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The Digital Journalist’s Survival Guide

July 24, 2010

While looking around Poynter.org I found Jennifer 8. Lee and Hacks/Hackers joined forces to create a concordance of sorts of terms relating to digital journalism. The list is evolving all the time and the latest version can be found here. The great thing about this list isn’t so much the terms, but the definitions too: it’s difficult to dive into the list without looking up what something is or something related as well.

Such a list could also encourage some to begin seriously trying to understand what the web really is. This isn’t to say anyone’s clueless per se, but Hacks/Hackers mission is to do just that. Now, they believe journalists should a clue as to what goes on with computer programming as well (yikes), but the message is clear. Fortunately web basics aren’t all that difficult to understand once you get the hang of it. The gibberish known as HTML can be deciphered if given the chance.

Here are some of the terms that stood out, and why they were chosen:

algorithm — A set of instructions or procedures used in order to accomplish a task, such as creating search results in Google. In the context of search, algorithms are used to provide the most relevant results first based on those instructions.

Algorithms are the prime reason why SEO is so important. Facebook and other sites that heavily rely on searching and gaining information to operate use algorithms as well.

data visualization — A growing area of content creation in which information is represented graphically and often interactively. This can be used for subjects as diverse as an analysis of a speech by the president and the popularity of baby names over time. While it has deep roots in academia, data visualization has begun to emerge on content sites as a way to handle the masses of data that are being made public, often by government. There are many tools for data visualizations, including Seattle-based Tableau and IBM’s Many Eyes. Data visualization should 1) tell a story, 2) allow users to ask their own questions and 3) start conversations.

Simply put: Why explain away when visuals can do it for you? This isn’t to say explaining isn’t important, but when something such as, say, the national debt keeps rising, seeing what a trillion of dollars actually looks like is more thought provoking. The U.S. currently owes about $13 trillion and is steadily accruing more.

ontology — A classification system with nodes or entities, that allows non-hierarchical relationships, in contrast to a taxonomy, which is hierarchical. Taxonomies and ontologies are important in content to help related articles or topics pages. (Also see taxonomy)

An ontology breaks away from the manner in which most web developers have worked on navigation for websites in the last decade. In fact it can a bit difficult to imagine creating navigation that doesn’t use taxonomy, but it can also make a website much more interesting and fun to navigate. It seems as though blogs may have helped this become popular via navigation tools such as tag/word clouds.

These are only a few of quite a few entries, of course. One doesn’t have to me in the digital/new media realm to find any of these useful, and can actually help distance any journalist from shovelware or simply make their web content a tad bit more interesting.

The list will likely look a lot different in coming months and I look forward to what Hacks/Hackers come up with next.

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