Note: This article was originally published on Medium
Recently, a lot of people that I admire and look up to have raised their voices, advocating for getting the Internet back to what it once was. An open web. A web we shared and owned together. The old web was awesome.
It sure sounds awesome. Currently, our networks and our personal data are controlled by major corporations with no respect for privacy. Silicon Valley, that so-called tech hotbed of “innovation” and “disruption,” is by most reports becoming a culture of inequality and vapidity. Getting back to the founding open standards the web is, I’m told, a solution to all of this. The web should be a place where we can own our data, where our best developers focus on solving the problems we need to solve as a democratic society. An open web accepts all people and creates a culture of inclusion.
Again, sounds great. As a webmaker, I want an open web. But as someone who has never experienced that, I don’t know where to begin in making it. I’m not sure simply reverting back to what we had is the right path if we want to include people who have never experienced the open web or understand its principles.
Note: This was originally published on the Knight Lab blog
One of Mozfest's most prominent themes this year has been “Build + Teach the Web.” Throughout the keynotes and sessions, Mozilla has pushed its new initiative, Webmaker, as a rallying point for all of us interested in educating the world in becoming creators of the web rather than users.
It's a great initiative. Nothing is more important for us as makers than getting more people onboard, especially in journalism. But journalism has a specific set of requirements that make teaching the web a much different and arguably much more difficult task.
Perhaps the best of Webmaker's current available resources is its attempt at a Web Literacy Standard. It divides web literacy into three “strands”: Exploring, Building and Connecting. Each of these three strands have subsections, such as “Composing for the Web” under Building or “Open Practices” under Connecting. Everything in the standard is relevant and necessary for making the web.
Unfortunately, it's not enough for journalists. I have said often that journalists do not need expert programming skills; they just need web literacy. Now, upon seeing the most complete attempt at defining just what web literacy means, journalists still need yet another type of literacy: data literacy.
This does not mean statistics, or at least not the predictive statistics that you may come across in an academic statistics department. Journalists largely deal with populations, not samples. When we deal with data, we generally deal with all of it. More and more, everyday journalists need to deal with this data.
What would a data literacy standard look like? I hope to create a more complete attempt in the near future, but data literacy as it relates to the web requires at least a few skills that come to mind:
- Working with spreadsheets. Often data comes in a format that lends itself to a spreadsheet. Journalists need to know not only how to read and write in them, but also how to crunch some numbers and transform the data to find the story in datasets.
- Web scraping. Too much data is not released in a usable format, and it too often takes web scraping skills to extract it. More difficult tasks will always be handled by news devs, but empowering journalists with basic web scraping skills will empower newsrooms to deal with more data.
- Data cleaning. Data is never perfect and often filthy. Journalists need to know what to do about it, or any data project they do will be misleading and incorrect.
This is far from a complete list of data skills that journalists need. But that list also does not exist in any concise format (certainly, the Data Journalism Handbook is a great longform resource), and if we want to emphasize to working and future journalists the skills they need, we need something concrete to point to. For web skills, Mozilla's Web Literacy Standard is a great resource and starting point. But journalists need to consider what data skills we all need. Feel free to send me suggestions on Twitter.
Note: This was originally published on the Knight Lab blog.
Time and time again, new journalists are told to market themselves and make a brand for themselves. The new media heroes of the day have all done it — Nate Silver and his fivethirtyeight brand, Andrew Sullivan and The Daily Dish, Brian Stelter and TVNewser, Matt Thompson, Kat Chow, Touré, Danyel Smith — the list goes on. Sometimes, though, all you need a static site to tell people who you are and what you do. You need a portfolio site.
The only problem is that hosting a website is hard work. Just registering a domain name requires navigating a labyrinth of menus and navigation bars designed in the early 2000s that do more to confuse than inform. And for those looking to host full blogs on WordPress or other platforms, it requires syncing a web host to a domain registrar, which can get even more confusing.
In Medill, students are instructed early to buy their own domain name and install a WordPress blog on it. While Medill has a special promotion with Dreamhost to lower the cost of entry for hosting for the first few months, many students drop their hosting plan when the cost becomes too expensive. Yet when internship and job application season comes around, they want a portfolio site to show off their work.
Many turn back to WordPress and Dreamhost hosting, paying upwards of $10 per month to host what is essentially a static page on slow servers running WordPress. If the site does work, it is way too heavy for serving the purpose of linking readers to all of that student's work elsewhere on the web. Most times, a simple, static site will serve that purpose just fine. In fact, my own website is static.
What if I told you that, if you code your own website, you could host it for free on a much faster, reliable platform than Dreamhost? Hosting your website on GitHub, the collaborative coding platform, not only provides free static hosting through GitHub Pages, but also encourages you to learn how to code properly using version control.