After the conference

Summary of my takeaways


  1. Many strong, admirable female leaders
  2. Big accent on startups, then the national outlets. Very little for locals.
  3. Fewer direct how-tos, more philosophy

Tools to try:

  1. Aggregator Apps: Nuzzle, Reverb and Banjo
  2. Data security: PGP email, Confide app, Versapp

Exercises to try, design thinking warmups:

  1. Hexagonal design thinking
  2. Draw a map, then without shapes or text

Ideas for ONA local:

  1. Hold events on a more consistent basis (successful groups in DC and NY are monthly)
  2. 2 sticker social – one sticker for what you can help with and one for what you need help with
  3. Network to find additional speaker
  4. Find a place to hold consistent social events, either as a meeting or after a meeting

Phil’s personal goals:

  1. Short, scripted videos with inspiration from Emily Grasile
  2. Find opportunities for both small and large visualization projects
  3. Try games tools like the GitHub from the Guesstimator or Twine

Thanks for a really fun time!

I’ll come back to curate and edit these notes, but for now I’m on my way home. I depart with a glow from the very positive and hopeful, yet still touching, keynote with Sesame Street.


“Good answers lead to more good questions” (standout)

In the Ethics of Data Viz, a gifted lecturer from U Miami presented an abbreviated version of his upcoming book about being truthful with graphics.

Alberto Cairo suggested these were the 5 features of great viz:
1. Truthful (be honest, don’t lie to yourself)
2. Functionality (be clear, and use appropriate tools)
3. Beautiful (bring attention to relevant info)
4. Insightful (reveal hidden truths)
5. Enlightening (don’t forget the primary goal is to contrubue to understanding)

“If I only use words, I am forcing you to imagine all those things in your mind,” he said. “What I am doing when I create the graphic… Is to take the effort out of your brain and put it on the paper.”

Cairo’s first pilar also brought him to the topic of ethics, asking whether a story is being told ethically as opposed to legally. He also pushed back against the “ethically dubious” Prop8 maps project and another angenda-driven cable company data project.

He called it “The modern jungle of spin dishonesty punditry and the resulting widespread mistrust.”

Ethics, he argued, depends on core goal of improving understanding of issues while trying to minimize the harm of the activity. But suggests that this shouldn’t just be a journalistic goal, should be a civic goal for everyone.

“Truth is not an absolute, truth is a continuum. We can be true and we can be truer,” he said.

Cairo supports the promise of mainstream visualization with new, free tools., but said the duty falls to us to teach good practices.


Amy Webb’s tech trends

As usual, Amy Webb presented her ten tech trends and suggestions for what to try during the upcoming year. Some are fascinating tools that may help journalists find and track stories, either from their own sites or from others.

However, some of Webb’s other ideas were a little far-fetched for the tools and budgets available local newsrooms. (I feel that journalism on the scale at which I work was largely overlooked during this year’s standout sessions, but more on that in a later post)

Here is Webb’s slide deck:


“The sage on the stage is over” – the Yogi Berra of journalism

Starts with design thinking activity, drawing the person next to you.

“We believe that everyone is creative, and wildly so. And artistic ability is only one aspect of creativity.” justin

@heatherchaplin 3 interesting things about why to bring design into journalism:

  1. Pragmatic view of complex communication systems – designers are good at thinking of dynamic parts of a whole
  2. Creative idea- how to engage people?
  3. Good designers start with “who am I designing for and why”

@jferrell03 started as newspaper designer, transitioned into digital. “I didn’t really think of it as product design, but that is what it was”

He was told by NYT mentor that Print design fundamentally about guided narrative, while web design is about behavior- design to allow people to go where they want to go

Justin “Because we have different ways of seeing the problem, we have a much higher likelihood to reach a solution”

Heather says her students need to be able to say “I’m good at this, how do I find someone who is good at another thing?”

Justin “Design thinking is meant to be a way of working” and not a singular exercise. “It’s not about what we put into you, but about want to scrape other behaviors off”

“We’ve transitioned into an era of transition”

Justin puts innovators before innovation

Both say “the sage on the stage is over”


Words of advice for news startups (standout)

Something to look for: a book called “The Startup Newsroom” will be free through Tow Center.
Another thing to look for: MB and Ls Announce new project called EbolaDeeply “we felt that Ebola had a crisis of information”

Melissa Bell, Vox
” take inspiration from the hacker ideal”
fast failure, “you have to be able to fail with ideas because you use so much from the failure”
“Every time you go out to hire a person you need to think about the macro makeup of your newsroom”

Lara Setrakian, News Deeply
Instead of ux (user experience) @lara suggests ex (editorial experience)
“It takes us two hours to build a new deeply, it is my obsession with editorial quality control that makes it a 2-3 week thing”
“The next generation of startup newsrooms shouldn’t have to labor through the same 40 things in the same way”
“The emphasis is always on the latest but that leaves out this huge characteristic of the web- that it never dies”
“Focusing on that one mission has helped us cut through” warns about being “taken over by too many objectives”
“There are no set answers right now” MB says in response to question about what format new news should take. “We really try hard to constantly experiment and try different tactics.”
“Let the reporters play. Let the practitioners into the process”
“I’m furious with the prospect of just in time journalism”

Kara Swisher, Recode
“It’s so well worth it rather than sitting in a newsroom where you’re slowly dying”
“I just didn’t want to work for anybody”
“You have a lot more choices than you think and you should take a whole lot more risk”


Notes from the analytics builders

NPR posted their presentation on Google docs

She also posts her running blog at:

The Guardian’s take
Graham Tackley @tacker

Emphasizes having Hack day for your staff. Example resulted in the tool that answered what is popular now. It became ophan, named for a vision from ezikiel with the “all seeing ones.”
Ophan version of chartbeat separates content from index pages
When he gets a request, he first asks “if you got that, what action could you take”
Calls analytics a “critical input to the editorial process… You could write the best piece of journalism in the world, but if nobody reads it, it doesn’t matter.”
“It’s not about chasing numbers, but the numbers are one input into the process”