Here’s a guest post from Jason Goldstein who had hoped to chat with class… but a work meeting got in the way…

Design, development, the works. Today, I’m working for a company that makes websites for hospitals, building apps to help patients view their medical records etc. Tomorrow? who knows.

I was always a technical person. I taught myself HTML and CSS when I was a teenager. But I was a writer first and foremost, showed up to Magazine Journalism, and honestly, was a pretty terrible reporter. I wrote because I liked making something, spending all day on the phone drove me up the wall.

But in the meantime, people were starting to build online portfolios, and the convergence program (at least back then) had a habit of throwing people onto projects that involved custom JQuery work they just didn’t have the skillset for (on deadline, obviously). I helped a few friends out, and quickly gained a reputation as “the web guy.”

I took a few design classes to build up a grasp on typography, color, and visual language (one of the best decisions I made) and by the time graduation was coming up, I was having way more fun creating digital products than I ever did doing news writing – it just made sense to go that route.

The catch is, at the time, I didn’t really know anything. I had HTML and CSS down, I knew a little JQuery, but I had no idea what I was doing from a programming perspective.

I realized I needed to go a lot deeper, I needed to be able to write code that did things in addition to make it look good, so I picked up a book on Python (a human-readable language that let’s you do a lot with less code). And here’s the fun part: because it’s open source, there’s a LOT of good, free books that are written for humans. (Programming Motherfucker has an awesome directory of all the above, I still go back there when I want to learn something new.)

An aside

Lot’s of language-oriented people are afraid of programming because they think it’s hard, or involved math. This isn’t true. It involves logic, but one of the best devs I know was an English major, and more than a few “dev-signers” come into programming from the visual design side of the world.

Actually, in the early days of making portfolios, I taught Paige Hansen HTML. In her words, “It’s creative, but it’s technical.” This is the best description web development I’ve ever heard, and probably why I keep doing it.

Job #1

A few months after graduation I found myself at the KC Star. These guys were awesome enough to take a chance on me, when honestly, I had a lot to learn, and there could not have been a better place to do just that. I worked with one other guy to design, develop, and maintain a vast array of products – a political site that tracked every single election in KC complete with surveys of the candidates, an alt-weekly site, a site where users ranked all the best stuff in KC, special sections for major events… and along the way, I found a few places to help journalists by automating tedious tasks.

The Instagrams of the world get all the attention, but really, programming gives you a lot of power beyond posting pictures of your food. You start seeing – all around you – stupid, mindless tasks, that waste people’s time that you could make a computer do. In all the stuff we built at the Star, these were our biggest wins. We had people manually downloading a re-uploading photogalleries (they got big traffic), which took hours on end, or sitting front of a computer each day at 3:00 to record and type up a boilerplate blogpost with the same 15 stock’s. A few days later, we could make this stuff happen automatically, giving our staff back that 15 minutes of their day – every day, it adds up – so they could concentrate on the things that only people can do.

On the journalistic side, the ability to work with large datasets also has a lot of potential. I dabbled a little in this with the political stuff tying candidate surveys to campaign finance. We also had a really cool feature for the anniversary of the Hyatt Skywalk Collapse and 9/11 where readers could share their memories of the event. For stories like that where everyone has very personal memories of the event, all those little raw, authentic vignettes were far more compelling than the usual “20 years later” news stories.

My interest has always been more helping journalists serve their readers better, however there are a lot of really cool people who do straight up “code for the public good” journalistic programmers. While I haven’t read it, theData Journalism Handbook is supposed to be awesome.

The Thing About Newspapers

The news business is a fantastic place to learn. No, really, there’s nowhere better. You make a TON of stuff, you learn from your mistakes, you have no choice to adopt better practices as you go because everything will come back to bite you in 6 months.

It’s also an extraordinary hard place to keep working. Insane deadlines, 100-year-old politics, extremely limited resources (and constant layoffs and furloughs), and – if we’re being honest – a print legacy that doesn’t understand how to reinvent it’s business for a digital world. This isn’t a criticism of anyone I worked with – it’s just the nature of the beast in 2012.

The flip side of this, is that newspapers need competent developers who “get them” to save their asses. Your top tier compsci grads don’t really want to do that – they want to go work for sexy startups with foosball tables and toy helicopters. They hear “newspaper” and think “they’re old, and probably going under.” As a result, there’s a tremendous opportunity for people who “get” news and want to play ball. This is how – two years out of college – I was being offered a job by the New York Times. (Long story.)

If you’re interested in that, this is the best writeup on the state of the journalism world from a technologist’s perspective.

Eventually, I realized I’d done all the damage I could do at the Star, I’d learned as much as I could, and it was time to go.

Culture

I took a job at Mediaphormedia, the newspaper-owned software company in Lawrence (don’t judge, it’s a fun town, and yes, I wore my Mizzou T-shirt the day after KU lost) that invented the web framework I use every day. They sold a CMS and Marketplace to clients (more newspapers).

News is an old-school business. Tech isn’t, it’s run by people who like to reinvent things. MPM flew toy helicopters around the office, Mozilla allows you to bring your dog to work, my brother is heading towards Dropbox which is full of scooters and palm trees. These are really fun places to work because, well, that’s the sort of environment the people who run them want to live in.

Community

Sadly, about 3 months into my run with MPM, the news company that ran them decided to shut it down. This came out of nowhere, and… sucked.

But within 10 minutes of the layoffs, devs around the country with ties to MPM heard the news and began assembling a list of all the places they knew who were hiring, complete contacts and background. This. Was. Awesome.

The point I want to make is this: The Python/Django community is full of really nice people who will help each other out, are open to new people who want to learn (Python KC is hosting a free newbie training session next week, I have a friend going). They’re all about making their craft more accessible, sharing knowledge… etc.

The other fun thing is you meet a lot of people who have really cool hobbies. People I’ve worked with include: a standup comedian, a guy who flies airplanes, and lot’s of musicians.

Economics

Because this is a business, I’d be remiss not to mention that the need for good devs way outstrips the number of qualified applicants. That’s not true of traditional journalism work. Salary and ease of getting good offers reflects this. There is no recession in technology. You have to get good, but once you get a year or do of experience you really do get to decide where you want to go next.

This also means there’s a whole world of stuff you can tinker with if and when you get tired of news. The place I work for can’t hire good devs fast enough. Could I wind up back in media again down the road? Who knows. But the thing is – especially thinking about the way media-related industries are today – you never feel stuck.

Final Thoughts

I don’t believe everyone should learn to program, but if you think making cool shit sounds like fun, you should try it. I have a friend who dropped out of CompSci years ago, recently picked up Learn Python The Hard Way and within a few hours declared if CS had been taught more like the open source stuff, he would’ve stuck with it.

Feel free to email me at Jason@BeTheShoe.com for… anything, especially if you try learning Python, Django, HTML/CSS/JS/JQuery and get stuck or have any questions.

I’m also on Twitter (Jen’s doings) as @JasonTheVillain

It’s our first of TWO lunches to celebrate our alumni, eat Shakespeares and talk about what it’s like to work in the real world. We don’t have a live blogger but I’m feeding the Twitter hashtag #reallunch12 into a tool called Blyve. Please feel free to add comments and I’ll watch and add them into the conversation when I can. We’re sad you can’t be here… but we’d love your participation on Twitter or here while you work in the real world.

When we think about interaction with our news audience, there are many different ways we can interact. The first part is an important part of your shifts in the newsroom:
Listening and engaging in conversation. We’ve had many wonderful little moments on the KOMU Facebook page that show this type of interaction.

This type of interaction is only the beginning. Think about how we’ve brought interaction to broadcast using Google+. (Here’s a look at our Emmy winning show where we had a Cyber Shave.)


But wait. There’s more. Here are some cool tools you can try to add interactivity to our content on KOMU.com:
Infographics
Easel.ly
Infogr.am
ThingLink
Meograph

Online Journalism Awards
Breaking News – WNYC – Hurricane Irene
Congressional Primaries
Christchurch Earthquake
Connecting Music and Gesture – New York Times
Gay Rights in the U.S. – The Guardian

All of the winners are listed here.

Check out some other interactive items I dig.
Also – here is a great collection of information from this Online News Association conference.

I’ve been playing around in a site called Branch. It’s kind of a combination of Quora, Twitter and Storify. You can ask a question and invite others to answer while other people can nominate themselves as good sources. When you’re done (or while you’re still recruiting answers), you can embed the whole “branch.”

Here’s one I participated in. What do you think about this concept?

It’s time… You need to have at least a basic structure set up for your portfolio. This week, you get to spend an hour with Jen reviewing your work so far and making sure it’s good enough to share at RTDNA.

Please fill out this form before the end of the day, September 10th:

Today we’re looking at the steps to take to snag that first job out of school. An important part of that includes how you present yourself online. A portfolio is a solid way to control the message. It becomes the hub of all of your professional activity.

Here are some important steps:
1) Regularly check to see how your name appears in online searching. (Be sure to search when you are not logged into Google.)
2) Make sure your social profiles all link to your portfolio
3) When you post comments to blogs, you use your name and portfolio link
4) Make sure the only video content that is public online is the good stuff
5) Stay positive in what you say online
6) Low tech always works in the end. Send snail mail to thank potential employers for opportunities

Here are a few portfolios from the Spring 2012 semester (all have jobs):
Nick Adams
Max Walker
Emily Allen
Tayler Overschmidt
Emily Spain

By the way. I have a VERY long list of free and mostly free tools for website building and content sharing.

By: Jenn Long , Matt NoonanMolly BalkenbushZheng Hwuang Chia

 

DEMOGRAPHICS

The engagement surveys had a very good demographic distribution in a number of ways:

Although there were larger number of confirmed males than females, males still accounted for less than 50% of the answers.  We also apparently found the first person in recorded history that is part of the “white” gender.

 

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White/Caucasian was clearly the leader among ethnicities.  African-Americans account for about 10% of Columbia’s population, and the survey was fairly close to that.

chart_1 (1)

 

 

Income and education distribution were very even:

 

chart_4 chart_6

There were more registered Democrats than Republicans, but there were a healthy number of independents.  And it would appear a few blasts from the past are making a comeback:

 

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Most people were unwilling to share their zip code, but the ones who answered trended heavily toward 65201, 65202, & 65203:

 

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RESULTS

Our surveys appear to confirm what several other polls have already found: Americans are prioritizing economic issues over social issues and national security.

 

chart_1

Economy, Jobs, Health Care, and Education were the clear leaders.  The recession has hit many Americans hard, and many are having difficulty finding jobs or having enough money to pay for basic needs.  Some standout quotes include:

After earning a BS, it was very difficult to find a job in 2009, now with an M.S., I feel the situation has not changed.

We’ve tried to save our money and put off larger purchases for fear of what may happen in the future.

I work 3 jobs and still don’t have enough money.

I have a 4-year college degree and can’t find a job in my field.

Chronic health problems are hard to afford, even with insurance.

Jobs are hard to find for my children.

I am currently unemployed… I go to MACC because Mizzou charges too much for tuition and books.

No one can make minimum wage and live comfortably.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Public places where people aren’t rushed work well (libraries, etc.)
  • If going to more entertainment-styled venues (like fairs), we may need to have a table set up with a potential prize to get people to fill out surveys (We didn’t have any success at the Boone Co. Fair)
  • Seek out politically active groups (Columbia Muleskinners, Columbia Pachyderm Club, etc.)
  • Look for people/groups who are active on social media

Here’s a Storify of advice you can use on this first day of class:

Hi everyone! I’m really looking forward to this semester. Our class size is going to give us a chance to have really great conversations and learn so much. The journalism world is transitioning so rapidly. In class, we’re going to try to keep up with the pace and show you ways to take full advantage of social and engaging ways to be a journalist.

First up? I need your information so we can all easily connect. Please fill out this form so I and the rest of your classmates can stay in touch. The information you post here will only be shared with me and your fellow classmates.

Ethics are more important now than ever when it comes to the non-stop 24 hour news cycle. Some of my favorite links include:

Poynter’s 10 Questions to ask for Good Ethical Decisions
Online Journalism Review Ethics Wiki
Committee of Concerned Journalists Online Journalism EthicsDigital Media Ethics from the Center for Journalism Ethics

And just in case you haven’t read it through, I strongly recommend you spend time with RTDNA’s Social Media Guidelines

Also – here’s where you can learn more about Creative Commons.

I’d also like to suggest checking out the “New Guide” created by students last year that offers ethics and teaching tips when it comes to the use of social media in newsrooms.