Resources for getting started building news graphics

This post started as a conversation with an INN member about how to turn a database into something searchable for readers. We talked about Datasette Publish, and custom solutions, but the conversation turned into a discussion of how they could build their own simple things, and from there how they could find people and resources to learn more.

And then we thought that other people would have similar questions, so here's what we've come up with on how to get started building news apps and building your own apps team.

C'mon let's go and play

Every snowman starts with a snowball. Do something small to learn the tools, and work your way up from there.

Start by reading the 2013 Source article on building apps on a shoestring. Pay attention not to the specific tools, but to the philosophies in them: static sites that don't depend on servers, replicatable pipelines for turning your data into HTML, and building configurability into your code so you can use the same tool for a different data set next time.



Remember that "Any technology, no matter how primitive, is magic to those who don't understand it," and there's probably going to be a lot of tools that are indecipherable magic. When you're just getting started, it's okay for those tools to remain magic. You'll come to understand them later.

Keep an eye on these resources to see what other people are making:

It doesn't have to be a big team

First, read this 2015 Source article about how to be a lonely coder. (It's by Tyler Machado, our new front-end dev!)

Join the Lonely Coders' Club Slack and the News Nerdery Slack. If you have the budget, attend the yearly NICAR conference, which is full of tools and ideas.


Realize that other teams are lot farther along than you are, and that's okay. They started small, too.

An interactives team isn't a movie. It's a movie studio, and the thing about movies is that anyone with a camera can make them. If all you have is a camera and a script, that's enough to make a simple film. If all you have is a website and some data, that's enough to make a simple chart.

A side-by-side comparison of a static storyboard image from the ballroom coronation confrontation scene of Frozen, and the final film product, where Ana grabs Elsa's hand.
On the left we have a static image. On the right, we have the final film's animation. They still tell the same story, right?

Your first project doesn't have to be Snowfall. It's okay to just have static charts. Start small and work your way up.

How would you do this?

If you have feedback or advice or links on this blog post, let us know, and we'll do a roundup or recap of responses next week. Send an email at or tweet us @innnerds.

Are you still there?

Maybe we should get a bunch of people who started interactives teams together for a panel about how they built the interactive teams and the tools. If you've started such a team, and are interested in participating, send me an email and we'll put together a pitch for SRCCON or NICAR 2019.