Tag Archives: bryan

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:

DataNeverSleeps_2.0_v2

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.

ICYMI: Vox Magazine at the RJI Tech Innovation Showcase

I clearly need to work on my public speaking, but for a last second presentation, this wasn’t half bad. For a quick rundown of Vox’s digital innovation this semester, watch this video:

[9:49] Our Blue Highways — Ride along with Vox reporters and digital editors as they discuss this award-winning multimedia project from Fall 2014.
Members: Atiya Abbas, Bryan Bumgardner, Jenna Fear and Carson Kohler

[16:44] Vox on social media — There’s a right way and a wrong way for publications to use social media. Vox social gurus share some of our success stories, including Renz prison, the Antlers and CoMo cups.
Members: Christine Jackson and Dan Roe

[1:22] Vox’s new website — Publication websites are in a state of constant development. Vox students took a leadership role in the relaunch of Vox’s spiffy new site last summer.
Members: Laura Heck and Justin Paprocki

[26:38] Q&A

More information about this event: http://rjionline.org/events/tech15

How to Destroy Everyone At Trivia Crack

This post first appeared on Vox Magazine. 

If you’re reading this, you’re obviously betrothed to the latest social-gaming app Trivia Crack.

The name “Trivia Crack” is a morbid but accurate association — you’ll be hopelessly addicted within minutes.

Now all you have to do is win. Here are some shamelessly competitive tips from a level 60 addict with a 2-1 winning ratio.

1. Focus on your weakest categories. There are six categories, and nobody is an expert at them all. Check your profile to discover your weakest categories, and try to win in those categories first. You might always pick Entertainment first, but is that actually a smart move? If you can get your weakest out of the way first, you can make a swift coup de grâce when it counts.

2. Go with the answer you recognize. Oftentimes the only name that’s familiar is the correct choice. There are few trick questions in this terrible game, so don’t expect them.

3. Eliminate the wrong answers. You could save yourself some coins if you eliminate the clearly wrong answers first. This could turn a 25 percent chance guess into a 50 percent chance. Answers that use “all of the above” or “none of the above” are rarely the right choice — when they are, you’ll know for sure.

4. Trust your gut. Your unconscious often pulls you toward the correct answer at first glance.

5. If you’re dealing with numbers, choose one toward the middle of the pack. As said before, absolutes are rarely the right answers.

6. Play a lot. This goes without saying. I’ve had the same question about Einstein probably ten times now. The more you play, the better you’ll get — and the more coins you’ll win.

7. Play against people you consistently beat and who you consistently lose against. Easy wins will generate coins, losses will make you better.

8. Be smart with your coins. Don’t waste three coins on a skip right in the middle of a game. Save your coins for defining moments, such as when you need to get one question right to win. Same with your spins.

9. Give and ask for spins on social. It isn’t just a cheap marketing idea by Trivia Crack, it’s a way to help you win.

10. QUIT PLAYING. If you manage to reclaim your life from this wretched addiction, you’re the real winner. These wildly popular apps come and go about every six months, conquering the country then quickly fading into obscurity. Remember Words With Friends? Flappy Bird? Candy Crush?

Yeah, me neither. Be part of a movement and break free of the digital specter that haunts you.

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?

Seattle apartments

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I Can Has Cheezburger: Ben Huh

This is the second post in a series about a class trip to visit various newsrooms in Seattle. 

On our first day in Seattle, we arrive at the hotel jet lagged and wired on coffee.

We’re scheduled to meet with Ben Huh, digital entrepreneur and CEO of Cheezburger, the network of websites (single-handedly?) responsible for the internet’s infatuation with cats.

Cheezburger is the meme center of the internet. Huh helped start Circa, voted the best app of 2013 on both Android and iOS. He’s a legend, the kind of journalism entrepreneur we idolize.

So imagine our surprise when we cruise into Cheezburger’s headquarters and discover a half-empty office, well decorated but lightly staffed. We’re led into a conference room.

And imagine our surprise when Huh, about to go on vacation, comes into the room and gives us a frank explanation of his company and his industry. He’s wearing his standard circular glasses and speaks like a West-Coast techie.

One expects a man who runs a company called Cheezburger to be cheerful. However, his demeanor is grave, in stark contrast to the hand-painted memes hung throughout the office.

We do introductions and he launches into a short history of his career, from founding a tech company to his biggest break as a journalist. Soon the conversation turns to entrepreneurship.

“The best part about being an entrepreneur,” he says, “Is that somebody else pays you to learn how to start a business.”

At first his speech is inspiring, but soon he starts dumping realities. Journalism entrepreneurs – somebody asked a question about them – face a harsh and brutal reality.

“There’s a race in journalism and media to find the next hot thing,” Huh says. “By the time something gets big, nobody cares.”

Posed with a question about the newspaper industry, Huh speaks boldly.

Joint Operating Agreements were the worst thing to ever happen to news,” he says. “They were essentially monopolies that propped up voices. Now we’re seeing the natural defenses of a regional monopoly falling apart.”

He’s of course referencing The Seattle Times and the Post-Intelligencer, two more locations we’ll visit later on the tour.

Even though it took a while to get profitable, and he had to lay off 24 employees, Huh doesn’t advise us to avoid entrepreneurship.

“People often talk about the ‘serial entrepreneur.’ It’s not about having ideas, it’s about a mindset. There’s no real value in an idea – ideas are worthless. The challenge is building something real. Don’t hold on to an idea like it’s a secret: the more people you tell about your idea, the better it will get.”

We leave Cheezburger disoriented. Was that a newsroom? Was the morbidly realistic Ben Huh the kind of journalist we’d all end up being? Is Cheezburger a success story or not? Why did we even visit?

Our professor Marty Steffens, in what I would call extreme wisdom, offers no opinions on Cheezburger or any other newsroom. She instead cheerfully offers the name of a good seafood restaurant downtown. We wander through the afternoon rain.

What is this trip about, exactly?

Cheezburger

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Mizzou and bold new frontiers

Interactive data visualizations are all the rage these days, with major news organizations like the WSJ and the New York Times setting up interactive desks that churn out engrossing, compelling visualizations.

Mike Jenner, the Houston Harte Chair in Journalism at Mizzou and data visualization extraordinaire, set up a workshop back in October where dataviz journalists Chris Canipe (WSJ), Andrew Garcia-Phillips (Chartball) and Leah Becerra (Omaha World-Herald) came and taught us all D3, a Javascript library of data visualization, in one speedy weekend.

Check out that last link for some awesome data visualizations that capture the power of D3.

In one hot-and-heavy 16 hour sprint, we got the basics in Data Viz. Nobody left as data experts, but the class exposed lots of students to the future of digital journalism.

This was huge for one reason: while Chris, Andrew and Leah were all self-taught in data viz, they brought what they learned to an academic environment.  

After the class, Madi Alexander and myself organized the Mizzou Data Viz Club, where we met and tried to hang on to the skills we learned. (Madi recently got an internship at the NYT as a digital reporting intern. Hooray!)

In a conversation with Mike, I discovered he wanted to make a longer-term class, he just needed pledges that students would take it.

Our Dataviz club had the students and he had the resources. It was like the planets aligned.

Mike moved swiftly, organizing an 8-week course in D3 with Chris for this spring semester. I helped him design the posters to advertise it and recruited a bunch of students to join the class. Chris drives in occasionally from his home in Saint Louis, where he works remotely for the WSJ.

Our skills levels are all over the board, from accomplished programmers to brand new students. The class is open and modular with each student working at their own pace. It’s pitched together and sometimes challenging, but I want to outline a list why this Data Visualization class is wildly important to the future of Mizzou journalism academics.

1. Data visualization skills are in high demand. The success of Mizzou’s CAR and Data Reporting classes are testament to this. We teach the students how to find the data and how to pull stories from it, but now we’re on the cutting edge of visualizing it.

2. Most people who know this stuff were self taught, and our class is the foundation for rigorous academic improvement of the subject. By turning this into an academic affair, we make it easier for students to learn the basics quickly. Once people are learning it, they can move beyond and improve it, developing new techniques and taking those to industry publications.

3. It’s confusing, challenging and uneven – but it’s happening and we’re moving forward, setting standards for future dataviz classes. After this is over, we’ll know what kind of classes should be required for prerequisites. We’ll understand gaps in the digital knowledge of the journalists we’re training. We’ll know what kind of classes we need to establish a powerful data journalism sequence courses. This is us surging into a new frontier for science, know what I mean?

As we move forward, I’ll inevitably have more to say about this venture, so stay tuned.

Why Every Journalist Should Go See Rosewater

In case you poor souls don’t watch The Daily Show, TV comedian Jon Stewart wrote and directed a just-released film titled Rosewater.

Right to left: Gael Garcia, Jon Stewart and Maziar Bahari.
Left to right: Gael Garcia, Jon Stewart and Maziar Bahari.

Rosewater is the story of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who was imprisioned by the Iranian government for 118 days in 2009. After pressure from human rights activists and international leaders, Bahari was released just days before the birth of his first daughter.

I’ll leave criticism to the critics. Rosewater is emotionally powerful, wildly hyped and sometimes utterly hilarious. Star actor Gael Garcia Bernal is pretty convincing.

It’s also the most important movie you, as a journalist, could watch this year. Why? Let me count the ways:

1. Because you probably cover tons of utterly boring stories each week, probably some against your will, and there’s probably been some points where you felt like a glorified press release writer. This movie will remind you that journalism isn’t just a job – it’s a life choice that gets people kidnapped, tortured, raped, and murdered, all because they tried to tell the truth.

2. Because in 2013, 211 journalists were incarcerated worldwide, the second worst year on record. For many, this is just a number on paper. You need to watch Rosewater to be reminded of how your fellow journalists around the world suffer, to see what they experience firsthand. Unlike Bahari, many of these journalists will die in prison, getting life sentences for something as simple as a letter.

3. Because journalism is the vassal of democracy, and at some point while writing a story about a goat running wild in small town Missouri, you might have forgotten your job is a sacred one. Witness firsthand how totalitarian governments, losing control of the flow of information in our modern age, become terrible, desperate entities.

4. Because Rosewater is a single anecdote in a wave of happenings around the world. From the Arab Spring to the Umbrella Protests in Hong Kong and most recently the uprising in Mexico, the free flow of information empowers the people. Cellphones are becoming the ultimate tool of democracy, making every citizen a witness. The internet makes it impossible to conceal the truth. The youth of the world, aware of the oppression around them, are finally standing in revolution. Free information and the chokehold of regimes cannot coexist, and we can tell who is winning.

5. Because you need to see Jon Stewart’s first movie so that he’ll make more. He’s an advocate of powerful, intelligent journalism, and Rosewater is advocacy embodied. Go see the movie and support relevant journalism.

And while you’re at it, every episode of The Daily Show is posted on Hulu the day after it airs. Get watching.

Why you should learn Dataviz now

The other weekend I sat in on a Data Visualization introductory class taught over three days by three professionals in the business: Chris Canipe of The Wall Street Journal, Andrew Garcia Phillips of ChartBall.com, and Leah Becerra of the Omaha World-Herald.

In a quick and dirty 16-hour sprint, we were introduced to programming a variety of tools, including HighCharts, D3, and various text editing software.

Using these tools, we built a basic interactive graph using raw sports data. Numbers go in, beautiful pictures come out. This stuff is cutting edge – peep some gorgeous examples here. One of Mizzou’s own used these kinds of data visualizations to win a Pulitzer, and these graphics are common at the New York Times and The WSJ.

The weekend was crazy. Basically, a whole bunch of journalism nerds got together and did nerdy journalism stuff. And it was exceedingly awesome, and you should feel bad that you missed it.

But fret not – you can learn these highly demanded skills on your own with a little determination. Here’s why (and how) you should.

1. Because it’s part of the future of journalism. Take a look at journalism’s history and you’ll notice the people on the cutting edge are always the most successful, whether it’s Ben Franklin and his printing presses or ABC and color television. Take a lesson from the greats and secure your spot in journalism’s shining future, or something like that.

2. Because it’s a wild storytelling tool that helps audiences process the internet’s infinite stores of data. Journalists are no longer “gatekeepers” – if people want to know something, they can find any information they want on the internet. The flipside? There’s so much data, so many websites, that people get turned off by the gushing stream. Data visualizations help people process and explore vast amounts of data. All you do is hold their hand through it.

3. BECAUSE YOU CAN LEARN IT ON YOUR OWN FOR FREE. Like, seriously. Programming is becoming an easy skill to learn on your own, and all the journalists who taught this course taught themselves first. Explore sites like CodeAcademy, TreeHouse, Github, and W3 schools and you could know as much as anyone with a computer science degree. For D3 specifically, start here.

4. Because if you’re a Mizzou student, we just started a data visualization club, and there might potentially be a class in the spring. Jump on it.

Vox Visits: Justin and Amanda Heckert

This article is the first in a series of advice, guidance and inspiration from professionals in the journalism industry.

On October 10th, Vox met with Amanda Heckert, The Editor-in-Chief of Indianapolis Monthly, and Justin Heckert, a freelance writer published in GQ, New York Times Magazine, and others. Needless to say we were starstruck – the staff was far more well-behaved than usual.

gird
I exaggerate.

The husband-and-wife power duo came to Vox and imparted their wisdom, both about how to help the magazine grow and how to survive in this industry. There’s a few lessons we learned:

1. There is no clear path to success, so don’t be afraid to forge your own. Amanda graduated with a degree in advertising before deciding to flip into the editorial side of magazines. “I wondered two things,” she said. “Am I really good enough to do this, or am I going to bomb spectacularly?”

She grabbed her first job for a magazine with a two-room apartment as an office – now she’s one of the youngest editors of a city magazine, and her magazine recently won an award for General Excellence. Her advice? Chase your dream while you’re young and don’t ever stop.

“Sometimes you just have to take a leap and see what happens,” she said. It most definitely paid off.

Justin started as an editor at Vox as his capstone at Mizzou, and took a postgraduate internship at ESPN Magazine. After bouncing around city magazines he launched himself into freelance reporting, building connections and networking himself into writing stories for The New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, GQ and Indianapolis Monthly.

“I wanted to see if I could do this thing that I dreamed out, writing about things for big magazines,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m just going to try to write.”

Now he’s written a cover story for the New York Times Magazine and he has contacts at several major national magazines.

nytimes.com
nytimes.com

“Nothing that you do will ever prohibit you from getting where you want,” Justin said. “You can take weird paths and go your own ways.”

The common denominators of successful people? Dedication and a good work ethic. At her first job, Amanda helped clean the office, paid bills for the magazine and answered phones. Eventually she landed a temporary job at Atlanta Magazine when an editor left on maternity leave.

“I thought, “At the very least, this is going to be a chance to learn new skills,” she said. She spent that time exploring all different parts of the magazine and gathering as many skills as she could.

She ended up keeping the job, probably because she made an effort to understand and improve her workplace – and she communicated well with her bosses.

“I’m a really big believer in telling your editor or superior what your goals are,” she said. “If they’re any good, they’ll help you get there.”

Be groundbreaking – it’s the key to making an impression. Justin recalls making radical content while at Vox, from editing first-person essays written by drug users to crazy porn star coverage. Amanda challenges writers and editors to push into new territory.

“If we want to cover something, how can we push this farther? How can we help the reader make a connection they wouldn’t have otherwise? She said. “Be format-breaking.”

A high risk, high reward way of getting into magazines is freelancing. Justin started freelancing to get his foot in the door different magazines, a difficult way of life that’s easier when you’re young.

“When you’re just starting out – that’s the best time to freelance,” he said. It can be difficult to support a family or “adult” bills on the inconsistent salary. “But it’s a good way for a young person to get their foot in the door at places.”

Follow Amanda and Justin on Twitter.

Stuntin' @ Vox.
Stuntin’ @ Vox.

The Journalist’s Creed: Revisted

The Journalist’s Creed is a document written by Walter Williams, the first dean of the Missouri School of Journalism. Gender-specific pronouns aside, this is one of the most important manifestos ever written about journalism. In fact, it’s worth revisiting with a few annotations. The Creed is in Bold. 

The Journalist’s Creed

I believe in the profession of journalism. Before journalism became a paid profession, it was a moonlight hobby. Many writers had jobs in politics and government, creating natural conflicts of interest. Having full-time journalists ensures excellence and intelligence. 

I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust. The journalist is betrothed to their readers; the very nature of our industry outlines our responsibility to protect and preserve the public good. 

I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism. Naturally. 

I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true. Many journalists will tell you they cannot write things that are not true, and many more have resigned to protect these stout personal values. This is the mark of a great journalist. 

I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible. Democracy cannot function without the checks of the 4th Estate.

I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends. This echoes a previous point. Journalists should be fully and deeply committed to their ethical values. To corrupt the public trust with bribery and excuses is to betray the responsibility of our industry. 

I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service. This outlines standards for the relationships between advertising, opinion and editorial, but notice it doesn’t define that relationship for publications. How much of a public service does your publication provide?

I believe that the journalism which succeeds best — and best deserves success — fears God and honors Man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world. This needs no interpretation. As you go forward, let the lessons of Walter Williams echo in your work, and someday you may be a journalist as great as he. Wise shall be the bearers of light.