‘Hacker-Journalist’ Finds Job, Seeks More Coders for Journalism

    by Rich Gordon
    May 11, 2009

    For Brian Boyer, the circle is complete.

    Almost exactly two years ago, Boyer saw a posting on BoingBoing about scholarships for computer programmers interested in studying journalism. He was one of the first to apply for the "programmer-journalist" scholarships, and enrolled in the master’s program at the Medill School in January 2008. In December, he was one of the first two scholarship winners to graduate.


    This past week, Boyer announced that he has a new job, starting soon at the Chicago Tribune. And for good measure, he published a guest post on O’Reilly Radar blog, one of the world’s most popular sites for technology professionals.


    The headline on his blog post: "Hackers wanted! Scholarships available to coders who’ll come to journalism and help save democracy." An excerpt:

    Journalism is an info-geek’s dream. You’re constantly learning new topics, speaking with experts, and distilling real-world issues to their essence — all in the mission of informing the folks who don’t have time to soak up all that data. It’s like being paid to write a new Wikipedia article every day.

    Boyer’s post has already generated more than two dozen comments, and it even made an appearance on the home page of Digg. Not all the comments have been positive. Some readers are questioning why a programmer would want to work in journalism; others wonder whether journalism has jobs sufficiently challenging and well-paying to be worth their while.

    Boyer’s new job might be the best answer to these concerns. He will be News Applications Editor for the Tribune, heading up a small team responsible for "a wide variety of data-driven web applications to visualize data and present investigative stories online."


    Bill Adee, editor of digital media for the Tribune, was responsible for hiring Boyer. In an email interview last week, he provided more details.

    1) Why was this position created?

    Gerry Kern, from Day 1 as editor of the Tribune, made it clear he wanted the Tribune to serve as a watchdog in government and consumer affairs. To do so, he made it a priority to increase our digital capabilities in telling stories through data and making that data available to our online users.

    2) What will Brian’s responsibilities be, and who will report to him?

    Brian and I have discussed two main responsibilities: (1) How do we collect, organize and display every piece of data — photos, documents, etc. — we touch? (2) How do we expand our ability to tell stories with data and display that information to fuel and inspire our journalism and our mission as Chicago’s watchdog? Brian will lead a team of two “hacker journalist” types — including Darnell Little, who has been doing great work here already — plus a data visualization expert.

    3) Why did you choose him for the job?

    I picked Brian because of his experience as a developer and a project manager combined with his more recent journalism experiences. I hired him because I like people who are willing to pay a price for what they believe in. He walked away from his first career to become a “hacker-journalist” because he thought it was the best way to contribute to society. I also like the way he has connected with others in the hacker journalist community (with Twitter and his blog).

    Tagged: brian boyer medill programmer-journalist technologists
    • Glad to see the tribute team has realized the value of data.

      So far, the internet has changed the journalism in the peripheral areas, like distribution of news, or identification of news sources, but haven’t touched the core – analysis yet. Now with cloud computing, open data, mashup, semantic web, for the first time in human’s history, we have the power to run super complicated calculation using dataset from different channels to deliver a hyper-local analysis.

      For example: a reader could visit the news’ data analysis website and run a ‘simulation’ to see how the new tax policy might affect himself. Highly-personal, yet requires good journalism analysis with solid technology foundation.

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