Nerd Alert #44: INN nerdbots exterminating the roadblocks

We definitely believe the Internet should be free, fast, and open to all comers. We also like farms.


What we're reading this week

  Adam: From Maine FarmLink, a list of farms for sale (or lease, for the noncommittal).

  Ben: Today is a good day to write tests. Here are some test strings.

  Jack: Google’s new plan for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) promises to kick the speed of news on the mobile web into hyperspace. Or it might destroy the open web. We can’t wait to find out which!

  Kaeti: A helpful collection of CSS #protips.

  Ryan: Zappos is tossing its organizational chart in favor of a new system with no job titles or descriptions.

  Bert: Happy packets make for a better Internet. You don’t want to make them angry >:)


Good jobs with good people

INN seeks an apprentice.

Also, a contract WordPress developer.

ProPublica is hiring a Data Fellow.

Religion News Service (RNS) has an immediate opening for a full-time Web Developer.

MinnPost is looking for a Director of Development, and an Education Reporter.


Work we admire by our journalism peers

IRE y NICAR lanza una lista de correo en español.

The Texas Tribune's God & Governing series examines how Texas legislators' religious beliefs guide their lawmaking.

FBI recognizes Wapo and the Guardian for collecting better data than the FBI.


Just thought we'd overshare

LISTEN: Wagakki Band: Too good!

GIF: Let's speed up everything! What could possible go wrong?

Dalek exploding

Nobody Said This Would Be Easy

Allow me to introduce myself: I’m the idiot who joined the INN tech team and thought he could be on top of things right away.

OK not totally on top of things, but how hard could it be? I spent the past 28 years working for public broadcasting in a variety of roles, most recently as New Media director at Illinois Public Media. I’ve designed and coded dozens of websites, set up and run Content Management Systems, and provided training, documentation, and support for staff and public users of Illinois Public Media’s websites and digital services. Prior to the web I produced lots of radio using tape decks and razor blades, learned the ropes in television production, and got caught up in on-air hosting for a while. As digital technology came along I migrated from tape to computers, file systems and servers, and I had to learn about this thing called data. I edited our first websites using Netscape Communicator, and started posting broadcast archives online as RealMedia. After 28 years I knew everything about our operation, what the work was, and how to do it.

Now I’m completing my first week at INN as your new manager of support, training, and documentation, and suddenly I’m working with about 110 different news organizations. Each of these has different needs, and relies on INN for a variety of mission-critical services. There’s a whole new INN technology stack developed by people smarter than me, and a different way of working than anything I’ve experienced. (Although, lots fewer meetings!) The INN team has a pace that is both more intense and somehow more relaxed than I’m used to.

These people know what they’re doing, and it’s clear to me I don’t yet. This is a very uncomfortable feeling, and it causes me to question if I have what it takes.

But wait: This feeling is familiar, it’s just that I haven’t experienced it for a long time. I’ve been doing the same work in the same ways for at least 15 years, with lots of incremental change but no seismic shifts.

If you have worked in news for the past 20 years, odds are good that you have also experienced  a feeling of deep anxiety and displacement in the digital age. As change in technology and audience behavior has accelerated, the ground has shifted under our feet and we find ourselves in a strange new landscape. We don’t know the rules, the skills, or even the roles required for effective digital journalism. I’ve seen this in many of the people I’ve worked with, and it can lead to stress, conflict, and even organizational failure.

We are seasoned news professionals who have won many awards, and deserve our sense of accomplishment. Acknowledging this doesn’t change the fact that the technology, business,  and social base of our industry has changed, and that change will continue.

So my first week at INN was a bit of a wake-up call, which I pretty much knew was coming. It would have been much easier to stay where I was, doing the same things I had long been doing. It would be much more comfortable for us veterans of the news business to pretend change isn’t happening, and that we can keep doing our business as usual. But none of us can afford that illusion, and we owe it to our communities and stakeholders to take the next steps in the evolution of news.

I’m not sure how we do that comfortably, without stress and anxiety. Speaking for myself, I am aware once again that I have much to learn and this will take some hard work. It definitely helps that my teammates at INN have also experienced this seismic shift, and understand that we’re all in this together. As I was tempted to panic this week, they reminded me that I actually do have what it takes.

And here’s the best part: so does the nonprofit news industry, and INN is here to help.

Nerd Alert 42: The Hitch-Hacker’s Guide to Papal Pizza Rats


Too many pop culture references to fit into one newsletter. We'll do it anyway!


What we're reading this week

  Adam: Instead of focusing on who owns which piece of a project, let’s make product development a team sport.

  Ben: Celebrate important things in life with donuts, from the author of September’s News Nerd Book Club book.

  David: When most people think about solar power in Arizona, they likely envision scorching temps and near-unlimited sunlight. However, this unique solar thermal installation at Northern Arizona University generates heat for the Flagstaff campus’  frigid winter months.

  Jack: With 2 billion smartphones on the planet (expected to be 4 billion by 2020), native mobile apps must be the future of news on the web, right?  There might be some really good reasons for not buying into that.

  Kaeti: How, in a rapidly changing field that requires increasing levels of specialization, do we foster and protect a holistic culture?

  Ryan: This week, North America ran out of IP addresses.

  Bert: Do robot rats dream of robot pizza?


Work we admire from our journalism peers

Screenshot of "Blackout: Reinventing the Grid", a website by Inside Energy.

Blackout: Reinventing the Grid by INN member Inside Energy explores problems with the power grid, and ways of improving it.


Work with people we admire

MinnPost is hiring a development director.

INN's tech team is hiring a contract WordPress developer, and applications are open for spring 2015 apprenticeships.


Gather ye rosebuds

LISTEN: An epic rap about history.

COOK: A homemade Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme.

WATCH: How to Make a $1500 Sandwich in Only 6 Months.

GIF: A papal pizza delivery in Naples:

As the Popemobile drives down a seaside street, a man jumps from the crowd to hand the pontiff a pizza.

Nerd Alert 40: The INN Nerds Alpaca Farm


Applications are open for our spring 2016 apprenticeships, and we're hiding a contract WordPress developer for this fall. Tell your friends!


What we're reading this week

  Adam: I really enjoyed this fascinating read on the current state of news economics for freelance writers.

  Ben: Clean, minimalist design doesn't mesh well with Apple's Human Interface Guidelines. Guess which one was thrown out.

  David: The hard truth on making things.

  Kaeti: The key to any successful project is how well you communicate — with your team, clients, and everyone in between.

  Ryan: Research on knot tying done by MIT and Pierre et Marie Curie University in Paris lends a scientific explanation for a variety of knot-related problems. Everything from how your headphones wound up an unusable, tangled mess to the more significant issue of how the configuration of knots can help in surgical procedures.

  Bert: My robot friends are taking over farms.


Work we admire by our journalism peers

The Next to Die tracks upcoming executions. The Marshall Project has even made the tracker embeddable, if you want to use it on your site.


Gather ye rosebuds

LISTEN: Sarah Vaughan singing "Misty" in 1964.

COOK: Make some cookies for your camelids.

WATCH: The alpaca song.

GIF: Have a happy weekend!


75 Days to Learn and Build With the INN Nerds

Phoenix, AZ
The view from my home office when I sign-in for scrum.

My first week with INN has me reflecting on how job circumstances influence our approach to work and how we think about it.

Working remotely

My colleagues Kaeti Hinck and Meredith Melragon have some great thoughts about making remote work work and starting a job with the INN Nerds team.

Remote work has a unique set of challenges compared to office environments, but it's made easier by terrific documentation, and a friendly and welcoming team. I'm using a co-working space in my neighborhood, but I get plenty of face time with my colleagues. I've even got my own emoticon!

Working with an end date

Every job I've ever worked has come with a finite end date either at the end of a summer or the end of a semester. It changes how you approach a job.

Whenever I start a job, I count the days I have to work. This isn't an act of counting down to escape, but instead adding up opportunities. With an end date, job security is irrelevant. I'm focused on making meaningful contributions and leaving things better than I found them.

I have 75 work days with the INN Nerds this summer (70 after today). Knowing that number helps me immensely. It dictates the kind of projects I’ll pitch to my team and budget time for meetings and bugs.

Working on iterative products instead of one-off products

Prior to joining INN, all of my design and development has been for one-off products used by a single organization. It’s much simpler. One brand. One group of users. Some corners can be cut and user experience decisions are simpler.

But iterative products are much more exciting and a better investment of development energies. Each enhancement made to an iterative project like Largo helps dozens of newsrooms, and has to be documented . Building tools intended for a wide range of skill levels and organizations forces design problems to be solved more completely. The risks and challenges are greater, but so are the rewards.

Fun stuff

I pushed an initial version of NewsPub Cookbook earlier this week, a roundup of data visualization and publishing-centric development tools. It's not quite complete -- pull requests welcome!

I’ve always liked good organization-branded desktop backgrounds (the name of the team is the INN Nerds). On my personal account I use photos, but particularly doing remote work I appreciate the reminder of “where” I am (at work, even if it is on my couch) and who I’m doing it for.

David's INN desktop background (h/t Kaeti Hinck). Download