Features:

What Do You Do, Again?

The humans behind specialized news-nerd job titles talk about their work


(WOC in Tech Chat)

As we approach the fifth anniversary of Source’s existence, we’re taking an anecdotal look at the humans who do the often confusingly described work of journalism technology, technology in journalism, data…stuff…in newsrooms, and so on: What exactly does a producer do? How about an engagement reporter? Is “data editor” the same role across newsrooms? We set out to discover what happens behind the titles, one job at a time.

In our first installment, we spoke with Julia Wolfe, Mike Janssen, and Tyler Machado.

Julia Wolfe, Visual Journalist at FiveThirtyEight

Source: What do you do in your daily work?

JW: Depends on the week. Sometimes I pitch and report my own work, sometimes I act as a front-end developer on our many dashboards. Occasionally I’m on “chart duty,” which means I edit charts sent in by reporters, and make any custom charts that our tools can’t handle.

Source: Do you think other people with similar titles do roughly the same kinds of work?

JW: If we exclude photo and video journalists with the same title, I think so. The ratio probably shifts (some on our team for example do more chart-editing, less front-end dev work), but I think those three things make up the bulk of the work.

Source: Does your title help clarify what you do, internally?

JW: I’m lucky to work at an forward-thinking org regarding visuals, so I think there’s a lot more literacy around this stuff. In a more traditional newsroom, it could be tough. Though that’s probably more about the newness of what we do than the title. I’m not sure any title could sum it up for someone who had never worked with a “visual journalist” before.

Source: Have you had titles in the past that you found difficult to explain to other journalism folks?

JW: Literally all of them (News App Dev., Interactive Editor, Digital Designer) Are there other opaque or confusing terms that come up for your team? At the WSJ, the default title is “graphics editor” and I find that fairly confusing, since they’re not editors. Here, everyone on the graphics team is “visual journalist” or ______ “journalist.”

Source: When people not in tech or journalism ask what you do, what do you tell them?

JW: More tech/math literate people: “I make interactive data visualizations, original data analysis and help reporters with their charts.” More journalism literate people: “I report stories that rely more heavily on charts than words (and then I send them some links of my work)” Other people: Some variation of “So you know during an election, when newspapers have all those cool interactives?” if it’s someone I want to talk to. Otherwise, “I make graphics and charts.”

Mike Janssen, Digital Editor at Current

Source: What do you do in your daily work?

MJ: We’re a small operation so my daily work is all over the place. A lot of my time goes to editing articles and preparing them for publication. I also work on our podcast, data reporting and visualizations, my own stories (when I have time!), video screenings, social media, metrics/analytics, etc., etc.

Source: Do you think other people with similar titles do roughly the same kinds of work?

MJ: I think probably so, though I’m guessing that at a lot of other places people have narrower roles/titles than just “digital editor,” which is very broad.

Source: Have you had titles in the past that you found difficult to explain to other journalism folks?

MJ: I used to be “Associate Editor” at this publication, which felt a little inaccurate because I was really a reporter, not an editor.

Source: When people not in tech or journalism ask what you do, what do you tell them?

MJ: I tell them I’m an editor for a website that covers public and nonprofit media. A trade publication. No, it’s not Al Gore’s Current. No, it’s not the community newspapers in Washington, DC called Current. You’ve probably never seen it if you don’t work in public media. No, relatives at Thanksgiving, I don’t work for NPR, I work for a publication that covers NPR.

Tyler Machado, Editorial Developer, Harvard Business Review

Source: What do you do in your daily work?

TM: I work on things where some measure of web development is needed for specific articles–data projects, interactives, some article design. I also maintain our chatbots on Slack and Facebook. Last thing, I provide support on CMS and website issues where needed, though the vast majority of that is handled by our product team.

Source: Do you think other people with similar titles do roughly the same kinds of work?

TM: I think so. I suspect that my work is closer to the “web producer” side of the spectrum than the “data journalist” side compared to most people with my title. But I don’t know for sure.

Source: Does your title help clarify what you do, internally?

TM: Occasionally there’s some confusion with what’s my work versus what’s product team work, or design team work for that matter. But people I work with regularly usually know what sorts of things that I do.

Source: Have you had titles in the past that you found difficult to explain to other journalism folks?

TM: At a previous job, “digital media manager” was a tough one, but I was doing all kinds of things and digital media was the common thread. In hindsight, web editor or producer would probably been more accurate to describe that role, but not 100% accurate either and I didn’t know what those titles even meant at the time.

Source: Are there other opaque or confusing terms that come up for your team?

TM: The people I work with directly are mostly not coders, but they are pretty tech savvy. I could definitely do a better job of explaining how things work, when it’s like, how our bot knows to send a message to these X people at Y o’clock and what that process looks like. Beyond that I feel like my office is pretty good with organization, clear roles and logical job titles.

Source: When people not in tech or journalism ask what you do, what do you tell them?

TM: Some variation on “I work on the website, make charts, do some data analysis” is the most consistent thing. Whether I even call myself a “web developer” depends on the setting and my mood.

People

Credits

  • Mike Janssen

    Mike joined Current as its first digital editor in 2014 and began writing for Current in 2000, covering primarily public radio and digital initiatives in public media. Mike was a fellow with the National Black Programming Consortium’s Public Media Corps from 2010-11 and has hosted talk and music shows on community radio stations in the Washington, D.C., area. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family, playing banjo, cooking, and making coffee and cocktails.

  • Tyler Machado

    Tyler Machado works on data, graphics, bots and journalism. He is the editorial developer at Harvard Business Review in Boston.

  • Julia Wolfe

    Julia Wolfe is a visual journalist at FiveThirtyEight where she tells stories with charts, words, and JavaScript. Previously, she worked at the Wall Street Journal, the Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star.

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