Field Notes from SRCCON 2016

Three SRCCON participants share their favorite lessons and highlights

From left to right: Ebony Martin, Katie Jansen, and Zara Stone. (Heather Taylor)

This year, the Dow Jones News Fund provided SRCCON scholarships for three alumni from its internship program, and OpenNews was thrilled to welcome them. Here, we’ve gathered lessons and highlights from their SRCCON experience. We’ll be publishing more documentation from SRCCON folks in the weeks ahead.—Eds.

A Supportive Community, Outside the Silo

By Katie Jansen

For the first few sessions of SRCCON, I felt a bit in over my head. I was coming from a small news organization, one that’s heavily focused on print. When we began to talk about peer-reviewing data stories, it seemed like I was surrounded by experts with unlimited resources—I’d never worked on a data project with a scope as large as the stories we were discussing.

But as SRCCON progressed, I chose more sessions that focused on myself as a journalist. At a session about mental health in the newsroom, I got to open up, and I learned that others—even those in larger organizations—often face the same challenges that I see daily in a smaller newsroom. We also talked about what we’re frustrated by, as journalists and developers (paywalls and trying to find an efficient business model) and what scares us (not being able to learn the newest technology quickly or well enough, competition for jobs in the field, and a multitude of other things).

A New Toolkit

Of course, I picked up technical skills along the way at SRCCON. Maybe I didn’t become a crazy-technical coder, but I had a toolkit of new things I could use in the future, along with a few things I could implement in my newsroom immediately. For instance, I learned how to think visually, after spending time illustrating headlines. I’m also curious to try “pair programming” in the newsroom—essentially, two people working on the same task on one machine. Even if it’s not necessarily the fastest approach, it helps reporters talk through the loopholes and missing pieces in each others’ work.

Thinking About the Future

Most importantly, I left SRCCON feeling full of inspiration. Which, I know, sounds very trite. But how can you spend so much time with like-minded people and not feel that way?

I ended SRCCON with a session on journalism as a career and a calling, where we discussed things like the importance of paid internships and what the future of journalism looks like. And I realized that, in my small newsroom, it’s sometimes easy to get bogged down or feel like you’re in a silo. Especially when every person I meet on my beat tells me I’m in “a tough field right now”—as if I didn’t already know.

But thanks to SRCCON—and to the Dow Jones News Fund, which sponsored my attendance—I walked away feeling inspired. Not only to seek out courses and tools that will build my professional skill set, but inspired about the future of our field, knowing there are other folks out there working toward solutions to the issues that journalism faces, and who love news just as much as I do.

Photo of Katie Jansen and Zara Stone

Katie Jansen (left) and Zara Stone. (Heather Taylor)

The Coolest New Tools and Projects from SRCCON

By Zara Stone

There’s a lot happening in journalism right now—360 video, virtual reality, interactive design, data visualization. It’s hard to stay on top of all the new tools and figure out how to make the best use of them. Here are three of the best things you may not have heard of, from last month’s SRCCON.

Virtual Reality for Non-Coders

Virtual Reality (VR) is one of the hottest topics right now in media, as it adds depth and layers to a story that are unlike anything else. (For instance, this from ABC and this from the Wall Street Journal.) But in general, it’s been too technical for non-coding journalists. Now there are a number of options available. One very cool tool is GurviR, created by Dan Zajdband. This free-to-use interface lets you create basic VR environments in under five minutes. It’s designed to work with natural language, so a command like, “Give me a pink background with a small blue box and a voiceover that says, ‘Zara is the ruler of the world’ will do just that. For now, the tool has limited features, but it’s a great entryway into creating VR, and more features will be added as it develops. Here’s an example.

Giffable Audio

We’ve GIF’d every image imaginable… but what about the sound? Developers Darius Kazemi and Jane Friedhoff have created a tool that lets you clip short portions of audio and places it over a tweetable shareable image. It’s still in beta, but watch for it. Pro tip: While you wait, try Clammr, a free app that lets you grab and share audio clips from things you love.

Innovations in the Comments Section

The Coral Project is a collaborative effort that aims to help newsrooms — big and small— build better communities around their journalism. Another interesting new project is Hearken, which creates a two-way dialogue between reader and writer.

Tech, Takeaways, and the Best Kind of Terrible

By Ebony Martin

This was my first experience at SRCCON, and I was thrilled to be among a slew of like-minded designers and developers who tackle problems in the newsroom day in and day out. The modern newsroom is an amalgam of writers, editors, data visualization specialists, software engineers and digital strategists. And we don’t just write the news anymore. We bring the news to life.

With all of its helpful takeaways, SRCCON was well worth the trip.

Being Terrible Together

The most eye-opening experience, to me, was a workshop called “Let’s all be terrible at things together.” The name sounds negative, but coming together to talk about these issues and validate our concerns across the industry made me feel at ease. This workshop exposed the fears we face every day, whether we’re at a revered news organization or a tiny startup, whether it’s about not understanding documentation, confusion about Javascript, or how to obtain new skills on the job.

Photo of a flip chart and Post-It notes

From Ebony Martin’s lunch conversation.

SRCCON also allowed me to host my own workshop about professional development tools for breaking into UX design, data visualization, data development, data journalism, news app development and news management.

Resource Roundup

There are a number of resources and recaps already available, but here are a few more from SRCCON that stand out:

Data visualization

If your organization is considering creating more visually compelling data, you can learn more at FlowingData. And just because you want to use data visuals doesn’t mean you have to show your readers every statistic. You should evaluate the usefulness and value of every type of data for your readers. To do this, here’s a guide to good data use from SRCCON’s “When is big data too big?” workshop.

Raw is also a great tool to move data from Excel spreadsheets to more visually compelling charts and tables.

Interactive storytelling

Interactive stories are popping up all over these days, but how do you create them, if you’re a beginner? To try your hand at creating visually compelling stories, check out Racontr and Exposure.

Learning more about technology

If you work in a newsroom, but you don’t have the skills to tackle digital technology, you may feel stuck. There are a ton of great sites specifically design to help journalists break into the digital world by learning how to code, creating data visuals or making your stories more compelling online. This includes Code Actually and For Journalism. I’d also recommend keeping up with Poynter’s News University, along with OpenNews, which runs SRCCON.



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