Five Years, What a Surprise

We made a website and people showed up.

Erika Owens’ closing talk at SRCCON 2017, as viewed by my kid, an entire human being who didn’t exist when Source began. (Erin Kissane)

Five and a half years ago, in a very different world, I met OpenNews’ Dan Sinker at an unconference. We played a large and slightly traumatic game of werewolf until 4am and the next morning around 8am, he laid out his initial ideas for a website that would document and celebrate the work of developers in news organizations and asked if I might be interested. I emailed my then-boss on a plane back home and asked to switch to part-time so I could get started immediately. (She said yes.)

Building Out a Deep Niche

A month later, Dan and I mapped out our early plans in Chicago, ran them by some local news devs, and began the process of luring Ryan Pitts to work on the project. Erika Owens joined OpenNews right around the same time I did, and Kio Stark joined us to lead what was then “Source Learning,” a series of detailed deep dives on newsroom code and design.

We decided right away that Source would focus on the people who were already working in the field and wanted to get better—and to find better ways of working with each other—rather than getting into the teaching-reporters-to-code or spreadsheets 101 work that was being ably handled by training organizations and events like NICAR. Our work would be super-niche, in support of a community inside organizations that often didn’t quite understand what they did, and we would focus on depth and quality rather than on frequency. We wouldn’t be covering the community as observers—we’d try to be the infrastructure and human support the community needed to strengthen and enrich itself.

In October of 2012, we launched Source, focusing 100% on project documentation on (Regular) Source and deep dives on Source Learning. And pretty much immediately, devs and designers in newsrooms showed up with their documentation and thoughtful evaluations of complicated problems—and kept on showing up. Five years and more than 500 articles later, project teardowns and long looks at design and data problems are still a big part of what we do. A few things have changed, though.

Course Corrections

As has been the case with SRCCON, our annual OpenNews conference, we’ve found that a lot of people in news-nerd world are really interested in working together on culture as much as on code. We still publish lots of project teardowns and topical deep-dives—and a biweekly roundup of excellent and interesting work—but we also publish a lot more about hiring, bias, burnout, and communication. Kio Stark’s groundbreaking Learning series is now a part of our regular stream of articles (and Kio has moved on to other wonderful things) and Lindsay Muscato, who helped haul us through the redesign we launched this year, has become an indispensable part of Source’s editorial work.

We’ve also narrowed our focus and made new editorial choices in response to the way journalism and life are in 2016 and now 2017. We hired a security columnist, ran our first Security Week, and focused many more resources on pragmatic articles about handling burnout, trauma, and discrimination, and about building healthier ways of working. We kicked up our support of people in our community stepping into leadership and management roles. And we went harder on our longstanding emphasis on the work of journalists of color, women, and other groups underrepresented in news and technology.

What Comes Next

As we head toward the end of the latest weird year, Lindsay and I will be spending extra time thinking about we can better support what the community does and provide more of what people doing this work really need. We’ll be at SRCCON:WORK this December and we’ll be listening to everything that comes in from the latest News Nerd Survey—and we’re also an email away for anyone who wants to talk about it.

In the meantime, thank you—designers, developers, data nerds, reporters, and so many others—for trusting us to help tell these stories and celebrate this work. We think it matters and we’re not stopping anytime soon.




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