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July 24, 2012, 11 a.m.
Reporting & Production

Context, code, and community: Source is one-stop shopping for newsroom developers

The website finally centralizes a loose but vibrant community of news coders.

A lot of newsroom developers are doing good work, and part of that good work is talking about their work. See ProPublica, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and the Chicago Tribune for a few examples.

Source logoThere is a loose community of code-savvy journalists sharing code, working through problems over Twitter, and meeting up at at meetups. “What there isn’t, right now, is a place for people to look at all of those code projects next to each other,” said Erin Kissane, who is part of the team running the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project.

“There’s not really a central place for…journo-coders to go into really geeky details about the projects they’re working on, outside of the handful of journo-code blogs,” she told me.

Erin KissaneThe remedy is Source, a new site meant to bring these wandering journonerds together under one roof. Kissane, the editor, has unveiled a development version of Source, with plans for a full launch in a month or so. She hopes people will begin contributing code samples, tutorials, and instructive articles about their own projects. Ryan Pitts, a developer at The (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review built the site.

“Context, code, and community” is how Dan Sinker, the OpenNews director, describes the project. He and Kissane met with developers in newsrooms to understand what they yearn for most. The biggest request was for an index of code repositories, like a specialized GitHub for journalism. You’ll find a Ruby client for interacting with The New York Times’ Campaign Finance API; a JavaScript library from The Guardian that helps manage the datasets behind visualizations; and TimelineSetter, a ProPublica app that turns ugly spreadsheets into pretty timelines.

The site pulls live data from GitHub repositories, displaying who’s working on which projects and what’s changed. You’ll be able to search for all projects by a particular person, organization, or topic (say, campaign finance or crime tracking). The plan is to be able to add repositories from other networks, too.

Source is a full embrace of the “show your work” ethos — second-nature for open-source software makers, but novel for newsrooms. The whole idea is to get news organizations sharing their code and make it easy for others — even competitors — to steal that code and make it better.

“I think that there’s real work to be done in advocating for, shining a spotlight on, and helping to generate community around the code that’s being written in journalism,” Sinker wrote in first describing his idea last year. “Because the more community that can be built, the better the code is and the better off journalism is because of it.”

Kissane said being open source is not a requirement for inclusion in the Source database, however. Developers are also welcome to post portions of otherwise closed-source projects to the site.

POSTED     July 24, 2012, 11 a.m.
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