SecondConf talk: Why you should become a hacker journalist

This morning, I’m presenting at SecondConf. I don’t generally like slide decks because they’ve got extremely low information-resolution — they leave so much unsaid. But the conference organizers tell me that the talks will be posted online. Check back for the full experience.

Hacker wanted: Code in the public interest, save journalism, in sunny Chicago, Illinois

UPDATE: We’ve filled the position, but may be hiring more soon.
If this looks like your dream job, please send an email anyway. 🙂

Cross-posted from our new team blog:

We’re looking for a great hacker to join our team at the Chicago Tribune.


  • A passion for the news
  • An understanding of the inner workings of the web
  • Attention to detail and hatred for inaccuracy
  • A genuine and friendly disposition

And, of course…

  • Bad-ass programming skills and a love for the craft of making software

Tools we use (and thus, tools we hope you might know a thing or two about — if you don’t, that’s okay, but please explain yourself):

  • Python
  • Django
  • PostgreSQL
  • PostGIS
  • Ubuntu Linux + Amazon EC2

Our team is composed of generalists: We all write GUI code, mine data and manage servers. You ought to be equally comfortable wearing many hats. That said, we’ve all got our specialities, and would love to find a team member with a superpower which none of us already possess. Something like…

  • Data science (statistics, exploratory data analysis, R)
  • Information design (beautiful charts, graphs and other Tufte-geekery)
  • Maintaining high-performance web sites (cuz we’re gonna get serious traffic)
  • Building and gardening social media or crowdsourcing applications

You’ll work closely with reporters on the investigative and city desks, helping them research and present their work. Sometimes you’ll be screen scraping, mucking with data, visualizing and exploring information, and seeking truth. Other days, we’ll huddle and sketch with reporters, imagining ways to present information and tell stories on the web.

Sometimes we’ll knock out an application in a day, other times it’ll take a few weeks. Either way, we work fast and lean, relying heavily on frameworks, and following agile best practices. It’s fun.

Things we’ve built lately:

Folks you’ll work with:

Gear you’ll get:

  • One shiny, new MacBook Pro
  • One CDM (Cheap Dell Monitor)
  • One comfy Aeron chair
  • …all at a desk somewhere in the Tribune newsroom, where you’ll be surrounded by reporters arguing with the cops, yelling about the ball game, telling crazy stories, and otherwise practicing their trade.

There is no free pop, pinball or posh cafeteria.

But, you’ll like what you do. You’ll come to work energized, and leave satisfied that you’ve done something that will make your mom proud. You’ll have held our government accountable, spoken truth to power, given voice to the voiceless, and contributed to the public good.

Beat that, Google.

Interested? Email your info to Thanks!

Old friends! Ripoffs! Hateful comments! — A media blitz roundup

Invisible airwaves, crackle with life…

I don’t write about it much here, but I love the radio. NPR is my primary daily news source. So, I was totally geeked when Here and Now asked me to be on their program. And through the magic of editing, I think I managed to sound pretty alright!

(You know how, when someone gets under your skin, but you’re so worked up all you can say is “Oh yeah? Well, your momma!”? And then later, when the moment is gone forever, your brain catches up and comes up with all sorts of erudite, polysyllabic arguments? Radio is like that.)

Best part about the radio bit? All the old friends who emailed me after they heard the program, including one of my favorite high school English teachers. Dunno if/when the web will have that kind of reach. Love.

“…part of a hegemonic institutional perspective that is glaringly…”

Back online, my Hackers wanted! bit on O’Reilly Radar got a lot of attention, mostly hating on journalism and grumbling about needing a bachelors degree before pursuing a masters degree. But I’m hopeful that the message got through to a few programmers who want to make the world a better place.

In retrospect, I should have probably explained the importance of journalism in a democratic society, and ceded that yes, journalism is mostly broken right now, but this is our opportunity to fix it. Hindsight. Le sigh. If you’re into it, check the comment threads on the original post, and the nerdy aggregators that picked it up:

S’pose if you’re not pissing somebody off, you’re doing it wrong. Right?

Rich Gordon, the fella who decided it was a good idea to bring coders to J-school, wrote a response on Idea Lab including an interview with my new boss, Digital Editor at the Chicago Tribune, Bill Adee.

I even got ripped off completely by Tech Crunch, where fellow Medill alum Leena Rao summarized my post and completely failed to mention where she got the brilliant idea — eliciting 85 comments. Thanks for not linking!! Love!

The hacker journalist: in whom programming and prose intersect

In an essay at MediaShift Idea Lab, I’ve tried to enumerate the job roles of a programmer-journalist.  It was a helpful exercise.  I’ve got no idea what I’m going to do six months from now, but a couple of the following are appealing…

  • CMS developer
  • CMS implementor
  • CMS user (Web producer)
  • Applications developer
  • Hunter, gatherer and data-miner
  • Visualizations developer
  • New media translator
  • and my favorite, the hacker journalist:

‘Hacker’ is a compliment in my world. If you’re a hacker, you’re an especially good programmer. So, what are you if you’re a hacker journalist? Think about what photojournalists do — they tell stories with a camera.

A hacker journalist tells stories with code.

The roles will overlap in the real world, and I’m probably missing one or two.  What other hats could a hacker wear at a news organization?