One month from today, August 16, the search for our 2015 Knight-Mozilla Fellows will come to a close. Knight-Mozilla Fellows do amazing work—they spend 10 months embedded in newsrooms writing code to help solve journalistic problems—but they don’t do that work alone. When you become a Knight-Mozilla Fellow, you join two communities: a community of fellows (both your peers and alumn from the program), and a community of developers working in the newsroom.
To mark this final month of our 2015 Fellowship search, we’ve invited a lot of voices to talk about their experiences coding in the newsroom. Later in the month you’ll hear from our fellows (both current and past) and our news parnters as well. But this week we’re going to hear from the community of developers currently doing this work in newsrooms big and small around the world.
The developer community in journalism is a dynamic one, and there isn’t one single reason anyone decides to start coding in a newsroom instead of a startup or in the enterprise. Instead, developers start coding in newsrooms for all sorts of reasons.
This week (as we’ve done in the past), we’ve asked developers to share their reasons and experiences with you. These stories—we’ll share a few a day—are wonderful; each one a unique argument to join a singular community.
For Jeremy Bowers, a developer at the New York Times, journalism offers something different than traditional coding jobs. He explains:
We’ve got soul.
We’ve got a mission.
We’ve got stacks of interesting structured data aching to be investigated and summarized. Our reporters are staring down the federal government, tracking people who are otherwise invisible and watching the epidemics most people don’t even know about.
Aaron Williams, who codes at the Center for Investigative Reporting, echoes Bowers when he says that, in traditional programming, “it’s not often the code you write influences the politics of the community.” But, Williams also adds:
I develop in a newsroom because, honestly, it’s just plain fun.
On any given day you may have to write a web crawler to harvest crime logs from your local law enforcement agency or use Mechanical Turk to crowdsource analysis of PDFs you received from a public records request.
On other days you’ll need a better map than Google offers and end up making creating your own slippy map tile set. Or you may start picking up libraries like pandas and SPSS to do some serious data analysis on a 25 GB data dump you’re trying to clean in another Terminal window.
Needless to say, you’ll stay busy and you’ll become a better developer than you ever thought.
Have fun and change the world while you do it: Become a 2015 Knight-Mozilla Fellow by applying today.
PS. if you’re a developer in the newsroom and want to contribute your voice to this collection as well, just let me know.