“3 tips for working with programmers and journalists” - Nicola Hughes at Hacks/Hackers Canterbury

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 3 July 2012
“I haven’t met a rude or egotistical programmer since I started” - Nicola Hughes, Hacks/Hackers Canterbury

The laugh raised by this statement suggested that your mileage may vary when it comes to egotistical developers. Nicola Hughes, aka @DataMinerUK, was talking at the first meeting of the Canterbury Hacks/Hackers group. She was giving her ten top tips for working with journalists and “proper” programmers if you were just starting down the road of being a datajournalist. Three things struck me as particularly important, and applicable to a wider circle of activity.

Always work open source

Nicola suggested that even if you aren’t using open source tools, you should act as if you are open source yourself. Write your code as if it is going to be read by someone else - and organise your files, documents and data so that somebody else can understand them. It is not only polite, it also prepares for the eventuality that you might fall under a bus.

I cringed a little at this - back in my BBC days I generated thousands of lines of Perl scripts helpfully named after random cities in the USSR and bits of the Soviet space programme, rather than calling them what they actually did.

Write “How to...” blog posts about what you do

Nicola suggested a great technique of writing a “How to...” blog post every time you learn a new technique or produce a new project. Partly this obeys the rule above - work open source - but Nicola pointed out that there is a useful ulterior motive at play here. Writing out a tutorial aids the process of committing to memory what you did. And the blog post acts as a “How to...” reminder for you, as well as a tutorial for anybody else.

Do fun things

“Do fun things”, Nicola urged, pointing out that developers really have a much better deal than journalists. Nobody, she said, put journalists up for a weekend plying them with free beer and pizza shouting “write about whatever you want to write about” in the way that Hack Days do for devs. She recommended going to as many conferences, events and hacks days as you can bear to cram in. I always argue that you spend an awful lot of your waking hours at work - so it has to be doing something that you enjoy.


I was also talking at Hacks/Hackers Canterbury, about “New digital divides”. I’ll have an essay version of that talk on this site in due course. In the meantime, I leave you with another great tip from Nicola Hughes: “Before you ask a developer for help, ask StackOverflow

Hacks/Hackers London: Notes from the talks brings together notes from 16 talks, including those from Martin Rosenbaum, Stephen Grey, Alastair Dant, Scott Byrne-Fraser and Wendy Grossman. It looks at topics of interest to journalists and programers alike, including freedom of information, processing big data sets to tell stories, social activism hack camps, the future of interactive technologies, and using social media to cover your tracks - or uncover those of somebody else.
Hacks/Hackers London: Notes from the talks for Kindle is £1.14.

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