When you work long and hard on something, it can be very difficult to postpone its publication.
When I began working on the banned books series (part one for which was published in the Missourian today) it was early February and we were addressing sunshine requests to all 566 school districts in Missouri.
None of us knew our roles. All we knew was that we’d be doing this project and we’d figure more out as time wore on.
In the midst of that month, I served on the staff of the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting conference in St. Louis. New worlds were suddenly opened to me.
Until that point, programming had just been a hobby. I never realized I could mix it with journalism until that conference.
When I got back, we decided on roles that we would play for the series. I suggested an interactive map and took the lead on its creation. Originally, I wanted to use Google Fusion Tables for its creation, but I found it wasn’t customizable enough for my taste. That’s when I found Leaflet.
The process of learning Leaflet was one of trial and error. To be honest, that’s how I learn best. Give me a language and ask me to create something and I’ll go.
When offered a create-your-own assistantship at the Missourian for the Fall, I would have loved to take it, but I had already taken an equally exciting position at DocumentCloud. However, I wasn’t ready to give up on the idea.
I pitched the idea of doing an assistantship for credit and the editors bit. I decided then and there that the Columbia Missourian would get a (long-overdue) News Applications desk and I would be the editor.
I talked to some folks out there in the news apps world about how to start a desk (including Brian Boyer, who started the news apps desk at NPR this summer) and what I could do to hit the ground running.
I got a lot of great feedback and as a result, I have my own subdomain, linux machine in the newsroom and an Amazon S3 account to host the apps. Coming in August will be a blog for the desk that will mostly be tended to by myself but will also feature fledgling reporters I work with and their experiences diving into news apps.
All that being said, today was the long-awaited day when the first part of the banned books series was published. Indirectly, this meant the official beginning of the News Apps desk at the Missourian. At 6 a.m. CST, the apps, and accompanying stories, went live on the website and were put up for scrutiny.
The second app was a surprise to Missourian editors as I had decided to do it on a whim a few weeks ago. The app was a searchable, sortable database of responses to our sunshine requests. I thought it would be a good idea to keep these people accountable for fulfilling our requests. The app was created using the LA Times’ Table-Stacker.
Since my apps went public, they have been seen by more than 250 people and counting. I’ve gotten very positive feedback about those apps, which only makes me want to get to producing more.
If you’re interested in seeing the first part of the series, you can find it here. The second part will be out tomorrow both in Vox Magazine and online. You can also see a link to our coverage on the St. Louis Public Radio website.
Despite the fact that it contains no news apps, you should catch the second part of the series tomorrow as it contains some absolutely fascinating in-depth pieces on book banning in Missouri and the country.