Why develop in the newsroom

The Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project has posed a question: Why should talented computer programmers decide to work in a newsroom?

I can’t say it as roundly as Derek Willis, as encyclopedically as ProPublica’s crew or as big sisterly as Michelle Minkoff. But, if the World Wide Web would welcome yet another humble opinion into congregation, let me lift up for a minute.

Why develop in the newsroom?

Because data are used to tell stories. And we need independent storytellers.

This is not news. But, more and more each day, the government, special interests, and wealthy corporations are using data, as a tool, to tell stories tailored to advance their goals.

You may have heard them say things like: We must close dozens of public schools to improve education; Aggressively frisking people makes our city a better place; Or, a personal favorite of mine, a balloon-payment mortgage with no money down is the bank doing you a favor.

Our society needs independent voices that can understand, vet and — if necessary — challenge the claims underpinning such stories, where powerful forces use facts and figures to justify their actions.

I’m proud to say, my colleagues in the media have often answered the call. But we need help. We need people with the skill to analyze the deluge of data swamping our society, and the courage to step up to a megaphone and share the truths the data tell.

Computer programmers, I believe you have it in you. You’re a curious, inventive, free-thinking lot. And there’s a way you can apply yourself that is more morally ambitious than a ridiculously violent video game or an empty money chase.

That is speaking truth to power. And it’s a career path that, with your skills, is so open to you today it might be shocking. Click here or here or here and you'll see what I mean.

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