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What is Code Night?


Inspired by Northwestern's Knight Lab, I have begun hosting a Code Night for Ball State's chapter of SND.

This is not a hackathon or anything resembling one, to be clear. It is a night for people who know code or want to know code to hang out and ... code.

The point is to create a community in which people can feel supported to try new things, ask each other questions and seek feedback about development and design.

If a you're working on a project, we want you to come on in, so if you run into problems there are people around who can help find solutions. Or maybe you're just too busy to plug away at a project; this is an excuse to set aside at least two hours a week to code.

Right now, we have a few people strong in HTML, CSS, JavaScript and jQuery who are available to answer questions. Over time, I hope our mentorship group becomes more robust so we're capable of answering more and more questions.

I anticipate, too, that mentors may not have answers to every question. But working through a problem is a critical part of development. So we can figure things out together.

I'll continue to host these every Wednesday from 8-10pm in the student newsroom through May. Then, I'm handing over the reins to my buddy, Aidan Feay.

If you're a Ball State student, I hope to see you there!

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John Niedermeyer

At SND 2014 in Frankfurt, Germany, I had the opportunity to sit down with John Niedermeyer of The New York Times. Niedermeyer is deputy director of digital news design and works on pieces like the Invisible Child series.

Here are a few of my favorite moments from the interview. To read the whole Q&A, visit SND's website.


AB: You’ve spoken a lot about bringing a digital mindset to the workplace. That’s a struggle at a lot of journalism schools, too. I know the Times partnered with Indiana University to create an iteration of NYT Now. That said, what do you think journalism schools should be doing to prepare designers, reporters, or even developers for the modern and changing newsroom environment.

JN: I know there’s this idea that, “Oh, you’ve got to learn HTML and you’ve got to work Photoshop and do it all,” if you want to be an online editor or producer, if you want to start your career that way.

"I think those skills are important, but they might be overvalued."

I think those things help, especially if you’re working at a smaller place where you have an opportunity to wear many hats like that if you can cobble something together and get it up on the site.

I think those skills are important, but they might be overvalued. I think the things you learn in journalism school around judgment, basic writing skills are very useful.


AB: How reusable are the projects that you build? A huge thing that people are concerned about is scaleability. … Has any of this been templated, or has any of this influenced tools in other parts of the newsroom?

JN: Yeah, I mean, the graphics group, the design group and the interactive news technology group, those are the three big groups of developers and designers in the newsroom. We’re all in GitHub. We have a private Git repository. So a lot of times, a project will come up fast on deadline, and we’ll know, “Oh, this could take the form of this other thing so-and-so did two weeks ago.”

I wish we got better about documenting those things or collecting them in a way that someone who hasn’t worked there for seven years would know how to find them, and so they know that they could just clone that project. That would get them a start or 70 percent the way there. …

We make use of tools like Google Spreadsheets to be able to give someone who isn’t a technical person an editing process so they can hit publish, spit out a JSON file that we can consume and use for a presentation.

A couple of folks in my team and in graphics came up with what we’re calling a photo essay template, which, with the support of a spreadsheet, allows us to spin up a very quick and dirty photo essay with text and large photos. It’s outside of the article template at the moment, but it’s a tool that helps with those pieces that will hopefully someday be available inside of the CMS.


AB: This one is maybe a little more delicate. What are your thoughts on the Times’ innovation report, especially given your work in the digital realm.

JN: A lot of us in the digital world, I think, were nodding along as we read this thing.

There also were things written into it that were rhetorical devices. The document was intended to jar us out of our complacency, and say, “No, look, this is happening. You can’t just say you’re the New York Times and everything will take care of itself.”

So, the thing I’m really excited to have come out of it is, we have an audience development person, Alex MacCallum, who has been placed in the masthead and who has been placed in charge of getting to know our readers better and is helping us figure out how to give them what they went and what they need and how best to do that.

I like that.

I think we’ve made progress on the sort of ushering everything to the print Sunday schedule. I think we’ve made progress getting stuff up earlier in the week when I think people are at their desks and maybe looking for something to read.

"That takes a massive sort of technology investment that is also happening right now."

I think we’re doing a lot on the technology side of stuff that isn’t readily available to readers right now, but it’s stuff that is connecting threads behind the scenes that is related content.

It’s hard for us to get readers more coverage. If they’re interested in a story about Syria or Iraq, how do I tease out the right things from the archive that would help illuminate that for the reader?

That takes a massive sort of technology investment that is also happening right now.

Eventually, once this is complete, we’ll be better able to suggest those sort of things to readers, either because they’re related to what they’re reading, or because there’s a personalization angle.

If you like opinion, maybe there’s a way we can put more of that in front of you without losing the editorial judgment that something like our homepage or A1 brings.

We never want to lose that, but there has to be more for our readers. They’re coming from so many different countries, different cities, they’re wanting different things. We have such a breadth of coverage that we just need to figure out technologically how to help them get there.

Read the whole Q&A here.

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#SNDmakes rethinks articles

We all just want to make the Internet a better place, right?

So that's what a group of coders, designers and thinkers set out to do March 19-22.

At the first #SNDmakes, four teams set out to find solutions to problems users encounter when viewing content with current article forms.

And it. Was. Awesome.

As a student, I was able to sit in a room with a bunch of thoughtful professionals and observe the ways they approach different challenges.

I watched as representatives of traditional newsrooms and newer media brought their ideas to the table, finding answers that could work in either setting. And of course, I was able to bring my own ideas forth, too.

As a group, we asked ourselves, "How might we ... ?" until we had covered a wall with oversized Post Its with possible ideas.

We then selected four questions and split up into four teams to solve them:

My team worked on the last bullet.

With representatives from the San Francisco Chronicle, CNN, NPR, Knight Lab and two student publications, we believed we could all benefit from creating a better video experience.

What we came up with was a format that allows videos to determine their own pace when viewing video. By breaking up an existing video into separate sections and incorporating text, we cut a six-minute video down to an experience of about 45 seconds without eliminating content.

So what did I learn from all this?

• A solution isn't a solution if you can't identify the problem it's attempting to solve. That sounds simple enough, right? But when we were brainstorming about possible projects, several ideas came up that were interesting within themselves, but did not have a purpose except to be cool. In starting with a problem, then developing a solution, we were able to better focus our projects and use our time more efficiently.

• Don't be afraid to kill your darlings. Ask the tough questions along the way. By questioning the process of developing a product continuously, we were able to identify challenges to users and ourselves as we went. But we were also able to fine-tune our mission and create a better end product because of what we asked

• The Internet is totally whack, yo. The folks at #SNDmakes only worked to solve four problems of the many we identified, and so many more problems still exist. But that's awesome. That means smart people have the opportunity to continuously improve upon things and raise standards. And with the promise of new devices entering the market all the time, our job of improving the storytelling experience will never end.

So that's that. Be sure you check out the links above to experience and learn more about each project.

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I've been published!

On the SND website. I wrote a post about my experience coding my website from scratch.

Here's a bit of it:

Don’t come to me with your questions about coding. I’m not your guy. My knowledge is limited.

But, my limited knowledge is what I hope makes this blog valuable.

Last month, I sat down and began building a website. I had never coded a website before, but in one weekend, I began abandoning the controlled design environments of Wix or SquareSpace and became exposed to the chaos and freedom of coding.

Check out the full post here.

And click here to check out my website.

Expect another update soon.

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WORKSHOP/ DESIGN CRITICS for Arabic language publication
        Participants will analyse their publication and discover what the best you can do to improve the design quality while respecting your audience .
        In the workshop on day 2, participants will find the best design solution for all sections and learn to think visually, participants will analyse their product and work under the guidance of the trainer.
        The workshop will give the participants a critique on their typography, color, layout and visual storytelling.
        Workshop chairpersons: Adonis Durado and Osama Aljawish

        All participants will receive a certificate

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Beirut born Tarek Atrissi runs his Netherlands based multi-disciplinary design studio, Tarek Atrissi Design (, specializing in Arabic design, branding, cross-cultural design and Arabic typography. Atrissi is one of the most recognized Arab designers in the world. His awards include the Adobe Design Achievement Awards; The Dutch Design award; and the Type Directors Club. His clients include Al-Ghad Newspaper in Jordan; the V&A Museum in London and "Mathaf" Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar. He lectures internationally about Arabic visual culture and he teaches at the department of Art, Media and Technology at the Utrecht School of the Arts in Holland.


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 Lead Interactive Technologist - Guardian News & Media


Since joining the Guardian, Alastair has played games with the UK budget, created one of Steve Jobs' favorite iPad apps, visualised the Wikileaks war logs and played ball with Twitter. This builds on two decades of tinkering, encompassing early experiments with BASIC, architecting popular children's games and assembling art pieces like the Folk Songs Project.
    Having won a few awards for his work at the Guardian, he has recently been given the chance to build a small team aimed at pushing the boundaries of interactive news development. This has led to a series of talks and workshops in Europe and the US.


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