see fit. The learning/teaching applies to the content itself, and passing that content to our customers/users/whatever you want to call “the people” AS WELL as the technology, and staying on top of innovative and better ways to tell our stories, while avoiding the fear that certain things are “too hard” or “beyond our grasp.”
Every week, I quiz myself on what I’m doing to pursue the mission and how I do better. For the curious, here are some subcategories of what I tell myself I should be doing. When they’re not happening, I try to change my behavior, work and self-study so they are.
What’s your mission? How do you make sure you’re moving forward with it? What should other subcategories be for interactive journalists? This is what the comments section is for — have at it.
Here’s what I ask of myself:
Work hard, and push my skills
Every day, when I sit down at a computer, whether in a work setting, or out on my balcony, I have a purpose and a drive. It’s gotten me where I am, and it’s what I rely on to work toward moving journalism forward, whatever that means.
I specialize in working with numbers, and complicated information (often related to U.S. policy and politics), to tell stories about our world on both breaking news and long-term deadlines. I tell these stories using every tool I can get my hands on, and rely on collaboration with reporters, editors, artists, photographers, videographers, coders, designers and producers. (Whew!) I treat my job as if it itself is its beat, both in terms of what’s going on in my newsroom, and the latest technology tools that can help me analyze and present information.
This manifests itself in interesting ways. I may make a searchable database, a daily chart, or systems that allow others on our team to make certain types of projects quickly. Ideally, the system gives you a baseline you can start with to get something out quickly on deadline, while establishing the flexibility to allow people to build on the system. Reusing technical work means we spend more time on content.
Teach others: “Pay it forward”
All of this is to say I rely a lot on other people to make me smarter about certain areas. I treat my news organization as an extension of school, and I mean that in the best possible way. Subject-matter experts surround us, if we only use them. Learn from the experience of the past, but push your own ideas forward, because you do have something to contribute. Help those around you by asking smart questions you can’t find the answers to yourself, and help them more by trying hard not to ask the same question twice. Respect them. In return, your time will be respected as well.
The more I learn, the more I pay it forward. While there are weeks and months where I’m better about it than others, it’s essential to teach. It helps grow all of our capacity, and we need more people doing good work. Technical knowledge should be more prevalent, and I know firsthand how hard and worthwhile it is to learn. Teaching also helps cement one’s own knowledge. I’m lucky to have many mentors, and I promise to serve as an active one in the community, because this is important.
Have no fear
It’s always worth trying to pitch something — the worst someone will tell you is “No”. Then, try something else.
Be confident, yet not egotistical
Recognize that I’m learning things, and try to use that in my work. Believe I can add one skill to my repertoire with each project. Promote what I do, to show how I’m making a difference, help others make the difference, but recognize I have a long way to go. Also recognize I will never be done learning, so it’s a good thing the process is so fun.
Learn a tangible new thing every day
This isn’t actually that hard, if you’re mindful about what you’re working on. If I’m not learning, change the situation so I am. Code, like writing, can always be tighter and better organized, and made easier for others to comprehend.
Remember interactives must teach something
Pretty boxes, graphs and maps are not the goal. Conveying information is. Don’t get caught in the trap of the flashy.
Different projects have different deadlines, but if I have two weeks, don’t start 8 working days into those two weeks.
Consult with others
No journalist is an island. Others make us better, and serve as learning/teaching opportunities.
Take nothing for granted
I’ve been fortunate to work at some great places, with amazing people. I know not everyone gets such opportunities, so I am forever grateful. It can be easy to forget that day to day, so this is a reminder not to do so.