All the fun stuff we’ve been up to at the Trib

The blog has been a bit quiet lately (to the disappointment of very few, I’m sure) — but we’ve been releasing apps and blogging furiously over at our team site. Here’s a roundup of our recent posts:

Tools we love to use

Development techniques and best practices we’ve discovered

Sharing our infrastructure

For links to our recent projects, and to keep up on our work, visit apps.chicagotribune.com!

Got a job

Next week, my internship at ProPublica will end. The chance to work here was an extraordinarily lucky break, and I can say without reservation that this is the best job I’ve ever had. Never before have I worked with so many brilliant, interesting, and damn nice people.

I love living in New York, and am disappointed to be leaving so soon. The Grand Army Plaza green market just turned from great to brilliant, and I only had my first, proper NYC pastrami on rye this week.

So it’s somewhat bittersweet to announce that in a couple of weeks, I’ll be leaving NYC and returning to my adopted hometown, sunny Chicago, Illinois.

The World’s Greatest Newspaper

In June I’ll start my first full-time journalism gig, as the News Applications Editor at the Chicago Tribune. The team I’ll be leading will be a new one, composed of programmers and investigative journalists, and we’ll be building news applications in conjunction with the Trib’s fantastic investigative team.

Specifically what we’ll make, I don’t know, but I anticipate building a wide variety of data-driven web applications to visualize data and present investigative stories online. (If only the PolitiFact crew hadn’t set the bar so high…)

For the nerds in the audience

What I do know is that we’ll be using Python, Django and lots of other open-source tools. Chicago has quietly become a very important place in the open-source world — the Second City is home to both Django and Ruby on Rails, the two hottest web frameworks — and I’m committed to making the Chicago Tribune a contributing member of the community.

If you haven’t figured it out yet — I’m geeked. This’ll be fun.

So, adios, City That Never Sleeps. The City That Works is calling me home.

How we built News Mixer, part 1: free and open-source software

This post is first in a three-part series on News Mixer — the final project of my masters program for hacker-journalists at the Medill School of Journalism. It’s adapted (more or less verbatim) from my part of our final presentation. Visit our team blog at crunchberry.org to read the story of the project from its conception to birth, and to (soon) read our report and watch a video of our final presentation.

We could not have built News Mixer without free and open-source software. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, this is how the Free Software Foundation describes it:

“Free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer.”

Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software.

The Free Software Definition, Free Software Foundation

Now, journalists in the room might be surprised to hear a nerd talking like this, but the truth is that we’re remarkably similar, journalists and technologists — free software and free speech are the backbone of the web. The Internet runs on free software — from the data center to your desktop.

LAMP =
Linux (operating system) +
Apache (web server) +
MySQL (database) +
Python (teh codez)

I won’t dwell too long on the super-nerdy stuff, but for those interested, News Mixer runs on a LAMP stack, sort of the standard for developing in the open-source ecosystem. Notably missing from the list are non-free technologies you may have heard of like Java, or Microsoft and .NET.

The biggest tech choice we made was to use Django. Its a free and open-source web development framework put together by some very clever folks at The Lawrence Journal-World. For those of you in the know, it’s a framework similar to ASP.NET or the very popular Ruby on Rails, but with a bevy of journalism-friendly features. Django is how we built real, live software so freakin’ fast.

And you can have your very own News Mixer, gratis, right now, because News Mixer is also free and open source. We’ve released our source code under the Gnu General Public License, and it’s available for download right now on Google Code. So, please, stand on our shoulders! We’re all hoping that folks will take what we’ve done, and run with it.

That’s it for part one! Can’t wait and hungry for more? Check out the Crunchberry blog, or my other posts on using free and open source software to practice journalism.