2013 Wrap-Up: Journalism Edition

by Andy Boyle.

Holy cow, 2013 is almost over and boy did I get a lot done this year. I thought I would write a quick blog post, trying to wrap up everything I did for my job at the Chicago Tribune, any open source projects I contributed to and counting the various talks I gave. So, here’s a bunch of stuff I worked on, in no particular order.

Chicago Shootings Map

This was a hefty project. Our breaking news team had been keeping track of all the shootings in the city for reporting purposes in a big Google spreadsheet because the city wasn’t releasing the data in a way we wanted. I discuss the project more in detail here, but this is a Django app using PostGreSQL with PostGIS, an already existing Amazon AWS rig for Django apps, Fabric for automated deployment and Leaflet.js.

Chicago Homicides Map

For this project, I mostly just updated the existing homicide map, which a coworker had already built, and made it work similar to the shootings match (tool tips showing data, etc.). This is a Django app using redis to cache the data on an already existing Amazon AWS rig for Django apps, Fabric for automated deployment and Leaflet.js.

TribLocal User-Generated Content

Our user-generated content portal, which has, so far, brought in thousands of photos and articles from our users. A Django app, it interacts with the Chicago Tribune content management system’s API, storing the data as items in our CMS. This allows our producers to place them in actual spots on our website. This site also uses celery, which helps us to deal with any uploading issues. This was one of my first big projects at the Tribune, and I’m excited for what we’ll add to it in the new year.

Chicagoland Sirens iPhone and Android app

The most ambitious project I’ve ever worked on, this is some super full-stack development right here. It uses a Django backend as an API to import shooting events as well as breaking news incidents from another API. The frontend is all Backbone.js and Underscore.js, and we used Trigger.io to do the major lifting for the iPhone/Android app building. Still has more work to do in 2014, but this was a six-month project with me and a few awesome coworkers, so I’m glad it exists and is getting used regularly by the public.

Chicagoland Prep Sports

This sucker was a monster of engineering, as are most of our projects, and also happens to be one of the highest trafficked projects I’ve worked on at the Chicago Tribune (other than the site’s weather page, which is, I think, the highest traffic thing I’ve ever built). It’s a fully-responsive site (as is almost everything we build) that tracks high school sports in the Chicago area. It works off of Google docs that sports agate clerks fill out on a nightly basis, and then builds various flat html pages through a script that runs in a Flask app. We also store all of the individual data in JSON, just for safekeeping, which we may use someday. This is a super fancy app, and I’m quite proud of it.

Illinois Schools Report Card 

This was quite the app to work on. We were updating it with the latest data, which is always fun when the state decides to change the data format. Thankfully, I mostly worked on switching the maps over from Google’s to Leaflet.js, including updating the geocoding and a few other fun things. Overall, a hefty project that I’m proud to have done some work on.

Green Guide

I did some minor tinkering on this project. It’s a Django app using redis to cache all the data. Very slick. I helped add a few new categories and buttons, I think. Also some backend advertising/tracking code. Maybe.

Blue Sky

Again, my work on this was minimal. But it’s a nifty project and I wanna gloat and say I am somehow .01 percent involved in it.

RedEye Homicides

Made some basic edits to this homicide map after we encountered some strange Google map bug.

Divvy Bike Access

We built this app in one day. The maps and data-gathering were done earlier by my colleague, but the actual building and prototyping was all in one shift. It’s the fastest I’ve built a project like this, and it was quite frustrating on my part, as I wasn’t nearly as strong in JavaScript as I wanted to be. At one point, it was broken on my computer but working on my coworker’s and I was all, “COMMIT EVERYTHING TO THE REPO AND DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING.” And he somehow fixed it. Such joy. Also, part of a real great story.

Multivictim Shootings

For this project I only gathered the data and my wonderful colleagues mapped it all out. What’s crazy is we were discussing building something like this a few days before we had a news peg that required it to be built. I think it was done in a day. Again, another awesome project I’m glad I was a part of.


So, those are the projects I worked on. Now to the various talks I gave:

Feb. 11 — University of Wisconsin-Madison — Talked to various journalism classes, gave a hands-on tabletop.js class, sat and just let students pepper me with questions in an office for a few hours. Very enlightening.

Feb. 13 — DePaul University — Talked to Mike Reilly’s journalism class, gave a hands-on of tabletop.js, showed how to visualize some basic data, talked internet for a few hours.

March 4 — Society of Professional Journalists, Indianapolis — Made some videos, focusing on using tabletop.js, that teach folks how to do some basic web development. This video session was the last time I tucked my shirt for something professional, too.

March 6 — DePaul University — Talked to Lou Rutigliano’s class about online journalism, showed some work I’ve done, talked tabletop.js (notice a theme?), showed them basic Google docs fun, answered questions about the professional world.

Aug. 23 — Society of Professional Journalists Conference, Anaheim, Calif. — Did two talks, sat in on a six-hour chat, did some “office hours,” did not go to Disney, thankfully.

Sept. 16 – University of Nebraska-Lincoln — Skyped in to talk to Barney McCoy’s class, one of my old professors. Talked a bit about my career, what I do for my job and how students can be better prepared when they graduate.

Oct. 12 — National Association of Hispanic Journalists regional conference, Chicago — Did two talks on using data to tell stories.

Nov. 2 – JournCamp, Minneapolis — Gave a tabletop.js talk and general here’s-how-the-internet-works talk.

That was certainly a decent amount! I think I may be forgetting a few. I’m going to try and give a talk to a college or group at least once a month next year.

So, I had a busy 2013 in the journalism world. I worked on at least 11 awesome projects, I gave eight talks, wrote two company blog posts, 12 posts on my own blog about journalism/web development and I started an interview show for RedEye Chicago, which I will be discussing in my next post. All in all, a pretty productive year.