SRCCON 2018 • June 28 & 29 in MPLS Support OpenNews!

Session Transcript:
Don’t Panic: the guide to working without an editor, even if you have one sitting right next to you

Session facilitator(s): Lo Benichou, Casey Miller

Day & Time: Thursday, 11:45am-1pm

Room: Thomas Swain

CASEY: In case you didn’t hear that, we’re asking that there’s at least four people per table for brainstorming purposes later. Hi, this is our session and it’s about when you don’t have an editor. In the guide, it says, don’t panic. I don’t mean this in a callus way, but this is — to start, a little bit about us, Lo and I both work at Mapbox and we both do data visualization, and we both come from journalism. Little bit more you want to add there? Just to get a sense of where you all stand on this, who does not have an editor? Who, like, does not, on paper, have an editor.

AUDIENCE: Well, like 50%.

LO: Who has an editor but men? Okay.

[ Laughter ]

CASEY: All right. Um, so…

LO: Can I just add. The one thing why we pitched this session, working at Mapbox, we’re very alone.

CASEY: Very, very alone… so lonely.

LO: And we were working with people who don’t really know journalism, necessarily. They build out tools for those people but it’s hard to work in an environment where there’s no people to give you feedback. So we were like, what do we do. And so we decided to pitch this session.

CASEY: And it brought us a lot closer.

LO: Right, obviously. So who we are, collectively, you, me, us. We might be freelancers, lonely coders, minority journalists, students, new hires, part of a small team, part of a large team, the list goes on. You might find yourself in this situation. So with that, we made sure that you were at at table with people. So would you mind spending a couple minutes going around and introducing yourselves? You don’t have to go super in-depth, but going through what you do, what’s your job, day to day would be great.

LO: And why are you here?

CASEY: Yes, yes.

[ Group Work ]

Hey, we’re thinking about two more minutes — just so you know where we’re at.

LO: Do people feel like they’ve gone around the table? Are we still missing people? Are we good? I realize I asked the question earlier but all right are there any editors in the room? I just want to make sure that it wasn’t just us. So if everyone would like, I want everyone to introduce themselves. Does everyone good about this? Cool.

CASEY: All right. So we’re here to talk about how not having an editor kind of impacts our work and the struggles with that. So sometimes, like, it’s hard. So sometimes it might feel like this or also like this

[ Funny Gifs ]

Or also maybe like this. It’s a rough life. You have to depend on yourself, man. But we can fix it. How can we go from this, to this? All right. So we have some solutions. They are by no means all-encompassing but couple tips we’ve found to be helpful.

LO: I remember in high school when I used to study for a high school — there was always this thing — or writing an essay — there was always this thing about don’t write it the last minute because you’re not giving yourself time to think about it. And I’ve been thinking about this, and I don’t often do it but it’s to brainstorm and let it be for a bit and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes and a fresh brain and I find that I make a lot of maps and when I make a map, I’ll wake up the next day and say, “What will hell did I do?” That was horrible! Or I’ll completely change from what I was doing before. But I think it’s important to give ourselves time.

[ Funny Gifs ]

CASEY: Another solution that we both use a lot is to talk to other people. So this can be in person, it can be online. If you have friends in the industry, or other friends in general, that’s great. It’s also, like, if you have other colleagues, maybe they’re on the same team as you, maybe they’re not a visual person, that’s okay. It’s not just people who you work with. So don’t be afraid to reach out to people at your company or other companies, or people that you used to work with. Like, I do this all the time on Slack. I’m sure many of you guys are on Slack, as well. I’ll be like, Will and I’ve been talking about this recently and I’m so stuck. I’ve been working with this dataset, and this dataset, and I kind of visualize it this way but it’s just not working for me. What do you all think?

And I recently — I’m almost done working with this map right now which is using a bivariate color scheme which I really didn’t want to do. But people pushed back against it, and they were like, I think this is what you were supposed to do. It’s looking pretty good. And this really worked out for me. So asking around to people you trust is really valuable.

LO: This one is my favorite because I often ask my wife who works in the health care system. So has, like, zero visual skills and doesn’t really understand visualizations really well. Not that she understands — but that’s the point. I need to reach the people that don’t necessarily visualize it, and say, oh, that makes sense. So, to me, that it’s my friends that don’t work in journalism. It’s like, oh, you understand this. And if they’re like, uh… then I know it’s probably not the best approach. And people doing journalism and data viz, you find yourself working on something for three days and you’re so in it, you can’t see that it’s completely confusing or you can — you think it’s confusing but it’s actually clear. But you’re so stuck or you’re so immersed in it that sometimes having an outside person outside of that environment completely can really help. And that helped for me. I had a map that I had to do on relations. And I had multiple layers. And this person was like, why don’t you do two maps side-by-side, and if my mom has to read this, she won’t know how to do the scrolly thing. So it’s like, oh, oh, I can do two maps, right? So helpful.

CASEY: Kind of to piggyback on that and, like, when you’re working by yourself on something it’s really, really easy to fall into a rabbit hole, and kind of get stuck going down one path, and, like, having a second member to check in with somebody or a team is great. So we have a meeting on Monday afternoons. It’s our brainstorm meeting but it’s also time to review work that we’re working on and that’s nice but it’s like, that’s nice, I have some questions about this, and I want to get some feedback on this, and having a second time, or day of the week if you screw up to bring these things up would be great. And another amazing thing to do, in lieu of a meeting or something, even a Slack reminder, just say hey, remind me to check in with this person. You set it up once, and you’re good to go. I think things like that are super helpful.

LO: And not even meetings, like an inspiration meeting that can be in place which is also helpful where you put a bunch of stuff that you saw this week into paper. Because sometimes you kind of go into your work and you forget that other people are doing those things also.

CASEY: Borrow from them sometimes.

LO: Yeah, you can sometimes! And basically we go through them together, we criticize, we appreciate, we look at how the story flows, and, you know, learn from them because sometimes you end up doing your own projects and forget that there’s other people out there having the same issues that you have and that’s useful. Oh, yeah, find an ally. I feel like that comes back to what we had but I’m finding this more relevant when from experience as a minority journalist it can be hard to work in a newsroom where maybe it’s majority, like, white or majority, like, male or whatever and you’re working on a story that is really, like, relevant to that and, you know, maybe your editor might not be the — I found myself sometimes where my editor wasn’t the right person to talk about this. Finding an ally, finding somebody that maybe has another perspective on that story is maybe useful. And that’s why I use the term “ally” in this case because it’s not necessarily about visualization, it’s more about audience and what the story is about, and sometimes it’s hard to connect to an editor if you’re the only minority journalist reporting on a topic, a specific topic.

CASEY: And then the last thing we want to go over — obviously, we have more than this, but don’t be afraid to explore. So this is not exactly necessarily having to do with having an editor or but it’s something that we’ve found helpful. So if you have an extra day or two, not on a really, really hard deadline, taking a step back and thinking about: is this really the right way to approach this project? Can be really helpful. We both and I’m sure you all, too, sometimes you’ll have a project and three days later, it doesn’t look anything like that project anymore but hopefully for the better. So I guess taking what you have and not being tied with the first thing that you come up with, or even the second thing. There can be a lot said for taking a little bit of space from something, or, you know, you could just go for a walk and come back and think about it, or talk to somebody, but don’t assume the first thing that you come up with is what you have to do. So with that, those are some of our top ideas that we use to deal with our lives and we want you to talk about the ideas that you you all have. So if you would spent the next tenish minutes, go around — you don’t have to go around, ideas that you can piggyback off these, it doesn’t matter. Using paper is fine, if you want to use the white paper that we’ve given you also on the tables is great. So with that, go forth.

[ Group Work ]

LO: Just one thing. Ideally you’ll come up with lists, numerous as possible. And at the top… you’re probably wondering what those are. You’re going to make dice that you can make and take home, and if you ever have to ask your editor a tiny little question, you can roll it at your desk. So that is why we’re doing this.

CASEY: So on the green paper, I was like, would the dice be printed and I thought, it would be fun to include a cootie catcher. So if you want to make one of those, that’s also an option.

[ Group Work ]

I’d like to give you a two-minute warning on this, and then we’re going to do some sharing of ideas amongst all of us. all right! I’m so glad that you all are talking. That means that you’re being productive. I’m guessing that a lot of people have similar ideas but we don’t want to miss out on ideas that one table might have, and one table might not. So I want to start right here, and then wind my way that way.

AUDIENCE: Any idea?

CASEY: Any idea that you would like to share.

AUDIENCE: My favorite idea that just happened, like, 30 seconds ago as a way to, like, get feedback is sharing your process and data after you publish something as a way to learn what to do differently next time.

LO: Anybody over here want to share their better or best?

CASEY: You can also share more than one if you have more than one to share.

AUDIENCE: One for me is forming small groups and small networks. And sometimes they’re loose connects on conferences. But having reciprocity, and having good feedback within that small structure.

AUDIENCE: Okay. This one’s a little more of best practice but we were talking about how when you’re asking somebody for help, whether it be for help or something like that, it might be a good practice once they’ve helped you and you were able to complete it, share what you completed that helped finish the product because then they’ll be, like, wow they actually connected the dots and make it work, and maybe they would be more willing to jump on and help out the next time ‘cause if you just make it, ask for their help, and then it goes into the black box and you don’t know what happened with it, it’s taking your time.

AUDIENCE: I think we talked about a thing that editors do is sort of be mindful of your time and how many things you’re working on, and what do you have time for. So I think we talked a lot about sort of breaking down what it is that you do even to non-technical people, and just, like, you know, it’ll take me this much time, and also sort of, like, overestimating to them how much something will take but just sort of breaking it down for people so that they know what you can and can’t do.

AUDIENCE: So we focused on food because… why not? And there was a few, like, commonalities. One thing that someone that I really liked was that they made a bunch of food and invited people over and had them critique their work. Yeah! Trap ‘em!

[ Laughter ]

That’s what I would do. And a similar way helping get people over is baking cookies, and having people over at your desk and saying, “You can have one if you…” I mean, food, everyone wins. I think just have a lot of food. That’s what we thought.

LO: I love it.

CASEY: Same.

AUDIENCE: We came up with a few ideas. One of them is, like, just staying on top of the work in the field is really helpful because if you get defined people that are doing the best things then it takes a lot of work but then you can learn from them and be critical of them and learn what works, and what doesn’t, and try to apply those to your work, and time management. Again, that’s something we discussed but just make sure that you have checkpoints to make sure that you don’t have a crunch at the end. Making crosses over the line at other organizations is something we talked about. So maybe getting feedback from people from fields completely different from yours. Yeah.

CASEY: Awesome. So while not mandatory because I made this as a page and not as a slide deck, you all can reference it if you want. And I also added — again, not mandatory — if anybody is comfortable adding an idea that they came up to this, I would like for you to submit this. The link for this… I just tweeted it, but it’s broken. I feel like we’ve all been there. This is me on Twitter if you want to find this.

LO: I mean, it would be awesome to get even the ideas that were spoken out loud it would be great to get them on paper so that we can later share some of those strategies.

CASEY: I think I want to go around and take a picture of everybody’s sheet, too. Yeah, so give me one second for that.

LO: So I think one person at the table maybe submit their ideas, people can start cutting…?

CASEY: So we don’t have a whole lot of pairs of scissors as you can see, but, again, these are not — this is not mandatory, but if you would like to make a don’t I or a cootie catcher, there are scissors. And if you can’t find them, come find us, and we’ll get them to you.

LO: I was talking about individualization. You know if it’s for efficiency, keep it short, go on a walk, keep it red. You know, you can make it whatever theme you want. If you’re someone that does data viz, that’s that. If you’re someone who’s a writer, go from there. Who wants — wait… there’s only so many scissors here. We got an extra one. How did we do that? All right. So we’re going to do this for a couple of minutes. Not an incredibly long time. Yeah, so hopefully going around and hearing everybody else’s ideas, too was insightful. If not, sorry. But yeah… so let’s say we’ll do this for the next four to five minutes.

LO: And, obviously, you don’t have to cut it right away. If you just want to write things, you can cut it at home and you can do that.

AUDIENCE: Will someone be walking us through?

LO: Casey will!

AUDIENCE: There’s a lot of lines!

[ Group Work ]

LO: For those of you who use a rubber duck to brainstorm a problem. Have you ever done the rubber ducky where you talk to the ducky about your problems? It’s kind of like that.

CASEY: Let’s do a 90-second warning on the cutting, gluing, and taping.

[ Group Work ]

Actually, sorry. You can have five more minutes on this. I was wrong.

LO: If someone is done when you haven’t, like, submitted your ideas for the table, you can do that while we…

CASEY: We need your attention for a second. We’re not forcing your attention or anything but we want to close out. So in summary, if you have any questions, it looks like you all have, like, done this pretty well but you’re also welcome to come talk to us. We’re ready to talk. But in conclusion, these are, like, real problems and I know there’s a lot of gifs in here and I tried to make them light but it really it is something that we all struggle with and we should really feel free to reach out to us or other people. So if you want to find us, we’re here until Saturday morning. On Twitter — I didn’t realize I had that there! I would have shown you that there. I’m @caseymiller and we’re also on the News Nerderry Slack.

LO: You can totally keep doing what you wanted to keep doing but we just wanted to close out. I was talking about the fact that we work at Mapbox and one thing that we like to do in our team, doing a shameless plug is working with people for their map needs. It’s just we’ve been doing collaboration. We’ve been helping people map build them and they publish it on their website just using our platform. But sometimes small teams don’t necessarily have the resources and so one of my goals is to be here and to help you make that happen. So if, at any point, you want to talk maps, you can also reach out. It has nothing to do with this session but I figured I’d put it in there.

CASEY: I think, you know, I think it does.

LO: Kinda.

CASEY: Thank you all for coming and contributing. There were ideas that were all amazing. The more ideas you add, the better it’ll be, I’m just throwing that out there and I just want to say thanks!

[ Applause ]

LO: Thanks, everyone!