Just One Thing: A Year in Review, Part I

Appreciation of usefulness and bar-raising at the end of a long, complicated year

From the WSJ’s job market tracker.

As we did last year, we’ve asked a couple of dozen people from all around the news-nerd community to tell us about one thing—article, feature, app, tool, or something else entirely—that they loved in 2015. This week, we’re publishing their responses, from interactives to project management software.

We hope you find here at least one thing that eases your work, inspires new angles on your stories, and helps carry you through to 2016. Read the second and third parts of our community roundup. —ed

Great Interactives

Becky Bowers, The Wall Street Journal

I’m deeply in love with my colleagues’ job market tracker. Who’s getting jobs, who’s losing them—and is it happening in industries big enough to matter? Every month, it told the story, with just a moment of human help. That’s the power of visualizations built to last, and just one reason I love the future of news.

Derek Willis, ProPublica

There is a lot of clutter and noise in modern American politics, and much moreso when it comes to a presidential race. That’s why my single thing in 2015 is a feature from early this year that took a look at the correspondence of Jeb Bush during his father’s time as vice president and president, by Alicia Parlapiano and Wilson Andrews of the New York Times.

While we have great tools for working with documents, I feel this piece really set a bar for how to combine the original documents with context and design in a way that made it feel almost like a museum piece. Would love to see more rich treatment of source documents in 2016.

MaryJo Webster, The Star Tribune

My colleagues and I are all just so impressed with this visualization by the Tampa Bay Times.

I wish it was a bit shorter (maybe a half dozen slides), but I just love the concept of explaining something complicated in this slide-like way.

Jacob Harris, 18F

It’s not cheery, but I am still amazed by this piece from the New York Times on how Syrians are dying.

I wrote that it’s easy to forget the dots are people, but this piece doesn’t let you, and those are a goddamned lot of dots, enough to make you gasp at the horror of it all.

Juan Elosua, OpenNews Fellow, La Nacion

From the Guardian regarding Homan Square Chicago detainees.

I love the way they use the scroll to do the complete storytelling—you do not need to do anything more than scroll to understand a complex and intricate issue.

Julia Wolfe, The Wall Street Journal

You Draw It: How Family Income Predicts Children’s College Chances

This just totally changed how I approach and think about gamified journalism. Done well, one simple 15-second game can tell a powerful and humbling story. A good reminder that there’s nothing wrong with striving for “something fun.”

From You Draw It: How Family Income Predicts Children’s College Chances.

Useful Tools

From the Geographic Imager UI.

Derek Watkins, The New York Times

For tools, I’ve been using Geographic Imager for the first time this year, and I’m continually impressed with how easy it makes processing raster imagery in Photoshop. Huge time saver. I’m also really interested in/impressed by Mapbox Studio and Mapbox GL JS, but haven’t had as much time to use those yet. More broadly I’ve been dabbling in WebGL and writing shaders with GLSL. It’s been a steep learning curve, but the performance payoff is bonkers. Looking forward to using that technology more next year.

Lauren Rabaino, Vox Product

The PM in me is going to pick a web app that I can’t live without: worklife. It has given structure to the way I plan agendas, document notes, and communicate action items!

Tyler Fisher, NPR

I know Chris [Groskopf] technically built it while he was working on the same team as me, but, agate.

As someone with programming experience but not data analysis experience, it is already my favorite tool for doing the level of analysis I need to do.

Tiff Fehr, The New York Times

Google’s Analytics Query Explorer tool, which has you authorize your GA account(s), then poke around your own data via their API. It helps you learn their API vocabulary while helping you run basic reports much faster than in Google Analytics’ GUI interface itself. For quick tallies or rough audience segmentation, it’s pretty handy.

Kavya Sukumar, OpenNews Fellow, Vox Product

Two tools that made my life a lot easier this year:

Wonderful Books and Talks

Andrew Loswosky, The Coral Project

Sarah Jeong’s The Internet of Garbage came out just as the majority of our team joined the project. It laid out for us a witty, perfectly formed road map of how to approach a key element of our work: creating safer, more respectful online spaces. The internet might be garbage, but this short ebook is gold.

Joe Germuska, Knight Lab

It’s not even from this year but I was really delighted by Bret Victor’s “Future of Programming” talk from 2013. Just watch it, or at least look at his typically great notes page for it.

…and Chess Sweaters

Ben Welsh, The Los Angeles Times

Last holiday season, the Norwegian daily VG challenged its reader to create chess sweaters to commemorate the world title defense of Norway’s celebrated champion, Magnus Carlsen. Sure. It’s technically from 2014. But, like Magnus, it remains undefeated.

Just look at it.


  • Becky Bowers

    Deputy global economics editor for @WSJ. Superfan of @WSJecon. Previously of the @TB_Times. Try to keep up with @jeremybowers, #TheSqueezle and #TheGiblette.

  • Juan Elosua

    Spanish telecommunications engineer. 2015 Knight-Mozilla fellow at @LNdata. Data Analysis & Visualization Developer. Open Data enthusiast.

  • Tiff Fehr

    Tiff Fehr is an assistant editor and lead developer on the Interactive News desk at The New York Times. Previously she worked at msnbc.com (now NBCNews.com) and various Seattle-area mediocre startups.

  • Tyler Fisher

    Tyler Fisher is a senior news apps developer at POLITICO. Previously, he worked on the NPR Visuals Team and the Northwestern University Knight Lab.

  • Joe Germuska

    Joe Germuska is the Chief Nerd at Northwestern University’s Knight Lab, a community of designers, developers, students, and educators working on experiments designed to push journalism into new spaces. Before joining Knight Lab, Joe was one of the founding members of the Chicago Tribune News Apps team. In his free time… who are we kidding, Joe doesn’t have free time any more because he’s also enrolled in NU’s Masters in Product Design & Development program.

  • Jacob Harris

    Jacob Harris is a Senior Software Architect who works with a kickass team of fellow newsroom developers at the New York Times.

  • Andrew Losowsky

    Andrew Losowsky is the Head of Community Product at Vox Media.

  • Lauren Rabaino

    Lauren Rabaino is the executive director of operations at Vox Media, where she organizes the company’s priority initiatives across all departments.

  • Kavya Sukumar

    Kavya is a developer with a journalism habit. She joined Vox Media’s Storytelling Studio as an OpenNews fellow in 2015 and stayed on after her fellowship. Her first newsroom job was with the investigative team at the Palm Beach Post. Before that she was a developer at Microsoft.

  • Derek Watkins

    Graphics editor @nytgraphics. Map maker and geographer.

  • MaryJo Webster

    MaryJo Webster, the data editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, has been a data journalist for nearly 20 years. Previously, she has worked at USA TODAY, Digital First Media, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Center for Public Integrity and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She started her career as a reporter at small newspapers in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

  • Ben Welsh

    Editor, @LATdatadesk at @latimes · Organizer, https://t.co/lZvqTdDOmO · Archivist, https://t.co/CaO6K276g3 · Send tips to ben.welsh@latimes.com

  • Derek Willis

    Derek Willis is a news applications developer at ProPublica, focusing on politics and elections. He previously worked as a developer and reporter at the New York Times, a database editor at The Washington Post, and at the Center for Public Integrity and Congressional Quarterly.

  • Julia Wolfe

    Julia Wolfe is a visual journalist at FiveThirtyEight focusing on politics and interactive graphics. Previously, she worked at The Wall Street Journal, The Globe and Mail, and The Toronto Star. She is also an adjunct lecturer at CUNY’s graduate school of journalism.


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