My internship with the Chicago Tribune News Apps team made me realize that 1) coffee is awesome and 2) what I want to do is actually possible. As soon as I discovered that there was such a thing as “news applications,” I knew I had to be a part of it. Not only does the field combine my majors (journalism and computer science) perfectly, its very existence made it possible for me to spend my summer working in such a unique, exciting environment.
The experience was unlike any other internship (or class or job) I’ve ever had: In fact, it was the most fun I’d ever had while sitting still. The team really wanted to make sure that I was not only having fun, but also learning really valuable skills. There was never a time that I didn’t have something useful to do, and there was certainly never a time that I didn’t want to do the work I’d been given.
One project that I worked on was a special multimedia report on violent crime in the city entitled Chicago Under the Gun. This project gave me insight into both the News Apps process and the editorial process and how the latter applies to web developers as well as journalists. We used Tarbell for the project, a content management system developed for the newsroom by the News Apps team. Tarbell allows for a huge amount of freedom in creating and designing a page while giving journalists and editors enough structure that they don’t have to mess with the code if they don’t want to.
Photo editor Erin Mystkowski wrote the initial HTML and CSS that made up the base of the page and then I took over some of the finer points, building components that Erin wanted to include but was unable to build on her own. Not that I had all the answers, either—I spent a lot of time doing online tutorials and research to figure out the best way to solve problems, and of course receiving guidance from the News Apps team, particularly my unofficial mentor, David Eads. He threw me into the deep end a few times, but only so I could learn valuable problem-solving skills (and was ready to fish me out again when necessary!).
Working on Chicago Under the Gun really drove home the idea that no one codes/writes/designs in a bubble. There must be collaboration and compromise throughout the whole process, which is often what makes the end result such a success. From this project, I also learned what a rewarding experience it is to be involved in something that could actually influence people’s opinions and inform them about their community. This project was probably the single most exciting and influential thing that I’ve ever done.