What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You…Unless You Don’t Ask

We were talking with a respected INN member during the Nerds’ open office hours last week. While asking a question about how to do something on his site, he said a couple of times that he doesn’t know much about website coding. But it struck me that he clearly does know a lot, he just didn’t know the answer to this particular question.

I have seen this behavior in many other people, and also in myself. When talking with people we believe know much more than us about a given topic, we sometimes minimize our knowledge up front.

I suspect we do this because we have learned from past experience that people sometimes use their status as experts to belittle us. This kind of behavior is common, especially in technical fields. Saying “I don’t know much” is a smart strategy if we suspect the expert will act like a jerk in response to our question. For many of us it's a defense reflex.

I can safely say that none of the INN Nerds will ever treat you this way. We welcome questions from all members and constituents from any level of technical knowledge, and it’s in our DNA to not act like jerks.

Not acting like a jerk is also hard-coded in the INN technology team manifesto, which outlines how and why we work. We hold ourselves accountable to this, and you should, too. Here are a few excerpts:

  • We’ll invest in education: creating curriculum and training for members, investing in our apprentices/students, and pursuing continuing education opportunities for ourselves.
  • We will be open to new tools and processes, resisting the stale comfort of “this is how we’ve always done it.”
  • We won't use snark or pedantry to exclude people from conversations.
  • We’ll never judge you or shame you for not knowing something.
  • We won’t feign surprise or jump into conversations with Well, actually...
  • In emergencies, we will send pie.

Because news technology is changing so rapidly, there are many reasons for each of us to feel we don’t know as much as we should. The pace of change is also precisely why we should ask many questions, even at the risk of exposing what we don’t know. Our guest during office hours did exactly that, and deserves to have his question (and his many other contributions as a professional) treated with respect. We will always do that.

When it comes to the web and digital technology, each of us is somewhere on the learning curve. The value of a community like the one we’ve got is that we can help each other gain the knowledge we need to improve and sustain our work. At a time like this, we should make extra efforts to communicate and collaborate.

So please use the Largo Help Desk for any site problems or requests, email us at nerds@inn.org for anything general, and sign up any time for open office hours. We’ll never shame you for not knowing something, and might even have some dumb questions ourselves.

Welcome Ryan Nagle And Ben Keith To The Team

INN was founded in 2009 so we're still a pretty young organization but we've been growing rapidly and demand for our technology services has never been higher. The network now has over 100 members and of those over a quarter are using our hosting Project Largo WordPress platform. We're also starting to dip our toe into the news apps world by supporting member collaborations and soon also working directly with members on projects.

I've been really fortunate over the past year and a half I've been at INN to work with some great contractors and part-time help but today I'm really excited to welcome two new members to our team. Ryan Nagle is our first full-time hire on the team and he starts today as a news apps developer and Ben Keith joins later in the week as our summer technology intern.

ryan_nagle_originalRyan Nagle joins INN this week as a news applications developer. Ryan comes to INN from the Chicago Tribune where since 2008 he participated in the development of news products like the Chicago Tribune, Vivelohoy and ChicagoNow. In addition, he contributed to news applications and story features like the Chicago Tribune’s Election Center, the Chicago Bond Debt series and others.

At INN, Ryan’s responsibilities include developing, deploying and supporting software for network members. His efforts focus on Project Largo — a responsive WordPress theme tailored for news organizations — and other open source tools to help members better present their journalism.

Before joining the Tribune, he attended the College of Media at the University of Illinois where earned a degree in advertising. You can find Ryan on Twitter and on Github.

senior_photoBen Keith also joins the INN technology team this week as a summer intern after graduating from Ohio State University with a degree in agricultural communications and plant pathology. He'll also be pitching in on member projects, helping us improve our documentation and contributing to Largo. He joins INN after working as a reporter and associate webmaster for The Lantern, the student-run newspaper of The Ohio State University where he helped them with a redesign and migration to WordPress and also built tools to improve publishing workflow. You can find Ben on Twitter or on GitHub.