Cool journalism shit that cool people did in 2010

by Andy Boyle.

After my 8th Annual Prediction of Awesome Things list of awesome things, I decided to post cool shit that cool people in journalism did this year. These are projects done by people I know in some fashion, projects I thought should get more hype. And projects by people who are sometimes too modest to point out how awesome their work is, and thus don’t write about how they made their dent on journalism.

This list is in no particular order, and if I forgot a cool project, it’s not because of you. It’s me. So leave a link in the comments.

Dollars for Docs — ProPublica

It’s pretty much a given that whenever the ProPublica nerds are involved with a project, it’s going to be a home run. This project, done by Dan Nguyen, Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber was fantastic. Not only was it an awesome feat of what I like to call “tradition” — aka text-oriented — journalism, but it also included a plethora of searchable databases.

Not in the shitty realm of searchable databases, mind you, but the awesome realm. You can look it up by company, by state, by individual doctor and so on.

Not only that, but they went so far as to explain how they scraped the data in a guide. You don’t see such forward-facing transparency in the process of data journalism that often, especially when it’s highly complicated. It’s a great resource for not just readers but for journalists who are also learning these skills.

Quidditch World Cup 2010 — Washington Square News

Not all awesome work needs to be done by alleged grown-ups. Michael Strickland, one of my favorite people — I am biased, as he was an intern at the St. Petersburg Times during a summer I was employed there — worked heavily on this project. He also wrote his own overview of the project, so go read that.

I loved this project because it includes data that had to be gathered by reporters. That’s my favorite type of online/web/whatever project — one that includes information that had to be gathered by your own employees who are out in the field. Nobody else was going to have the live, constantly updating Quidditch World Cup scores other than the Washington Square News. They set up an e-mail account to send in photos, had people at most games and were updating scores on the fly. It was pretty groovy, as my father might say.

You all should hire Michael as your intern this summer. Don’t be silly — just do it.

Palm Beach County Staff Auto Allowances — The Palm Beach Post

A project by my good pal Adam Playford. This is a great example of a local project, turning an interesting dataset into a well-presented online project. The Post did multiple stories on the subject, and this was just a wonderful addition. I like the graph idea, how much each mile cost taxpayers and the equivalent to the salaries. Just a great project, a “quick hit” that helps to knock a few runners home, so to speak.

Mayor Suttle Recall Petitions — Omaha World-Herald

This project was done by Matt Wynn, Ben Van Kat and others. This is the sort of journalism I always felt my homestate lacked: Taking important, public data and putting it up online. The main papers in Nebraska tend to do good database journalism, but the information regularly runs print-only, never to be seen by the outside world. That’s one of the main reasons I decided I should probably learn this new fangled online data presentation thingamajig.

This kind of project certainly sparked a lot of debate in Omaha about presenting this kind of data online. It’s a great debate to have, especially since the standard Nebraskan is pretty damn averse to rocking the boat. This kind of powerful journalism helps to explain the contentious mayoral recall the city had in much greater detail than could have been allowed in the paper. More importantly, it holds people accountable, which is my favorite part of the project.

Take Action! — Chicago Tribune

Take Action! is a great idea, one that I had similarly in mind when we built MyLawmaker at the St. Petersburg Times. Only theirs points to a specific purpose: Enter your address and poof, contact information for all of the lawmakers in your area. Brilliant idea, executed cleanly and awesomely. This is a project many newsrooms could build, and they should. But if you’re reading this, you probably already know that.

The Chicago Tribune News Apps team is enviable. They do consistently good work. Not only that, but they document it on their blog and offer a lot of tools and tricks as open source. Wonderful people.

Los Angeles Teacher Ratings — Los Angeles Times

A lot was written about this project, but I wanted to include one of the many awesome projects the LATimes has pushed out this year. Again, it’s about putting out public information to the public. It’s good journalism, it was presented well and it serves readers.


So that’s just a quick list of awesome work that was produced in 2010. I focused mostly on data-oriented journalism because, well, that’s what I’ve always enjoyed and the field I somewhat walk in.

Journalism educators, I beg that you look at these projects. These are the types of projects I think you should be making your students aware of. Not everyone has to learn how to set up an Apache server on Ubuntu with Ruby on Rails, but it wouldn’t hurt to show students that they could be making awesome journalism like this if they wanted to. And hey! I don’t think a single one required Flash. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.)

I know that 2011 will bring even more awesome projects like these, and I can’t wait to check them out and learn from them.

Please post some links to your favorite projects from this year.

Addendum: I deliberately didn’t include anything from my parent company. As we all know, its projects always rule. And I’m willing to bet you already saw them, too. Also: There were a bunch of cool projects I wanted to include, but they were apparently broken when I checked them, so I didn’t want to sound like an asshole and point that stuff out when allegedly praising you, too.