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.
- What I learned creating one chart using 24 tools, by Lisa Crost and Source, 2016
- First News App, a step-by-step guide to publishing a simple news application using Python, Flask, and GitHub Pages.
- First Python Notebook, a guide to analyzing data with Python
- Creating and deploying small-scale projects, by NPR's visuals team, 2014/2015
- Set up your Mac like an interactives developer, by Sara Simon and the NYT, 2017
- First Graphics App, a NICAR 2018 course about turning data into a web article.
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:
- News Nerd Repos, a Twitter bot that tweets links to new repos
- INN App Teams, a Twitter list of apps teams at INN members
- Source, a publication about journalism code
- OpenNews' Community Calls, talking about tools and projects
- JournalismCourses.org, online training for journalists
- Our Nerd Alert newsletter, with regular shout-outs
It doesn't have to be a big team
- Our manifesto, 2014-present
- How we work, by NPR's Apps team, 2014, and their best practices
- Inside the Globe and Mail's new interactives team, by Matt Frehner and Julia Wolfe, 2015
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.
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll put together a pitch for SRCCON or NICAR 2019.