Welcome Our Spring Apprentice: Sinduja Rangarajan

Sinduja Rangarajan

We're really excited to welcome Sinduja Rangarajan to the team as our spring apprentice.

Before joining INN, Sinduja was the 2015 Google Journalism Fellow at Reveal, where she reported, cleaned and analyzed data for investigative stories.

She has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Mumbai and is a recent graduate from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of communication and journalism where she is majoring in digital journalism.

At Annenberg, she worked as the multimedia editor at Intersections South LA and led their web development efforts on the Watts revisited project. Her work at Annenberg earned her a LA Press Club award and the Bryce Nelson award for distinguished journalism.

She’s originally from Mumbai and misses the crowded streets, ample public transportation and the street food there.

Welcome, Sinduja!

INN Receives Knight Prototype Grant

INN is pleased to be the recipient of a Knight Prototype Fund grant for a new project we’re calling One Liner.

The Knight Prototype Fund is a grant program helping media organizations, technologists and newcomers or hobbyists develop new ideas from concept phase to, hopefully, a live demonstration.

Grants of $35k are awarded and grantees are given six months to research, test and build a prototype. The culmination of the grant period is a demo day in which all grant winners for a given cohort show off their work.

The problem:

Working in media technology, we (the INN Nerds) get frequent requests of INN members and clients to add third party scripts to their websites. The number and type of third party scripts is virtually endless, but there are a handful of usual suspects when it comes to this: Google Analytics, Omniture, Chartbeat, Comscore, Parse.ly, Facebook Insights.

We’ve found a few key issues with our members' and clients’ understanding of these things:

  1. They often don’t consider the performance implications of adding third party services to their sites. How much “weight” does any one script add to the page? How much longer will users be waiting for the site to load? How does this impact low-bandwidth and mobile audience?
  2. They also have a hard time understanding the privacy implications of adding scripts to their site. Does the third party retain any information about their users? Does it sell said information to other parties? The aspect of trust and advocacy for the audience is important, especially for journalists (if it’s not important to you as a journalist, I’d encourage you to reconsider).
  3. Sometimes they can’t even articulate why they need a particular third party service or whether it’s a good fit for their organization. In many cases, they’ve just heard of a new tool and believe they need it because other organizations use it. Consider Chartbeat, for example: if you’re only publishing one story per quarter, you very likely do not need this service on your site.
  4. Finally, they often need assistance  adding the scripts to their sites. The steps are different in subtle ways from script to script and documentation is almost always difficult to find and, once found, often inscrutable.

What is the solution?

We aim to de-mystify this process and help organizations to make better choices by building a web service called One Liner (named after the “just one line of code” selling point often cited by many third-party services).

Our prototype will have a few components:

  • A research tool listing some of the most common third-party services one might add to their site along with some simple information about each, including possible performance and privacy implications. The tool will also help organizations make informed decisions and select tools that are best suited for the size of their organization and the problems they are trying to solve.
  • A configuration dashboard where users can select from the list of supported services and walk through the setup process without leaving the dashboard. No searching for documents. No struggling to understand. Let One Liner guide the way.
  • A web service not unlike the services we’re looking to remedy. Once the user has selected and configured the third-party services they would like to use, we’ll deliver a single line of code they can add to their site. This single line of code will be responsible for loading the specified services and their configurations from the One Liner application.

The single-line-of-code service to end (remedy) all single-line-of-code services.

So, who are we trying to reach?

This is for the editor, reporter (or other web writer) who doesn’t have a lot of experience with web development, cringes at the sight of javascript and generally does not want to be responsible for the addition of these types of features and services but often finds the responsibility falls to them. These folks might also be their organization’s technologist by default or be serving several roles for the company as in the case of very small INN members (think: when you have one or two people of staff, you have to do a little bit of everything).

What’s Next?

Between now and the demo day in July we aim to develop a prototype of this service and test it with a few sites. We hope that the prototype helps not only make it easier for sites to setup and add third-party services to their sites, but also helps them to make informed decisions that improve their site performance while respecting visitors’ privacy.

If you’re interested in being a part of our pilot or have any suggestions for us, we’d love to chat! Drop us a line.

Welcome Our New Lead Designer, Julia Smith To The INN Nerds Team

Julia SmithWe're thrilled to welcome Julia Smith to the team as our new lead designer.

Julia comes to INN from the Center for Investigative Reporting where she was a 2015 Knight-Mozilla Fellow. At CIR she worked with a team of data journalists to create news applications, visualizations and custom interactives for RevealNews.org.

Julia holds a degree in journalism from Creighton University in Omaha, NE. She worked as a corporate software developer and user experience designer early in her career before an enthusiastic return to the news industry.

At INN she'll be the design lead on our team working on a mix of internal projects (like Largo, our open source WordPress framework/platform for news sites), creating design standards and style guides to help guide our work and helping out INN's 110+ nonprofit members and our consulting clients.

Julia starts full time with us on March 1 and we're really excited to have her on board!

Nerd Alert Issue 57: Hang In There

265f37c9-fa2d-42b8-a44f-d554b2b5a236We'll be back next week. Sorry :(

You may have noticed that we took a hiatus from newslettering last week and had planned to do the same this week, but we felt like we owed you, dear readers, an explanation.

We've been really, really busy.

In the past few weeks, we have:

(Did we mention we're hiring a new lead designer and also accepting applications for summer apprentices?)

So, all that said. We'll be back next week with more links and more GIFs.

Hope you're all having a great 2016!

INN Product and Tech Summer Apprentice Applications Now Open!

The INN Product and Technology Team is looking for one (or more) apprentices to join our team for the summer of 2016.

Unlike many other news/tech internships (why "apprenticeships" anyway?):

  • You'll get paid. We're committed to paying all of our apprentices a fair, living wage.
  • You won't do work no one else wants to do. Instead, you'll work closely alongside our regular team members on real projects for our members and clients.
  • You will learn a lot and make meaningful contributions. Some of your work will be determined by our needs at the time, but we also want to hear (and value) your ideas, help you build stuff, develop your skills and leave with projects ready to impress future employers.

Sound good? Read on.

About Us

As a team, INN works to advance new business and editorial models for public service journalism. The tech team supports many startups and small nonprofits that have limited technology resources. We also serve as a central tech community and knowledge hub for well-established newsrooms. We focus primarily on problems that we are uniquely suited to tackle at a network level, for example:

  • We host and support about 50 member websites using an open source WordPress-powered platform/framework we've built and maintain - http://largoproject.org
  • We build open source tools to support members' editorial work and presentation needs with the goal of making their work look as great as any of the largest for-profit newsrooms
  • We provide general technology consulting, training and develop resources to help increase the overall level of tech knowledge and ability across the network
  • We value diversity, work in the open, have a lot of fun and try to do everything we can to give back to the journalism/tech community (Read more about our team values)

You can learn more about us, who we are and how we work here on our team blog, our team docs and check out our projects on github.

About You

The requirements and responsibilities for our apprenticeships are flexible, but here are some skills/technologies/attributes that would be helpful to have:

  • Some familiarity/experience with user-centered design and standards-driven web development (HTML/CSS, JavaScript, one or more server-side languages such as PHP, Python or Ruby)
  • Able to work independently (particularly important for remote candidates) and communicate effectively with other team members and (where applicable) with member organizations and clients directly
  • Some experience with version control systems (mostly GitHub)
  • Experience making stuff with WordPress (particularly theme design/development)
  • Willingness to write about your work, create/improve documentation and contribute to the team blog
  • Ideas for what you'd like to learn/make/accomplish during your time with us

If you don't meet all of these requirements but still think you'd be a good fit for our team don't hesitate to apply. Generally we are looking for someone driven to make things better and you don't necessarily have to know all the things yet (we certainly don't).

The Details

Typically for our apprenticeships we prefer a 6 month commitment but the specifics around work schedule, number of hours/week and length are flexible.

Persons of color, women and members of other under-represented groups in journalism, media and technology are strongly encouraged to apply.

This is a paid (hourly) position (typically $15/hr).

We are a distributed team and this is a remote position. Previous experience working remotely would be helpful but we'll do whatever we can to help and support your transition if this is your first remote job. The team currently has members in Columbus (OH), Chicago, Champaign (IL), Kansas City and Phoenix.

INN is an equal opportunity employer and we are committed to creating a workplace where diversity is valued. In addition to federal law requirements, INN complies with applicable state and local laws governing nondiscrimination in employment in every location in which the company has facilities.

To Apply

Please read this post on our application/interview process and then send the following to adam@inn.org by February 15:

  • A brief resume/CV/portfolio
  • A cover letter (an email is fine) including the following:
    1. Why you're excited about joining us for the summer
    2. A few projects you're particular proud of (links to projects, your github repo, etc.) with a brief explanation of the role you played in each
    3. What you hope to learn/accomplish in your time with us

How-To: Apply For A Job On Our Team

You saw a posting for an open spot on our team. The position sounds perfect and you want to learn more. Great!

Here's a bit of background on how to apply for a job with us and also the inner workings of our hiring process.


First, here's some advice on how to craft an application that will get our attention.

Read the entire job posting and application requirements. This may seem obvious, but the usual advice regarding tailoring your cover letter and resume for a particular position will definitely help you here.

If we ask why you're the perfect fit for a given role on our team or why you're excited to work with us, just answer the question. You might be surprised (or perhaps not if you've ever been in the position of reviewing applications) at how many people don't follow the application instructions and you're immediately in a better position if you're in the batch that does.

We do read every application we receive so we also mean it when we ask you to be brief. The purpose of your application is simply to get us interested enough to reach out to you to have a conversation. We can get into the details then. That said, don't obsess over fitting your resume onto one page. We won't be printing it out anyway.

Remember that showing is usually much more effective than telling. Instead of a long cover letter, share some work you're really proud of, tell us how you did it, what you learned and how that will benefit our team. For designers we do expect to see a portfolio of your work (a list of links with a bit of background on each is fine); for developers we do expect a link to your github repository and/or other code examples that show us what you can do.

Don't oversell. This is probably the hardest thing to do because you really want to impress us, but it doesn't help you and it doesn't help us if you include skills on your resume that you don't really have or if you exaggerate your role in any given project.

It is, however, totally fine to list skills you want to develop and to be honest about any pieces of the job posting that you know might be a stretch. We know that not every applicant will have every skill we list in any given job posting and we'd rather you apply even if you don't think you meet all of the qualifications so we can at least have a conversation and decide if there's a way to work things out with the skills you do have.

Finally, if you include file attachments, please name them something sane and use a file format we can open.

  • Bad: resume-final-use-this-one.wps
  • Good: smith-jane-INN-lead-designer-resume.pdf (.txt or .md also work if you're so inclined)

Once you have your application materials together, just send them off to the email address specified in the posting and we'll respond (usually within 24 hours) to confirm receipt of your application and let you know when you can expect to hear back from us.

We know the job application process can be stressful (particularly waiting for news), so throughout the process we'll try to communicate as clearly and frequently as possible to let you know where we are in the process and the status of your application.

Reviewing Applications

Now, here's what happens internally when we get your application.

Typically at least three senior members of the team review all applications for each position and then decide, independently, which candidates we're interested in talking to.

We then meet as a team, compare notes and decide how to proceed. Depending on the position, we might pick three applicants to talk to or there might be a dozen or more. It just depends on the strength of the applications we receive.

For this first round of conversations we're committed to at least talking with everyone we think could be a fit. This is true even if we disagree internally. If one member of the team feels strongly about a particular candidate (or just has a hunch), we'll talk with them.

We don't want to rule anyone out at this stage just because their qualifications may not be a perfect fit and even if we ultimately decide you're not a fit for this particular position, we may know of something else that would be great for you with a member organization, a future opportunity on our team, etc.

Initial Interviews

Once we've settled on a group of semifinalists, we'll split them up among a few senior members of our team and schedule initial one-on-one conversations (usually via Google Hangout).

In these conversations we're interested in getting to know you but also want to give you a chance to get to know us. These conversations are informal and you don't need to over-prepare.

However, we do recommend that you at least do a little background reading (peruse the INN website, get to know our members and maybe explore our team docs and projects on github) so you have enough information to come with some thoughtful questions about INN, the role you've applied for and how you'd fit into the team and our work.

Our team docs are especially useful in understanding our values, how we work and also because you'll find a list of interview questions we usually ask job applicants.

Second Round Interviews

After the initial round of interviews, we'll again meet as a team and compare notes. From there we'll typically select a smaller group of applicants to talk with in a bit more depth.

This next round of interviews will typically be with a group of our senior team members (again, usually via google hangout) and we'll take turns asking you questions. Some of these questions will still be rather general, getting-to-know-you sorts of things but we'll also ask questions more specific to the role we're hiring for.

We'll also typically ask you to walk us through one or more recent projects and explain your thought process, key decisions you made, how everything worked out (or didn't), what you learned and what you'd do differently next time. We do this because we want to understand more about how you like to work and solve problems but also your ability to explain your work to others.

We also want to get to know you a bit more as a person and how you'd fit as a member of the team. We'll likely ask about things like your preferred working environment and work schedule, how you feel about working remotely (including any concerns you might have) and also what you like to do outside of work.

At the end of this interview (which will usually be about an hour) we'll leave plenty of time for you to ask us questions.

Final Selection

Once we talk to all of the finalists as a group, we'll again discuss amongst ourselves. At this point we may have settled on a single candidate and be ready to move forward or we may have a couple candidates still in contention.

If we're still not settled on one candidate, we may have another round of interviews and/or ask candidates to complete a small project and then meet with us to discuss the results.

Once we've settled on a finalist, we'll ask you for a few references and talk more in depth about salary, benefits and any other outstanding questions you might have.

From there, we'll talk to your references and assuming everything checks out, we'll extend a formal offer, work out the details and welcome you to the team!


I hope that provides a good overview of how we approach hiring and what you can do to craft a successful application.

If you have questions about the process or about any of our open positions, feel free to reach out anytime or drop by our weekly open office hours.

We'd love to hear from you!

Announcing Largo 0.5.3 – Widget and Sharing Tool Improvements

This week we released the latest version of Largo (version 0.5.3), INN's WordPress framework for news websites, with a number of significant improvements.

Most notably, in this release we wanted to improve the styling and performance of widgets throughout Largo to make everything a little more stable, consistent and easier to modify and maintain from child themes.

In addition, we rolled out the first part of a revision to sharing tools on article pages that we hope will simultaneously increase sharing and also reduce the overall weight of pages and improve load time.

There are also a number of bug fixes and developer-facing improvements that you can read all about in the release notes on GitHub.

This update has already been applied for sites that we host, but if you're a non-INN member or hosting Largo elsewhere, you can download the latest version from the project repository on GitHub.

Note that if you're using a version earlier than 0.4 and have done any significant customization to Largo or a child theme then you'll likely want to do some extra testing because the jump from 0.3 to 0.4+ is a fairly significant change.

Next up in version 0.5.4, slated for a release late this year, is a further improvement to the sharing tools as well as some refinements to site headers and navigation. Stay tuned!

INN Nerds Invent Tools To Promote Community At SND Makes Austin

A couple weeks ago a group of designers, developers, community managers, educators and students met up in Austin, TX for the latest edition of SND Makes. The group included two members of our team, Ryan Nagle and Adam Schweigert, among representatives of 22 different news organizations from around the country.

This was the latest of a series of events presented by the Society for News Design and our design challenge for the weekend was: "How might we invent tools that promote community?"

There were ten teams in total and SND has a recap post that you should check out showcasing all of the projects to come out of the weekend. Here are the two projects our respective teams cooked up and a bit of the thought process and work that went into them.

The Gist: Giving Topic Pages A Makeover


Topic pages on news sites tend to be very static and are often just a reverse chronological list of stories about a given topic or category.

Our team wanted to re-imagine the traditional topic page as something more dynamic. We wanted to also use the topic page as an opportunity to create and engage a more active community around any given topic and establish the reporter/editor at our hypothetical news organization as more of an authority on that topic by positioning them as a "host" of that topic page and community discussion.

What we created for our hypothetical news organization (called The Gist) is a re-designed topic page that would replace the traditional "Education" section front or topic page on the site. When visitors to the site click on "Education" and then land on this page, instead of being presented with the usual list of stories, they would instead see the topic for that week (or perhaps month if the news organization had a slower cycle of fewer resources). In our example we picked "Racism on Campus" because there was a lot of conversation around that topic this week and we believe that picking a more specific topic each week will lead to a more engaged community around that topic on The Gist.

At the top of the page we see the topic, a link to view the traditional list of stories in the education category (for readers who still want to get to that easily) and then an introduction to the topic for that week, the host of the page for that week and then everyone who has contributed content or added to the conversation.

Below, we see a list of curated stories, links to conversations on social media, promoted comments, photos, videos, graphics, etc. that have been selected and arranged by the page's host. We specifically call out content that has been added by the community to help them feel like their contributions are valued by The Gist. At the bottom of this river of updates, you might expect to find the usual comment form, but instead we ask readers what we've missed or what they'd like to add and then make it easy for them to contribute. The host for the page can then add this contributed content to the river above.

At the end of each week, we would have captured a collection of some of the best stories, discussions, personalities, sources, etc. on a given topic and then we would send out a weekly newsletter to either help people catch up or to give them some further reading on that topic. We also tossed around the idea of hosting a weekly QA with the host or particularly active contributors, experts on that topic, etc. so that the activity on the page each week would drive to some capstone event which could then also be recorded and offered as a podcast or on YouTube.

At the end of the week we would also announce the topic for next week and again invite the community to send us the best content, conversations and personalities they've found on that topic to help inform our reporting. And we would have an archive page that would allow you to see previous topics if you wanted to go back and reference them.

The team consisted of:

Cultivate: Unearthing Community Leaders


Team Zilker created project Cultivate, which sprang from the desire to find and foster community advocates or leaders by analyzing the activity of community members on social media.

We used Twitter for our proof of concept since its API is relatively straightforward to work with and would provide enough data to make a real-world judgement using our algorithm.

The algorithm, as it stands after the event, is pretty naive. It assigns a score to individual users based on their mentions of a particular keyword (something associated with our brand or organization), their total number of followers and how many times their mentions are interacted with by other Twitter users.

The use case: team member Chris Coyier works for Codepen.io and is visiting New York. He wants to find Codepen community leaders in town and offer to take them out for dinner. With cultivate, he enters keyword "Codepen" and location: "New York, NY." He gets back a list of users ranked using the algorithm described above.

The team consisted of:

Announcing The January News Nerd Book Club Selection: Two Books Apart

We have decided to skip our December meeting and instead do a two-fer in January. Join us for our next News Nerd Book Club hangout on Wednesday, January 13th at 1 pm ET.

For our January gathering we'll be reading not one, but two new books recently released by A Book Apart: Responsive Design: Patterns and Principles by Ethan Marcotte and Going Responsive by Karen McGrane.

A bit on Going Responsive from the A Book Apart website:

Responsive design is more than the technical; it’s a new way of communicating and working that affects every person on your team. Karen McGrane draws on data and stories from real-world teams to show you why going responsive is just good business sense—and how to set up your project (from concept to launch) for total success. Learn how to plan and scope work, collaborate in a responsive context, evaluate content, handle browser support and testing, and measure performance outcomes. No matter your role or project, go responsive with confidence.

And on Responsive Design: Patterns and Principles:

As responsive design evolves, we have a critical need to think about design challenges beyond mobile, tablet, and desktop. When properly designed and planned, design patterns—small, reusable modules—help your responsive layout reach more devices (and people) than ever before. Ethan Marcotte shows you just how that’s done, focusing on responsive navigation systems, resizing and adapting images, managing advertising in a responsive context, and broader principles for designing more flexible, device-independent layouts.

Here's the event invitation and hangout link if you'd like to RSVP.

Hope to see you on January 13th. Happy reading!

Twitter Removed Counts From Share Buttons, Here’s What You Can Do About It

We've been getting lots of questions about the disappearance of the numerical count of tweets on story pages. For sites using the tweet button provided by Twitter, here's what that looked like until November 20th:

old Tweet button with counter

On November 20th, the tweet count disappeared and it's not coming back. Why? Twitter shut down that feature.

In truth, the value of this particular feature was always rather limited. It was an overly simplistic metric that showed how many people clicked the Tweet button, but didn't include a count of retweets, likes, or replies which can be much more important in measuring reach and impact of any given story. As Twitter explained in their announcement of the changes:

The Tweet button counts the number of Tweets that have been Tweeted with the exact URL specified in the button. This count does not reflect the impact on Twitter of conversation about your content — it doesn’t count replies, quote Tweets, variants of your URLs, nor does it reflect the fact that some people Tweeting these URLs might have many more followers than others.

In our own work, we have also been trying to reduce the number of third-party scripts that are loaded on any given page in the interest of improving load time and protecting users' privacy.

That said, we know that understanding the reach and impact of stories on social media is increasingly important to the publishers we work with, so here are some ways of digging into Twitter analytics that will give you a much better picture than a simple count of how many times a story has been tweeted.

Better Ways to Measure Impact on Twitter

Twitter search

Copy and paste the url of a story page into the search box on Twitter, and you can see who tweeted the story, when they tweeted it, and how many likes and retweets each tweet got. Twitter search now also lets you filter results to see "top" tweets or a "live" stream of all tweets for a particular search.

For each account that tweeted the story, you can then dig a bit deeper to discover how many followers the account has, how many of those followers you know and whether this is someone you might want to reach out to as you try to build a more engaged base of readers.

If you find someone consistently tweeting your stories, you might want to follow them back, add them to a Twitter list, invite them to subscribe to your newsletter or attend an event or just take a minute to say thanks.

Here's an example of such a Twitter search for a recent story on Frontline.

Topsy Social Search

Topsy provides similar functionality in several languages (again, just copy and paste the URL for your story into their search box). If you really just want a numerical count of tweets it gives you that up front, but it also lets you dive deeper to get real insight into your story's reach and impact. Here's a search for tweets and retweets about the same story from Frontline.

Google Analytics

A tweet about your story is nice, but it's even nicer when people who see the tweet click through to your story page. Google Analytics gives you this kind of data and much more.

For an easy overview of all incoming traffic to your site from Twitter, click Acquisition in the Google Analytics reporting sidebar, then on Social -> Network Referrals. You'll probably see Facebook on top, followed by Twitter, Reddit, etc. Click on Twitter and you'll see a list of shared urls from your website. You can see the number of sessions and pageviews for each URL, and importantly the average session duration which tells you something about how people actually engaged with your story and site.

You can drill down much further by tinkering with the various secondary dimension options to see the geographical location of your page visitors, how many used mobile or desktop browsers and many other dimensions too numerous to cover here.

If you want to look up social network referrals for a specific story, click on Behavior in the Google Analytics reporting sidebar, then Site Content -> All Pages. In the search box, paste in the story URL but only include the part of the URL after your site domain name.

Google Analytics data

For example, if the full URL to your story is:


Paste this into the search box:


Hit enter and you'll see the number of pageviews and other traffic data for that story. Click on secondary dimension, and in the dropdown select Social Network. You'll see how many pageviews etc. came from Facebook, Twitter, and any other social sources.

This is Work but It's Important

The above methods give you tons more useful information than the now-defunct simple numerical count. No question some of this is more work, but it can really pay off.

If you know who is reading and sharing your content, you have a chance to more deeply engage with them. And if you know what kind of traffic is coming to which stories from where, you might be able to discern how to better reach different audiences.

It takes time and good judgement to work effectively with the rich data available through these tools, and it can be difficult to fit all this into your other work.

But at the end of the day, it's a lot more useful than a Tweet button.

What are you using to measure your reach and impact on Twitter? Leave a comment and let us know what's worked well for you.