May’s Book Club Selection: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

We hope you'll join us for our next News Nerd Book Club hangout on Wednesday, May 11th at 1pm ET.

This month we'll be reading The Shallows:  What the Internet is doing to our brains by Nicholas Carr.

From the author’s website:

Is Google making us stupid? When Nicholas Carr posed that question in a celebrated Atlantic essay, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Internet’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?

With The Shallows, a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction and a New York Times best seller, Carr expands his argument into the most compelling exploration of the net’s intellectual and cultural consequences yet published.

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

Hope to see you on May 11th. Happy reading!

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!

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.

How We Build Community

As a remote team, we pay special attention to how we communicate and build connections within our organization. But the need for community and connection extends beyond just our team — we're keenly aware of the challenges faced by the often lone technologists working at our member organizations. Even if you have supportive colleagues, it's not easy to be the only person at your organization who does what you do.

Organizing opportunities to learn together is a core component of our team’s commitment to “Always Be Learning.” To that end we have recently announced a number of new programs that we hope will help people connect and create affinity groups, ask questions of us and one another, and form a more tight-knit community and support network.

There are a number of existing online communities for news technologists — the NICAR-L mailing list comes to mind, as well as various Twitter chats, Google groups, etc. — but we want to create more opportunities for people to casually connect with each other online and to meet “face-to-face” (even if these face-to-face interactions are mediated by technology). This is why, as a team, we have a daily standup meeting, or scrum, using Google Hangout where we can actually see each other (via video chat) and communicate via always-on chat throughout the day (using HipChat).

Since part of our role is to support a network of organizations, we’re trying a number of things to create similar experiences for the broader community of technologists at INN member organizations and beyond.

Book Club

Our News Nerd Book Club is an idea that sprang from a discussion with Ryan Nagle about how we might replicate a shared team library as a distributed team. Instead of mailing books around to each other we decided to start a book club where we pick a book each month, read it and then get together to talk about it (either via Google Hangout or, occasionally, in person if we happen to be at a conference or other team gathering in the same physical space).

We decided to open the book club to anyone because we view these get togethers as not only a time to gather and discuss the book itself, but also as a scheduled time every month to convene a community that might not otherwise have an opportunity to come together outside of conferences (and, for people at organizations without a significant travel budget, that might not meet at all).

If you’d like to join the club, we have a crowd-sourced list of potential books (we’re trying to keep the selections accessible to a general audience and not overly technical), a Twitter account you can follow and our next hangout is scheduled for December 10.

Office Hours

We now hold monthly open office hours where anyone can sign up for a slot to come talk to our entire team about projects you’re working on, questions you have or really anything you’d like to chat with us about. The aim here, again, is to set aside time each month to get people together to learn from each other and for us as a team to spend time thinking about different problems than we typically work on in our day-to-day work.

We see these office hours as part of our commitment to transparency (all of our office hours are open by default, meaning that anyone can drop by and listen in or join the conversation) and a way to give back to the community. They're also a great way to generate new project ideas and possible leads for our consulting work.

Additionally, we hope that these office hours provide students, recent grads or prospective team members a non-threatening opportunity to get to know us, other members of the news and tech community, and to see first-hand how we work.

Open Chat

Another tool that has become indispensable for our team, as for many distributed teams, is some sort of asynchronous, always-on chat (we use HipChat and Slack is another popular choice).

In addition to our private team chat room where we talk about projects, share interesting links and post the occasional animated GIF, we now have a semi-public HipChat room that is open to any news technologists (particularly from INN member organizations, but we’re not too picky) who want to come hang out with us, ask occasional questions, share projects and interesting things they’re reading, and generally feel like part of our extended team.

If you’d like an invite to this room, we need to add you to our HipChat account (HipChat is kind enough to offer free unlimited accounts to nonprofit organizations), so just send an email to and we’ll get you an invitation.

Weekly Newsletter

Finally, just last week we sent out the first edition of our new weekly newsletter, Nerd Alert. This newsletter is a collection of interesting things our team is reading, open source tools, projects we're excited about, some random fun stuff and, perhaps most importantly, an opportunity for us to highlight "guest stars" whose perspectives we value and want to share with our readers.

Our aim with this newsletter is to capture and share some of our team's collective knowledge that might otherwise be trapped within our HipChat room or relegated to Twitter or an inaccessible email thread, while also highlighting voices that are less-often heard (particularly, again, the "lone wolf" technologists at our member organizations).

You can sign up for the newsletter right here and if you believe you or anyone you know would make a good guest star for a future newsletter, shoot us an email and we'll add you to our list.

Those are a few recent things we've been trying to help build strong networks among INN members and the broader journalism and tech community. While they're not a replacement for spending time together in real life (something we're hoping to do more of in the new year) we hope they're at least a start.

If you have any ideas for other things we might want to try, feel free to leave a comment or get in touch. We'd love to hear from you!