I took part in a mega-panel at AEJMC provocatively titled Why Your Students Must Be Programmers.

My take on it? I don’t care if your students are programmers or not. I want intellectually curious students who can toss aside preconceived notions of what they can and can’t do, burrow into some documentation and come out with what they need on the other side. Call it what you want — programming, digital literacy, hacking — it doesn’t matter to me. Working on the web means touching code. If that worries you to the point where you refuse to acknowledge it, I feel bad for you.


I can pinpoint the exact moment when the awesome craziness of my OpenNews fellowship sank in. I was on my way home after my first day at BBC headquarters, looking around the subway car, and I realized that fully half of the passengers were reading BBC News on their phones. Whoa. Since then,…

Wrote this for Poynter mostly as an excuse to use NodeXL, which is pretty easy and pretty powerful.

Replacing reporters with robots? I might be trolling a little, but robotics and programmatic bots are going to play a greater role in reporter’s futures than you might think.

Here is John Keefe and I talking about the near field future of sensors and journalism at the Tow Center’s Sensor Weekend. We gave the second keynote of the day.

A collection of code, experiments, diagrams notes and other details of our experiments with sensors and the Interent of Things at UNL’s CoJMC.

A new way for data journalists to thwart newsroom IT: the Raspberry Pi


One of my old jokes is that newsroom IT puts the No in Innovation, so I’m always on the lookout for ways to get around them. And I’ve been playing around with a good one: The Raspberry Pi.

Unfamiliar with the Pi? The Model B Pi is a $35 computer that’s about the size of a deck of cards. It’s got an ethernet port, and you supply the hard drive in the form of an SD card, the keyboard, mouse and monitor. Now, for $35, you’re not getting a ton of horsepower, but for simple repetitive tasks it works great.

What kind of simple, repetitive tasks? Let’s pretend for a second that you wanted to set up a scraper that dumped data into a database every hour. Ideally, you’d have a server somewhere and you’d set up a task on it — I like using ‘nix’s cron for things like this — and off it would go, mindlessly gathering data for you and putting it into a database. You could then go about your life, stopping by from time to time to get that data and do whatever you’re going to do with it. So you ask newsroom IT for this and, of course, the answer is no. And no we won’t give you the money to run this in the cloud for a few bucks a month either. 

Enter the Pi.

For $35, you can write your scripts, put them in a cron job and off it’ll go, gathering your data for you. No need for a server, no need for a server administrator, no need to make sure your work computer stays on and running the whole time, just some elbow grease to get the script running and an ethernet connection to the internet. 

I’ve had my Pi running a repetitive task for two weeks now and it’s plugging along without issue, having gathered 50,000 records without me having to do anything. In a month, I’ll have a dataset worth analyzing, and it will only ever cost me $35. And I can use it for other things as well. 

A cheap scraper bot. Useful!

Adventures in prototyping


Things we have done today in my office:

  • Stolen two cups of dirt from a construction site.
  • Made a pot of mud with one cup of dirt.
  • Microwaved the second cup of dirt in the faculty lounge.
  • Measured the the sensor output of totally dry dirt versus a soaking wet pot of mud.
  • Used the point-slope form of linear algebra to determine the formula for the line between dry and wet. In a journalism school. And it worked.

More about this later, including what it’s all about and code.