Category Archives: Life


Why I’m Becoming a Data Scientist

First  of all, this post exists because I’m currently in New York, studying the art of Data Science with Metis. It’s a 12-week boot camp focused on training us to use all the tools needed to pull insights from massive mountains of data.

I’m here because I want a job as a Data Scientist.

Usually when I say this, people respond in three ways:

  1. But I thought you wanted to be a journalist?
  2. Aren’t you getting your masters degree in journalism?
  3. What the hell is data science, and why would you want to do it?

My reasons are both philosophical and practical, so here’s a short explainer.

What is Data Science?

Our entire world is recorded in bits of information. Thanks to technology and the internet, human beings create and store more information now than at any point in the history of our species. From birth to death, our entire lives are recorded with paper documents, Google searches, emails, pictures and Facebook statuses. Every day trillions of data are created by billions of humans.

For example, this is how much information people create every minute of every day:


That’s a monstrous amount of information, and we’re only looking at a slice! Many firms across hundreds of industries are also recording their own information, as more of our world goes digital. Thanks to constantly improving server memory, it’s cheaper than ever to save all this information, so most of this stuff is just sitting around, unused.

But what if we could use all this information?

What if the data revealed patterns? What if we could look deeply at the information and discover the who, what, where, why and how of our world, to empower people, companies and governments to make better decisions?

People are starting to do just that, and they’re already making waves. Mandatory reading, for examples: Big Data, A Revolution.

That’s data science. And it sounds hella awesome.

Why do Data Science?

While I was doing my masters degree in Data Journalism at Mizzou, I realized data scientists and data journalists are basically the same thing. We learned lots of amazing tools like D3.js, CartoDB and Highcharts to tell stories with data. One major difference is that professional data scientists have stronger backgrounds in mathematics, programming and statistics, which would seriously help data journalists. As I created data-driven projects and infographics, I thought a lot about how I could use data to tell stories. Soon enough, it wasn’t satisfying to make a chart or a graph here or there. I wanted to do something bigger with data.

I also realized my journalistic skills – analysis, research, inherent curiosity and storytelling – were a perfect fit for a job as a data scientist. This inspired me to think outside the box and join this bootcamp, where I could get the programming and statistics needed to complete my education. This Venn Diagram explains the rare and challenging mix of skills needed to be a great Data Scientist.

data science

There’s also the practical motivation: Data Science as a profession is exploding, and every industry, from entertainment to healthcare, is hiring. Demand is high, and so is the pay: the median salary of a data scientist is around $107,000. Companies are hiring people right and left. Compare that to journalism as a profession, where median salaries usually sit around $31,000 a year for newspaper reporters, and layoffs loom around every corner. The storytelling opportunities could be deeper if I was involved with data science research.

Data science is still emerging, and with it, the potential for good or evil. I want to put the skills and ethics I learned as a journalist to use in this industry, so I can help establish responsible, ethical and useful uses of data to improve our world.

That’s it, pretty much. Right now, I’m looking to join a data science team that echoes those values, so I can learn better the skills of the trade. Thanks for reading this far and letting me explain this. Every week or so I’ll be blogging here about this camp, if you’re interested in learning more.

For more on Data Science, read the groundbreaking Booz Allen Hamilton Field Guide to Data Science, online for free.

Also, yes – I’m still working on my thesis. I haven’t forgotten about you, Mizzou.

Queer Sensibilities: News Xchange Berlin, 2015

Below is a video of our talk at the 2015 News Xchange conference in Berlin in October. Sara Trimble and I discussed LGBT coverage and style guides in modern journalism. News Xchange is a conference of news executives from all over the world. I’m pretty honored they invited us. It was a blast, and a major shout out to Amy Selwyn for putting the whole thing together. Here’s to hoping I can visit the conference again soon.

QUEER SENSIBILITIES from News Xchange on Vimeo.

Syrian Refugees In the United States, An Interactive

This bit is inspired by a map made in the New York Times. This piece appeared originally on the Columbia Missourian.

People think they’re stopping Syrian refugees from entering the United States, but guess what: they’re already here.

The graphic below shows states with governors who have pledged to keep out refugees, while the blue dots show where most of the refugees from the last ten years have resettled.

I made this by smashing together some data from various government sources.

Header photo is from Flickr. 

Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream”

Because I feel like all of us have to read this again. MLK Jr. delivered this speech half a century ago and it still applies. 

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

5 Reasons Journalists Should Move to Seattle

Seattle. The name invokes imagery: a temperate rainforest, permanent rain, (God forbid) the Twilight novels, legal marijuana.

But actually visiting the city reveals something else: Seattle is poised to be the tech utopia of the future. Of course, this comes with problems. As journalists, here’s why you should get your ass to Seattle immediately and the challenges you’ll face:

Seattle is beautiful. A coastal temperature keeps the ever-present flora permanently green. Beautiful ivy and moss cover every corner of the futuristic, minimalist office and apartment buildings. Moody rainclouds part for glorious rays of sunshine. There’s no trash to be seen anywhere. Unlike the urbane vintage flair of New York or the historical weight of D.C., Seattle is building itself from the ground up as a city of the future. The downside: the Mediterranean climate means the weather doesn’t change often. No snow, no hot summers.

It’s perfect for millennials. Think West Coast values: widespread recycling, locally-driven grocery places like Pike Place Market, a chill music scene. Hardly anybody wears ties, yet there’s a clear frontier-meets-office-space fashion trend. Everyone you see on the street is young, hip, smart and attractive – why don’t you join them? The downside: Rent is wildly expensive, experiencing one of the steepest hikes in recent years. It’s only a few notches below New York.

Seattle is the new Silicon Valley. It’s a major shipping lane for Asian companies. It doesn’t have the same problems as SoCal. It’s been called the “Detroit of Tech Companies.” The Pacific Coast location makes Asia more accessible than New York. It’s home to giants like Amazon, Boeing and Microsoft, serious players in the tech scene. It refuses the fly-or-die tech startup blueprint popular in Silicon Valley. There’s none of the crazy Silicon Valley drama, either. In Seattle the vibes are chill and the tech progress is real. The downside: The tech industry has filled Seattle with tons of young, single men. Even though Seattle has a vibrant LGBT community, it could be hard for women to find equal upwards mobility.

Seattle has an evolving but distinguished journalism community. The Seattle Times is a hero of the digital future. Marketing agencies like Edelman are growing their presence in response to the technology industry. Legacy organizations like KING5, The Seattle P.I. and Amazon are picking up tons of journalists, especially Mizzou grads. Where the communication technology goes, journalism follows. The downside: Journalism jobs are disappearing, same as across the industry. This doesn’t mean you won’t get a job – it just means you might not end up as a journalist.

COFFEE. And fresh fruit, vegetables, and seafood daily at the Pike Place Market. And legal weed, whenever you like. And awesome craft beers. And awesome mountain views. And the awesome American Northwest waiting for adventure, if you’re into that sort of thing. Seattle has a variety of things to offer, so isn’t it time you tried it out?



Changing Media Business Models: Seattle Trip

I’m in a class called Changing Media Business Models, a class run by Marty Steffens, a respected professor in the Missouri School of Journalism.

Each semester this class takes a trip to Seattle and tours various newsrooms, including nonprofits, marketing companies and digital-only publications.

The trip was wildly complex and a blur of shattered expectations and great coffee. It was more than the educational experience we expected, and less of the vacation we thought we got.

Check the links below as they come.

I Can Has Cheezburger: Ben Huh

Edelman Worldwide: The Dark Side?

5 Reasons Journalists Should Move To Seattle

CrossCut: Survival Mode

Storytelling and Getting Paid for It

LIONDigitalMedia: The Grand Plan

The Seattle Times: Journalism 2.0?

Losing My Virginity Twice: Uber and Legal Marijuana

Seattle PI: A Kingdom Fallen

KING5 and Broadcast journalists

Zillow and the Public Service Hackathon

How to Survive at Vox Magazine: 6 Lessons

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a student in your first Missouri-Method placement at Vox Magazine.

And you’re probably a little intimidated too, considering during your first week you’re helping launch an issue.

But fear not! Hundreds have come before you, and countless more will follow you. You need to focus on yourself now and the opportunity you have.

Here’s five pieces of advice to help you survive your semester at Vox, from somebody who has done it before.

1. Embrace the chaos and immerse yourself in the flow. Go forward and write every single meeting in your planner for the rest of the semester. Schedule your daily routine around Vox. We have a crazy workflow, but the sooner you embrace it and understand it you’ll see the genius.

2. Ask everyone questions and find your heroes. It’s common knowledge that Managing Editor Anna Seaman is a walking database of meeting times, class schedules and phone numbers of Vox employees. Half the time I ask her what I’m supposed to be doing. Ask people questions – they want to help you. Helping you helps the machine work.

3. Learn the language. I’m not talking about our official office language of sarcasm, I’m talking about communication. Learn how to ask, discuss and brainstorm with the right lingo and you’ll pick up quick. Learn those editing marks, and remember handwriting on galleys!

4. Don’t just hit the bottom line. Use this opportunity you have to boost your skills set, your connections and your clips. You’ll have the chance to enrich yourself and pitch the stories you want to cover. This is your chance to stand out from the crowd and make a difference for your career.

5. BREATHE. Stress is a side effect of our industry – learn to deal with it. Step back from the problem and go get Chipotle. Take a walk around the rotunda to clear your head. Freaking out about something doesn’t solve the problem. Learn how to mitigate and control your stress. Stay chill, dude.

6. Cherish every moment. Before you know it, you’ll be done and looking for job offers. Take every learning opportunity you can find. Genuinely get to know people. Stretch out of your comfort zone. This isn’t just a class, it’s an experience. Make the most of it.

The Oscars: Proof we’re all still racist and sexist

This post originally appeared on

As you probably know, the nominees for the 2015 Oscars were announced today.

As you also probably noticed, the internet is pretty upset about the intense lack of diversity in the nominations. Various excuses have come forward, from the homogeneity of the selecting voters (an overwhelming majority are male and white), to the selection of an African-American Cheryl Boone Isaacs as president in 2013.

These excuses excuse nothing.  These nominations prove that, even after a year of intense racial, gender and class conflict, nothing has changed. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, an organization of esteemed filmmakers, actors and cultural icons who deeply influence the evolution of American society, still don’t give a damn about black people or women.

This is a problem.

The Wikipedia page for The Oscars list the awards as “an annual American awards ceremony honoring cinematic achievements in the film industry.” What defines these achievements?

Did not Ava DuVernay, the director of Selma, deserve recognition for her bold and poignant exploration of the Civil Rights Movement, during this time of reopened wounds of racial inequality? The film has a 99% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes, a virtually impossible ranking to achieve. Doesn’t showing the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr., the biggest civil rights hero in American history, count as “elevating film-making?”

No. Instead, the academy prefers Budapest Hotel, a beautifully-shot but totally culturally disconnected film about a fictional hotel and a man who likes perfume too much.

Did not Laura Poitras, the director of Citizenfour, deserve recognition as a director considering she literally cannot reenter the United States for fear of government seziures due to her connection to Edward Snowden? She sat in the room with Snowden as he described what is arguably the most important governmental scandal of the decade. Citizenfour is in the running for Best Documentary, hardly the esteem it deserves.

You could argue “But the academy is actually picking good movies! Look at American Sniper!”

I would argue these awards are just as symbolic as they are literal. Look at how Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize — that award was an effort by the Nobel Committee (and the entire European continent) to show their approval for Obama’s initiatives. (They’ve since asked him to return it, further proof of it’s symbolism.)

Has the academy not seen the year we’ve had? The people who have died in Ferguson, New York and recently Nigeria as a result of racial inequality? Has the academy not seen what’s happened to free speech in Syria, Paris and our own country?

I’m not asking the academy to throw their votes. I’m asking them to recognize the influence of film-making on our world and to respond in kind.

I’m asking the academy to recognize their roles as social influences, as leaders who drive the cultural discussions in this country, to take responsibility for improving the world around them. I’m asking them to take responsibility for the influence they have to make this world a better place.

In that regard, they clearly don’t care. So continues the Wes Anderson Hollywood Love Train. 

What do you think? Comment below, tweet at us, or comment on our Facebook page. 

Bryan Bumgardner also does Twitter. 

A must-read: Siddhartha

I’m a firm believer in the power of fiction in our lives. Want to know how to tell a good story as a journalist? Read good stories.

Below is an excerpt from Hermann Hesse’s 1922 novel Siddhartha, a masterful work that has translated the struggle for nirvana for generations of readers. It’s an easy, cheap and enlightening read, so pick it up today. This one is $2.25 on Amazon. Change your life for less than five bucks.

Siddhartha speaks to his old friend Govinda as they sit by the river.

“And here is a doctrine at which you will laugh. It seems to me, Govinda, that love is the most important thing in the world. It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.”

Picture by Trey Radcliff, Flickr.