Data Journalism Community, Why and How Do We Do This Work?

David Eads and Supreme Chi-Town Coding Crew want to get us talking

This post began as a conversation during an OpenNews community call. Chicago Tribune developer David Eads discussed how data-driven journalism has been used as a tool for technology training. We look forward to seeing this conversation about data-driven journalism, training, and community engagement continue. As a starting place, David has shared the manifesto for his group.

Every Saturday, I help run a workshop that teaches basic web development and data journalism skills in an open, friendly environment. Our group, Supreme Chi-Town Coding Crew, has gained momentum and focus over the past year.

We’ve put together a manifesto that lays the realities of what we’ve faced and how our group responds in practice.

Supreme Chi-Town Coding Crew Manifesto

We are a small group of aspiring web developers and journalists based in Chicago who meet regularly to learn basic web skills and work on data journalism and civic technology projects.

Fluency with the web and information technology is a critical, marketable job skill. We teach each other practical tech skills that help us advance professionally.

Technology projects are about more than engineering. We welcome anyone who meets basic requirements and wants to learn. We work on projects that benefit from a wide variety of skills.

Learning to make web sites and applications requires access to some basic resources. We steer new participants without these resources to places and programs where they can get a free or cheap laptop, learn basic computer literacy, and obtain adequate Internet access.

Asking questions about issues, systems, and institutions that affect our community is civic engagement. We explore the world with code, research, design, and storytelling.

Learning to code is learning to communicate. We emphasize fundamentals like task management, troubleshooting, and version control.

Citizens don’t have enough agency over the systems that govern our lives. We use data journalism to learn about and interrogate those systems to gain understanding and create accountability.

Many real world processes have multiple, intertwined data collection and management steps. We research, map out, and describe complex systems.

Open data tells only part of the story. We seek to liberate data from obscure sources and legacy systems with software and public disclosure requests. We analyze and summarize data to make it more useful. We republish data on the web using standard, open formats.

Everyone benefits from transparency. We share our work by publishing our projects with open source licensed code and Creative Commons licensed content.

The demographics of the technology industry does not represent society, which makes it that much harder to create technology that is responsible and humane. We organize for diversity by recruiting outside of the mainstream tech industry and through a gender-equal leadership policy.

Consistent face-to-face interaction is the best way to collaborate and encourage long term learning. We meet regularly in accessible locations.

Misconduct and harassment are ever-present threats to a community’s integrity. We work to prevent harassment before it happens by maintaining a safe space and responding to incidents in accordance with the FreeGeek Chicago Code of Conduct.

Self-determination builds community and provides an antidote to atrophied civic and political life. We use participatory, consensus-based governance to practice democracy.

Learning software development is an overwhelmingly popular subject. We aim to keep our group small while hatching new projects and working with similar groups around the world.

We Need You

Dear data journalism community: What do you want from community technology efforts? How should we identify, build, structure, market, and sustain projects? What roles can and should our employers have in community projects? What are practical responses to issues like diversity?

We hope that the principles and practice laid out in this statement can be a template for projects in your community and start an exciting conversation in the comments.



  • David Eads

    David Eads is a news applications developer at ProPublica Illinois, where he combines journalism with software development. Ever since he built the website for his high school newspaper in 1996, Eads knew he wanted to work at the intersection of media and technology. He moved to Chicago for college in 1999, studying physics at North Park University. During school he helped found the Invisible Institute, where he also maintained a blog about Chicago public housing called The View From The Ground. He later helped create FreeGeek Chicago, a community-based computer recycling organization and the Supreme Chi-Town Coding Crew, a weekly workshop to teach data journalism. He’s also worked on visual journalism teams at the Chicago Tribune and, most recently, at NPR Visuals.


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