Vox Media, ICFJ Knight event 'Steal My Tool' featured eight open source tools for you to loot

by Margaret Looney
Oct 30, 2018 in Data Journalism

Journalists and developers recently met in Denver, Colorado, at NICAR 2016, a four-day conference devoted to exchanging ideas, tools and hacks around data journalism.  

Keeping with the open source spirit, Vox Media and the ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellowships program hosted a lunch amid the conference called Steal My Tool, showcasing tools that fellow news organizations can fork for their own use.

In preparation for the event, IJNet and ICFJ Knight compiled 12 open source tools made by ICFJ Knight Fellows, along with their source code, here. Below, we’ve recapped some of the tools featured at the event that can be adapted for your newsroom:

Ryan Nagle, lead developer at the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), presented on tools he and INN staffers build to help other nonprofit news organizations. During the session, he previewed tools INN uses during the development process. You can view the code for these tools here, including the Largo project - a framework for building WordPress sites for nonprofit news organizations - as well as tons of WordPress plugins for creating roundup newsletters, quizzes, deployment tools and more.

ICFJ Knight Fellow Justin Arenstein outlined the work of Code for Africa, a multinational initiative that aims to outfit mainstream newsrooms with tools they may not be able to build themselves. With about 90 projects happening around Africa bent on actionable data and service journalism, he focused on Dodgy Doctors, a collaboration between Code for Kenya and Star Health that lets citizens check whether their doctor is a quack or certified to practice. Code for Nigeria worked with Sahara Reporters to replicate the tool for Nigeria. Much of the code for their tools is available here and here.

Forest Gregg joined us from civic tech company Datamade, which builds open source tech for nonprofits, journalists, government agencies and others trying to tell complicated data stories. Gregg told us about Dedupe, an alternative to OpenRefine or using regular expressions to find duplicate data in spreadsheets or databases. The tool can scale to millions of records, as it learns a set of rules to reduce comparisons as it recognizes commonalities between similar records. Steal the code on GitHub here.

ICFJ Knight Fellow Chris Roper presented on Code for South Africa’s Living Wage Calculator tool, which lets citizens find out if they’re paying their domestic workers a fair wage. They deployed this tool on News24, receiving about 12,000 responses of fresh data - the last census data on domestic workers’ wages was about 10 years old. The tool is open source and can be forked here.

Bloomberg’s Adam Pearce presented a library for creating D3 graphics that change as you scroll through the post. Pearce first tried it out for a story about U.S. auto sales (screenshot on the right) after being inspired by a New York Times piece on motorcycle deaths and reading Mike Bostock’s essay “How to scroll.” Check out the code here.

Ted Han represented DocumentCloud, a tool for journalists to publish primary source documents, as well as a catalog of source documents contributed by journalists, researchers and archivists. Users can responsively embed documents - either parts of it or the complete document - on their own sites with DocumentCloud Pages. You can see an example of The Chicago Tribune using DocumentCloud here. DocumentCloud encourages others to reuse all their front end tools, so check out their GitHub here.

Vox Product’s Casey Miller helped build Autotune, a centralized management system for interactive storytelling elements like quizzes, charts and sliders. Building replicable blueprints for these elements gives journalists from any of Vox Media’s brands a go-to destination for creating projects. All the code for these blueprints are available on GitHub, and there’s a Wiki page for more info.

Ben Kreimer is working as a fellow at BuzzFeed Open Lab, experimenting with immersive and spatial storytelling with 360-degree video and trying to figure out how to package these tools for journalists’ ease of use. He’s used drones working with African SkyCAM to recreate a 3-D reconstruction of Nairobi, Kenya’s Dandora dumpsite, and built a 360-degree video headset to experience immersive events ranging from protests to snowboarding trips. Check out how he built his 360-degree video field kit here.


Image CC-licensed on Flickr via Jessica Lucia. Secondary image is a screenshot of Bloomberg's scrolling graphic of U.S. auto sales.