Prospects: Who Will Reach College Age in the Next 14 Years?
The changing ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of America's children has all kinds of effects on the country's educational institutions and is the sort of thing that's easy to describe with recruiters' anecdotes and provosts' gut feelings. My task was to quantify some of these changes and make them more accessible.
Using some Census tables that break down the population by racial/ethnic background and individual year of age (e.g., 4 years old, 17 years old), I managed to show the differences in demographics between some areas' younger and older children as well as the varying distributions of specific ethnic groups in those areas, both to help readers see those changes and to help reporters better focus their efforts as they explained what this meant for our audience.
Play the Role of the Search Committee
In the process of reporting a story on the size and competitiveness of the typical applicant pool for university faculty positions, a Chronicle reporter obtained all of the CVs for a couple of recently filled positions. The story itself would describe some individual applicants' experiences (good and bad), but we wanted to convey more about the variety of backgrounds and credentials people brought to the hiring process.
After working through a few other concepts, we came up with a game-type interactive that allows the user to narrow the (anonymized) applicant pool based on such criteria as the person's current job and number of publications. Once the user has filtered out most of the applicants, he or she can guess who actually got the job and see whether that guess is correct.
The package that included this interactive won a National Award for Education Reporting from the Education Writers Association. Among the judges' comments: "The data visualization was a fun way to make a potentially dull subject interesting."
Vote 2012 Map Center
My largest project at the PBS NewsHour was a set of maps of demographic data and results for the 2012 presidential election, including all of the Republican nominating contests. The overall idea was to make the same information and graphics available to viewers and users at home at the exact same time we were using them on air.
One of the most interesting technical challenges of the project was to make all of the maps usable by the NewsHour's on-air editors and correspondents on an iPad that fed directly into the broadcast's control room, such as in this segment that aired during the Republican National Convention.
Some of the functionality in the Map Center includes: live results via the Associated Press, static maps of demographic data and an Electoral College calculator (which one Reader's Digest writer described as "fun" and "the best"). It's a big project for us, and it was a crazy ride.
Now that the election's over, I've got a writeup on the gory technical details here.
Tweeting names of 9/11 victims
The NewsHour had several projects related to the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks both for the Web and for the broadcast special we produced for PBS, but possibly the simplest one — and definitely the one that affected me the most as I worked on it — was a memorial in the form of a Twitter feed.
Social media production assistant Teresa Gorman came to me with the idea and asked if we could tweet all of the victims' names on Sept. 11, but we both agreed there was no way Twitter would let us dump almost 3,000 status updates on them over the course of a few hours. Twitter's usual rate limit is 1,000 status updates per day, so I ended up putting together a simple script to post one name to @NewsHourLive (which we normally used for livetweeting events) at random whenever it ran and schedule it to run about once every minute and a half.
It ran for three days and a few hours, and the response was much more positive than I expected. We definitely lost some followers in the beginning who considered it a form of spam, but we gained a few hundred more who said it gave the attacks a more human perspective and a new sense of scale.
Those 75 hours or so of tweets probably made up my most nerve-wracking operations experience to date — because of the complexity of the application, but because I felt like any problems or omissions would be some form of disservice. The feeling that was echoed in some of the responses we got — names just kept coming — overwhelming and absolutely humbling.