News Nerd Book Club June Recap

For June we read Stephen Hay's Responsive Web Design. The workflow he presents is intended to integrate visual design, content strategy and interaction design and to facilitate the entire team's participation throughout the design process.

A number of the book's suggestions are more widely adopted today than they were when the book was originally published in 2013. Many of the approaches remain valid, such as starting a design with the smallest screen in mind to clarify the hierarchy of important elements and moving from static documents to working in the browser as soon as possible.

We discussed the potential benefits, hurdles and available tools to adopt more web-based approaches to creating mockups and wireframes.

One idea for further consideration is Hay's discussion of designing for breakpoints. His approach honors the imprecise and imperfect nature of the web – different behaviors associated with different browsers and devices.

Our next hangout will be Wednesday, July 8th at 1pm EST. We will be reading James Webb Young's A Technique for Producing Ideas.

You can also have a look at our reading list and add titles you would like us to consider for future meetings.

Follow @newsnerdbooks for news of July's selection.  Hope to see you there!

Thanks Indi Young For Joining Our April Book Club Hangout!

headshot-Indi-Young3-180x180The News Nerd Book Club met in April, via hangout, to discuss Indi Young’s Practical Empathy. We were very happy the author was able to join us in our discussion and graciously answered our questions.

We discussed the need for practical empathy as a balance for the current focus on big data. Young offered an example: stakeholder interviews tend to be very directed in contrast to open-ended conversations focused on more on listening and developing empathy with your subject to help broaden the spectrum of ideas that come out of the conversation and creating space to explore more ideas off trail.

On an individual level she recommended adding a tiny bit of exploration about the thinking behind a request a colleague makes of you. Admitting you have a “gap in knowledge” can help uncover assumptions and intent.

Next Month

Our next hangout will be Wednesday, May 13th at 1 pm ET.

Take this quick survey by the end of the day this Thursday (April 16) and we'll announce the selection on Friday. You can also have a look at our reading list and add titles you would like us to consider for future meetings.

Follow @newsnerdbooks for the announcement of next month's book this Friday and for details on the hangout. Hope to see you there!

An Idea From Office Hours: Annotating A Post

Every month our team holds open office hours via Google Hangout where anyone can join us to get feedback on projects, ask questions and learn from the group.

Kate Golden from WisconsinWatch stopped by the Nerds Office Hours with an idea last month where she wanted to figure out a way to present opinions from opposing sides of an issue as text annotations within a story that was primarily made up of graphics.

She explains:

At, we were bulletproofing a series of 12 animated GIFs and provoked some interesting, critical (and longish) responses from opposing sides. Instead of changing the piece, I wanted to add the responses as annotations, preferably hidden by default to avoid weighing down the layout. This led me to the News Nerds office hours. The second-best thing about the pop-up footnotes they came up with is that it is fairly easy to implement. The best part is that it allows me to take a page from the fantastic web comic xkcd (thanks to Ben Keith). The inspiration is here and the gist of the solution is here.

The result is a story told through 12 sandy animated GIFs with annotations, and here's a look behind the scenes at the code.


Take a look at the end result and let them know what you think!

P.S. - You can sign up for a slot to join our next open office hours on Thursday, May 7 from 4-6 ET. Hope to see you there!

Nerd News Alert 16: For your bulletin board

Notes, postcards and reminders fill our digital bulletin boards. Hope you find a few new ideas for yours today.


What we're reading this week

  Adam: A few weeks ago I included a link on these very pages about the amount of attention the design team at Medium pays to typography. This week I found this rebuttal to that post by designer Matthew Butterick really interesting. Essentially he’s arguing against the homogenization of design but also the dangers of giving your content away to a platform you don’t control. (sound familiar?)

  Ben: 17 Reasons You’ll Love Reddit’s Latest Feature Addition: Redditannounced embeddable comments this week, bringing Reddit to feature parity with Twitter and Facebook. How long will it be before, in the interests of citing a source, a respected publication embeds a thoughtful analysis of current affairs by PM_ME_YOUR_VEGETABLES?

They’re working on oEmbed support as well.

  Denise: Another new blog to add to your reading lists: The Texas Tribune News Apps blog. Their team is sharing some behind-the-scenes looks at their always inspiring news apps, from templates to tools. The blog just started this week, so there’s only a couple entries so far, but keep an eye on it!

  Kaeti: When you’re designing for the web, don’t forget about contrast. Susan Robertson offers great advice on considering the context in which our apps and websites will be used (think hospitals, libraries, and on other cheap, uncalibrated monitors). Higher contrast text and features mean better accessibility for all your users.

  Meredith: I like to imagine there were conversations beyond Meerkat at SXSW.  I fully support the DIWO (Do It With Others) strategy highlighted in this take on immersive storytelling.

 Nick: In this article in The Atlantic, Debbie Chachra presents her valuable perspective on the value placed in this country on being a “maker” rather than caregiver roles. In this space of technology in journalism we focus so much on making, but I believe it’s important for the individual and organization to have a wider view than the binary “maker”/”non-maker”. Also, in the space of software development that has so long been male-dominated, it is all the more important to take in female perspectives to build a more inclusive community.

  Ryan: Recent graduate, Max Kornblith, contacted economist Tyler Cowen, hoping Cowen would be able to help him answer the question, "What should I do with my life if I have no passion to guide me?" Max hoped Cowen could help him formulate some novel approach to this question, being that economics is all about analyzing costs, benefits and modeling of complicated decisions.

  Will: With news brewing of secret meetings between Facebook and top publishers, Ben Thompson takes a strategic look at what Facebook could offer media firms. He says “Too many sites have bad business models with bad incentives, and there will be a shakeout.” The implication here is Facebook could spur this shakedown, and in its wake take out clickbait. I’m not sure I buy it, but thinking about what Facebook could offer journalism is an interesting exercise.

  Bert:  Finally, a week devoted to me.

This week's guest contributor: Erika Owens, OpenNews

Is it possible to strengthen community ties without promoting exclusivity? How can a strong community culture coexist with fully embracing new and varied perspectives? At OpenNews, we think about these questions a lot and put intentionality into creating spaces that are welcoming for people from a variety of backgrounds (such as our conference SRCCON, which you should pitch a session. I'm always interested to hear how other communities deal with these questions, and this week I read a fantastic take from the Technically Speaking newsletter about being uncomfortable. Elizabeth Naramore wrote about her experience in the open source community and how discomfort can be what pushes someone out of a community. Her reflections on this challenge of culture push us to consider what actions may make someone feel excluded or uncomfortable and what to do about it.

Each week we ask someone from outside our team to contribute a link, tool or idea. Are you our next guest star? We think you might be. Send us a note at


Our projects, manifest

We continue to update and improve our team docs. This week we shared our strategy for 2015 and wrote an onboarding plan for new team members.


Work we admire by our peers

PharkMillups offers pointers and resources for beautiful documentation that manages to be clear and helpful.


Gather ye rosebuds

LISTEN: Terry Riley's globe spanning royal wedding.

COOK: Head out on a radish run and make a quick fresh spring salad.

WATCH: Time to ride your bike.

GIF: Time to ride your bike, part two.


Nerd Alert Issue 15: Spring arrives shortly

We are chasing sunshine and celebrating the shoots of new ideas.


What we're reading this week

  Adam: A reminder that late night emails aren’t just bad for your team, they’re also bad for you as a leader. If you have to write emails during non-work hours, at least save them as drafts and then send at a more reasonable time. Your team will thank you.

  Ben: Proving once again that CSS makes everything possible, here is a font done entirely in CSS: CSS Sans. It uses ::before, ::after and some <divs> to create common letterforms.

  Denise: It’s that time of year again — time to follow @NailbiterBot on Twitter. This bot from the WNYC Data News Team tweets any time there is a close game (men’s or women’s) during March Madness, so you’ll know when it’s time to stop working and watch the game. This post has a quick walk-through on how to set up text notifications anytime @NailbiterBot tweets. News you can truly use!

  Kaeti: Jason Santa Maria (a super talented designer/thinker/author and current design director at Vox media) hosted an AMA on Designer News and it’s full of great insight and advice.

  Meredith: Robots are cute and engaging, even in a zoo. Learn how a handful of robots work to respond to natural disasters and were named for science fiction authors.

 Nick: My interest in computers started in the days when we used modems, and connection speeds were measured in thousands of bytes per second. The unique screech of a modem making a connection has always fascinated me, and I would listen to it like an exotic language being spoken skillfully. Oona Räisänen, a self-described signals hacker, does an awesome write-up The Sound of Dialup, Pictured including a diagram suitable for printing.

  Ryan: Every now and then, it's worth taking the time to consider what motivates us and how we can strive to live more meaningful and truly satisfying lives. Take a few minutes to read and consider The Creative Life and Well-Being.

  Will: Mike Monterio writes about redesigning The Seattle Times. It’s interesting to get an outsiders perspective on the complexities involved when working with a news organization — things us news app developers deal with every day. My favorite quote? “You wanna learn how to ship? Work at a newspaper for a year.”

  Bert: I dream of one day of wearing the crown.

This week's guest contributor: Kate Golden, Wisconsin Watch, @wiswatchkate

At, we were bulletproofing a series of 12 animated GIFs and provoked some interesting, critical (and longish) responses from opposing sides. Instead of changing the piece, I wanted to add the responses as annotations, preferably hidden by default to avoid weighing down the layout. This led me to the News Nerds office hours. The second-best thing about the pop-up footnotes they came up with is that it is fairly easy to implement. The best part is that it allows me to take a page from the fantastic web comic xkcd (thanks to Ben Keith). The inspiration is here and the gist of the solution is here.

Each week we ask someone from outside our team to contribute a link, tool or idea. Are you our next guest star? We think you might be. Send us a note at


Our projects, manifest

We share our projects, processes and tools in our docs repo on github.  Ryan’s instructions show how to contribute to this or any other repo.


Work we admire by our peers

18F is a government organization charged with helping other agencies deliver their mission through digital and web services recently celebrated their first anniversary and  released a look back at their first year.


Gather ye rosebuds

LISTEN: Discover the songwriter’s songwriter, Jason Molina, covered by Glen Hansard.

COOK: Get a head start on next year’s Irish Soda Bread competitions.

WATCH: Dipping south this week.

GIF: A spacey solstice.

Nerd Alert Issue 14: Signs of a Spring Thaw

How many clocks did you change last weekend?


What we're reading this week

  Adam: Lukas Mathis writes: “Whenever [a design] discussion veers from «how can we solve this problem» to «should we pick option A or option B», you need to take a step back, and ask yourself — and your team — if these are really the only two options.” He goes on to offer tips on avoiding these false dichotomies and ensuring you’ve considered the range of possible options available to you.

  Ben: Drone journalists should expect to get arrested, says Drone Journalism Lab professor Matt Waite. The first few years of flying won’t be easy, but communications will help that. If you think you might fly a drone in the future, be sure to comment on the FAA’s rule making.

  Denise: Many of us probably use Chartbeat to look at real-time analytics of our stories. This CJR profile of the company and CEO Tony Haile breaks down why some of us might be using it all wrong. Attention should be a more important metric than clicks. “Imagine if Woodward and Bernstein had access to this kind of data and they said, ‘I’m sorry, this break-in is not really trending.’”

  Kaeti: As a woman working in technology, I have experienced the coded, and occasionally blatant, assumptions people (often men) make about my abilities and experience. No, I’m not here with my boyfriend. Most of the time, these comments and assumptions aren’t malicious — they’re born out of privilege, ignorance, and a deeply broken system. Sailor Mercury breaks down what it really means to code like a girl in a thoughtful, concrete, and compassionate essay.

  Meredith: A gentle farewell to the Google Code project. The conversation highlights the nature of tools and how those that are most widely used and adopted survive, and the desire to continue to be able to find work after a particular tool or site shuts down, via @cdibona

 Nick: Since starting on March 9, I’ve jumped in the deep end with this amazingly productive team and feeling a serious case of Impostor Syndrome. When I have doubts, I listen to this short piece by Ira Glass on being creative and the natural distance between having fine taste but not quite producing at that level. The point I take from it: stop worrying about how inadequate I am, just keep working, and only by doing that will I become adequate and eventually awesome. One of the key points of the INN Manifesto is to always be learning. I suggest you read that manifesto and borrow part or all of it for your own manifesto.

  Ryan: In this post, Melody Kramer shares a story about her friend Betty, 89. She explains how Betty gets her news and some of the difficulties she encounters in the process. The anecdote reminded me that there are lots of people out there who do not share in my lived experience. The things I build will wind up in the hands of people I never took the time to consider, used under circumstances I may never have imagined. Please keep this in mind as you build out your next big project.

  Will: Read about how UI designer Zoltan Hosszu learned to code in order to build a live widget to integrating Google Analytics beautifully into the OS X notification center and then download it.

  Bert: The next time you reach for a snack, maybe share one with me?


This week's guest contributor: Melody Kramer, 18F

Using the Doppler Effect, you can now implement motion sensing on your computer screen using only a computer speaker, your mic, and your hands. Which means you can create a theremin — or in a more useful application, scroll down a computer screen without using a mouse or touching the screen.

Each week we ask someone from outside our team to contribute a link, tool or idea. Are you our next guest star? We think you might be. Send us a note at


Our projects, manifest

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 7.29.50 PM_thumb
This week we launched (built using Largo) and announced our new name, Institute for Nonprofit News. Our design director wrote about how we redesigned INN in less than 60 days.


Work we admire by our peers

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 11.33.13 AM_thumb

A live style guide generated based on existing code that you can edit in the browser? Sign us up. As we think about how to build our own pattern library, we’ll definitely keep the SC5 Style Guide Generator in mind.


Gather ye rosebuds

LISTEN: Terry Riley celebrates his 80th birthday this year.  Listen and participate to this version of his famous, "In C."

COOK: Fridays on the Fire, Thai Chicken on the Grill from the fine Wild Yonder folks..

WATCH: Spring arrives for these beauties.

GIF: Our new logo is mesmerizing.

logo gif

March Book Club Recap: The Design Of Everyday Things

For the March Book Club we read The Design of Everyday Things and gathered for pie and ice cream* at NICAR on Thursday, March 5th.

Nelson’s book was first published more than 25 years ago, with new editions and updates. The book’s ideas continue to resonate with readers and designers.

Our discussion included observations and links to other work and resources, including:

  • The value of applying industrial design philosophy to other areas.
  • Giving yourself some grace in response to frustration -- it might just be bad design.
  • UX faces larger and more complex challenges than designing a single use object.
  • The opportunity for organizations to identify the needs of their community and build accordingly.
  • How do responsive and native apps meet users needs?
  • What is the role of testing and types of testing.


Jeni’s Ice Cream for the yummy treats. They are based out of Columbus, Ohio and have shops in many great places, including Atlanta.

We compiled notes from the conversation and links to resources mentioned.

Next Month

Our April meeting will be held at 1pm ET on Wednesday, April 8th (RSVP here) and you can help us pick the book we'll read by voting in this quick survey. We'll announce the selection by the end of the day Friday!

Nerd Alert Issue 13: NICAR 2015 Edition

The nerds (except for Will who stayed home to guard our valuables) are gathered in Atlanta this week for NICAR. Find us and say hello!


What we're reading this week

  Adam: I’ve loved the work that Jennifer Brandel has done at public radio station WBEZ with her excellent Curious City program and I’m excited to hear that she’s now split it off as a separate company with a great team and plans for expansion. They recently shared a manifesto and lessons learned from the project so far with lots of great takeaways for any news organization that wants to be more responsive to the community they serve.

  Ben: Matt Sundquist from gave a talk yesterday about, a free*online graphing tool. I haven’t gotten a chance to play with it yet, but it looks much more powerful than Google’s products. Even if you don’t use their tools, the blog is worth reading for inspiration and tips.

  Denise: Thanks to the Sunlight Foundation, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget has started to release an index of all databases curated by the government, regardless of whether they are public. Sunlight has a great primeron how to access the index, which is being released in JSON format.

  Kaeti: A lovely and thoughtful essay by Frank Chimero on designing for the web. “What would happen if we stopped treating the web like a blank canvas to paint on, and instead like a material to build with?”

  Meredith: One of the good folks who participated in our NICAR book club passed out stickers that linked to Of course, I was curious. We read her autobiography back in January. This tool promises to help you craft and publish beautiful websites.

  Ryan: In this post, Joshua Stevens demystifies bivariate choropleth maps, explaining how to read and understand them as well as how to get started making your own. He successfully manages to break down the complexities of these maps into learnable chunks. Bravo!

  Will: To get ready for Apple's Watch announcement next Monday, readJack Riley of Nieman Lab's in-depth look into media and smart watches. Largo Project for wearables? Who knows.

  Bert: I enjoy a little artsy with my fartsy.

This week's guest contributor: Thomas ThorenThe Lens

For this week's NICAR conference, Abe Handler (The Lens), Todd Wallack (Boston Globe) and I talked about using simple tools to automate story leads without any programming experience. The presentation covered things such as RSS feeds, Google alerts, IFTTT and other notification systems that are quick and easy to set up.

The talk also served as a good reminder that developers could stand to do the same thing.

After working in news application development for only a year, I already find myself falling into this trap. Often the first plan that comes to mind involves writing original code or further complicating existing code. Many times, however, these tasks could be taken care of using simpler tools that are readily available.

It can be difficult to ignore hard-won coding skills and instead use a ready-made tool, but the end result is what's important. If you aren't careful, this could be you when you throw your next birthday party.

Each week we ask someone from outside our team to contribute a link, tool or idea. Are you our next guest star? We think you might be. Send us a note at

We Made a Thing

Our Projects, manifest

This week we announced a new WordPress plugin to make serving ads from Google DoubleClick easier to setup and manage. This plugin is available now to any publisher using our Largo platform and is completely open source and free for anyone to download and use.

Some Other Stuff

Gather Ye Rosebuds

LISTEN: We stayed in Atlanta's Cabbagetown neighborhood earlier this week, home of the Rock-A-Teens.

COOK: We had an Atlanta pie that made Serious Eats top in America list for our NICAR book club meeting. Wonder if this one comes close?

WATCH: A little slice of Atlanta karaoke.

GIF: We're getting ready to launch all the things next week.

Join Us For The January News Nerd Book Club Hangout

Thanks to everyone who has participated in our Nerd News Book Club in our first couple of months out of the gates and to everyone who voted to help us choose the book for next month.

ida tarbell stampFittingly, since our friends at the Chicago Tribune just released a new version of their static site publishing tool named in her honor, the book for our January meeting will be "All in the Day’s Work: An Autobiography" by Ida M Tarbell.   You can download a copy from the Internet Archive.

The January meeting will be held via hangout on Wednesday, January 14th at 1 pm (ET).

The invite and link to RSVP are here (and here is a direct link to the Google hangout for quick reference).

The Smithsonian offers a short primer on Ida M Tarbell, seen in this 2002 stamp. She reminds us:

"Imagination is the only key to the future. Without it none exists—with it all things are possible"
– Ida M. Tarbell

Hope to see you for hangout next month and if you'd like to suggest books for future hangouts you can always do that over on our reading list hackpad.

Happy reading!

December Book Club Recap

chart libraries offering book club
Libraries offering book clubs

For December the News Nerd Book Club read Charles Wheelan’s Naked Statistics, his effort to help readers become more knowledgeable about statistics. Wheelan opens the book with his own story of indifference to “learning” stats in the classroom.

The book is designed to build a reader's knowledge and familiarity with statistical concepts from one chapter to the next, tackling more complex topics in later chapters. Between the “lessons," Wheelan includes anecdotes applying the concepts presented to help readers become more adept in spotting misleading inferences, perspectives and think more critically about published findings.

Naked Statistics uses both real world and hypothetical examples to illustrate statistical concepts. When the book was released, Salon offered an excerpt from the book that discusses how probability and overconfidence affected the global financial system.

Wheelan also talks about the The Monty Hall Problem, a classic illustration of probability based on a scenario in the show Let's Make a Deal. The New York Times created a simulation of this scenario you can try for yourself.

In his conclusion Wheelan poses five questions and suggests how many of the book’s methods could be applied to find solutions.

  • What is the future of football?
  • What (if anything is causing the dramatic rise in the incidence of autism?)
  • How can we identify and reward good teachers and schools?
  • What are the best tools for fighting global poverty?
  • Who gets to know what about you?

The news nerds book club discussion centered on how this book might be relevant to our work and linking it to other ideas, like those raised in November’s book selection.

Journalists might find the chapters on deceptive statistics and polling good places to start should you find this book on a recommended resource list or are looking for a quick stats primer before attending a more in-depth workshop, like the boot camp on statistics offered by Investigative Reporters and Editors.

Next Month!

Our book club hangout next month will be Wednesday, January 14 at 1 pm ET.

Help us select the book for January’s hangout by filling out this quick survey.

The three titles under consideration are:

War by Sebastian Junger

"Absorbing and original…Junger has found a novel and interesting lens through which to view the conflict in Afghanistan, and he captures many things a lesser writer might miss."
– The New York Times

The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

The Design of Everyday Things is even more relevant today than it was when first published.”
– Tim Brown, CEO, IDEO

All in the Day’s Work by Ida Tarbell

"[Tarbell] achieved a career as interesting and as fruitful as any writer of her time. Now she tells about it, with characteristic and sincere modesty."
– The New York Times

You can also add suggestions to our book club reading list or tweet them to us @newsnerdbooks.