Ben Welsh

Hello. My name is Ben Welsh. I’m an Iowan living in Los Angeles.

I am a journalist, albeit an unconventional one. I specialize in what some people call data journalism, some call computational journalism and some others call computer-assisted reporting.

Jargon aside, that means I am a reporter and a computer programmer. I use those skills to collect, organize, analyze and present large amounts of information.

I now work as a visiting Los Angeles Times journalist at Stanford University, where I'm leading an expansion of the Big Local News initiative. I am also a fellow at DePaul University's Center for Journalism Integrity & Excellence.

Projects I've contributed to have been awarded The Pulitzer Prize, the Library of Congress' Innovation Award, a Knight News Challenge grant and numerous other prizes for investigative reporting, digital design and online journalism.

I cofounded The Times’ first digitally-focused projects team and went on to lead the modernization of the newspaper’s graphics department. In those roles, I helped to create the most popular pages in the history of latimes.com, including the site’s first live election results, a mapping platform that set a new standard for defining L.A. neighborhoods, custom designs for dozens of flagship projects, an award-winning wildfire tracker and the most complete resource on the spread of COVID-19 in California.

Before The Times, I worked on investigative projects at The Center for Public Integrity and helped produce long-form documentaries for cable channels like CNN.

My data-driven reporting has led to reforms in the Los Angeles Fire Department’s 911 system, overhauls to how the city recruits and hires firefighters, a revamp of a broken building inspection program, the replacement of the Los Angeles Police Department's public crime map, as well as increased fines against exploitative landlords. As a result, two city fire chiefs and the Los Angeles fire marshal have left office.

I'm a code contributor to many open-source software projects, including Project Jupyter, Django, IPython, pandas and Altair. I've led the development of dozens of tools that ease access to data published by goverment agencies, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and an array of government wildfire tracking systems.

My open-source experimentation with digital archiving tools has generated a growing collection of news homepages at the Internet Archive, a personalized clipping service that empowers journalists to preserve their work, an E.E. Cummings poetry collection, a podcast celebrating the legacy of Studs Terkel, social media bots that promote collections at the Los Angeles Public Library and the Library of Congress, as well as a series of open-source software packages that allow programmers to more easily archive born-digital material.

As a cofounder of the California Civic Data Coalition, I helped open up the jumbled, difficult database tracking campaign finance and lobbying activity in state politics. That work resulted in improved coverage of the topic, including some of the most comprehensive and probing analysis ever done of money at the statehouse. The coalition’s effort yielded a groundbreaking tool for database imports and data journalism curriculum that has been taught in classrooms and conferences around the world.

I frequently teach practical computer programming skills to journalism students and professionals. That includes creating a new online class at the University of Texas, leading more than a dozen training sessions at journalism conferences, hosting free online classes via streaming services and serving as a guest instructor at Stanford, the University of California Los Angeles, the University of California Santa Cruz, the University of California San Diego, California State University Northridge, the University of Southern California, Arizona State University, American University and DePaul University.

My work has been favorably mentioned by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Columbia Journalism School, the Columbia Journalism Review, the Poynter Institute, Nieman Journalism Lab, ProPublica, The Huffington Post, Source, Boing Boing, O'Reilly Radar, Mashable, The E.E. Cummings Society, alternative weeklies, real estate blogs, conservative talk radio and the foreign press.

I am licensed by the FAA as a commercial drone pilot. I am also certified by the FCC as an Amateur Extra class radio operator under the callsign KFØIA.

My education includes a master’s degree from the Missouri School of Journalism — where I worked at the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting. I received my undergraduate training at DePaul University in Chicago.

I grew up near Swisher, Iowa and attended Cedar Rapids’ Prairie High School.

Elsewhere on the site you can find samples of my work, my technical documentation and my public-speaking engagements. An index of my open-source software efforts is available on GitHub.

Technical skills
  • Programming with Python, JavaScript, Perl and Ruby
  • Data analysis with pandas, Jupyter notebooks and other statistical tools
  • UI development with JavaScript, CSS and HTML5 web standards
  • Data visualization with D3 and other browser-based libraries
  • Database-driven web development with Django
  • Database administration with PostgreSQL, MySQL and Microsoft SQL Server
  • Digital cartography with GeoDjango, PostGIS, QGIS and JavaScript UI libraries
  • News writing and editing
  • Deployment with Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Rackspace and Heroku
  • Commercial drone flight and photography
  • Getting all of the above done on deadline
Honors
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