Five things we learned from The Times’ Build The News

Build The News - Day 2

Unlike the past few years when Build the News focused on hacky concepts and newsroom tools, last weekend’s event went back to basics— telling a story.

University students, under the guidance of The Times’ journalists, coders, developers and data analysts, set out to build and tell their stories in the most effective ways possible.

Build The News - Day 2

Our City University team (above)’s story “Grub’s up: the future of food” story won, while Cardiff, with an investigative data piece on how government dictates citizens’ love life, was declared runner-up.

Build The News 2016

These are the lessons we learned from the two-day event at The Times’ News Building:

i. Story comes first: Before succumbing to the temptation of fancy tech and visualisations – what’s your story? What’s new and why does it matter?

Build The News 2016

Judges at the event (above) reminded participating student journalists to keep in mind the five Ws and one H questions while telling their stories. Who cares? Why? How?

Journalism, they emphasised, comes first. New technologies only enable us to do it better. Not the reverse.

Build The News 2016

Like other creative arts, build something first – a strong story – then use visualisations and other aesthetic devices to enhance reader experience. Don’t build a decoration— pointless, fancy visualisations.

For instance, in the winning project— Grub’s up: the future of food— we built a case as to why people should eat insects. Using data analysis and visualisations, we established that the world may not be able to feed the projected nine billion-plus mouths by 2050.

Build The News - Day 2

We also showed how insects are a viable source of protein and minerals because they emit less greenhouse gases compared to livestock, and are easy to farm.

ii. How you tell a story matters: It might be with text, video, audio or a chart, but just make sure the reader get the message easily.

Build The News - Day 2

As The Times News Editor Katie Gibbons advises in her post, “be innovative, but not for the sake of it — the simplest, cleanest way of getting your message to your audience is almost always the best”.

Thinking about the medium (print or online), nature of the story, demographic and psychological make-up of the target audience can help you arrive at the best way to tell it.

Build The News - Day 2

iii. Coding and DDJ are essential: Basic knowledge of coding and programming languages such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python, R and Rubi, it became evident, may replace grammar interview tests for journalists in the near future.


During the competition, The Times developers and coders were at hand to help teams because many lacked experienced techies.

The event laid bare the need for journalists to get the hang of web design, content management systems, data scraping and coding.

Build The News - Day 2

In the same vein, the need for journalists to learn how to generate stories hidden in data became an open secret for success. Going forward, we should be able to scrape, analyse, visualise, generate and tell data stories.

iv. Collaborate with coders: Build the News, once again, confirmed the need for writers without technical knowledge to collaborate with developers, coders and programmers in data projects.

Build The News - Day 2

But as we said earlier, there is every need to watch and learn what the techies do, because they may not be there for you all the time. Many media houses in fact don’t hire them, and the onus is on reporters and editors to write code.

v. Innovate, innovate and experiment: While video, text and photos remain the most preferred storytelling methods, experimenting with new forms of journalism is key to going into the future.

Build The News - Day 2

Birmingham City students (above), whose project focused on The Investigatory Powers Bill (Snooper’s Charter), got a honourable mention at the event for their innovative use of bots and virtual reality.

Photos: Matt ‘TK’ Taylor

How to get started with GitHub for Dummies (Journalists)

GitHub Octocats

Warning: This how-to is for Mac users, since it provides information on installing Mac OS X apps. Windows is quite similar though, you’ll have to google.

What is GitHub?

GitHub is a platform for hosting and collaborating on projects.

Say you want to create a cool handmade visualisation or a webpage template or a scraper (as opposed to using automated but limited tools with user-interface, like Datawrapper, CartoDB, Shorthand). You’ll need to code the whole thing yourself – and you’ll want to store all the code and documentation in one place online. That’s GitHub. Not only does it store your files but it also remembers all the changes you make – it’s called version control – so you can always go back to an earlier stage and correct errors.

GitHub is also cool because it makes your work open source, i.e. free for others to share, use and improve. In return, you’ll be able to use the gems put on GitHub by others. Search for them and, yes, copy (‘fork‘) and reuse (if you can). Or ‘star‘ for later.

Although GitHub is far from being a Content Management System (like WordPress or Adobe CQ), you can host a blog on GitHub, or publish your amazing handmade projects as standalone GitHub Pages. No worries if that seems intimidating, though; thanks to its open source ideology, why not just start by inputting your data into somebody else’s template? It’s a great way to learn.

Blogging via GitHub is geeky.  There is no database where you can access all your posts and make changes in minutes. You’ll need to use some magic to post (see below). But the value for money (it’s free) is great – you can make your blog and its features look however you want. With some extra magic like Heroku, you can publish interactives of any complexity (compare to the limitations of a platform like But for a start, you may well choose one of the suggested themes.

Why bother?

You may think, ‘Why should I bother going the hard route if I can’t really code (yet)?’ Makes sense. But maybe, like me, you decided to take up the challenge early instead of postponing it ‘until I finally learn coding’ (=forever). I decided to fight my dev ignorance along the way because it’s much more fun (and better motivation) to learn things when you need them in real projects rather than to start from the very (boring and theoretical) beginning.

My friend Martin Gonzalez taught me how to use GitHub a while ago, and here I have put down the key steps as simply as I could. Follow them and you’ll be fine. Well, there might be a few hitches, but it’s worth a try!

There are only two types of people, a good old dev colleague told me: a developer (everything works) and a tester (everything fails). Test who you are.

Let’s start by setting it up

1. Go to and sign up

As easy as registering for Facebook. Choose a free plan obviously. (Later on, don’t forget to add a nice pic of yourself and some About Me wording).

You’ll arrive at this start page:

Just registered
Just registered

GitHub has very user-friendly guides and help pages. Take 10 mins to read this intro guide on basic activities in GitHub.

2. Create your first repository

To keep your files in order, you’ll store each project in a separate space called a ‘repository’.

Once you’re registered, GitHub will offer to create one. If not, use ‘+ New repository’ button.

Choose these options:


Boom! You’re set.

3. Create your first GitHub Page

If you plan to publish your work with GitHub, remember that a free account allows having one site per GitHub account/organisation and unlimited project sites.

You can generate a one-page project-site automatically by following the simple steps in this guide (choose Project Site -> Generate a site).

Try publishing your CV, for example.

Generate a page
Generate a page
4. Work locally on your computer and sync changes with online

The smart guys say it works best. What you need to do now is to ‘clone’ your repository to your local machine, do whatever work you need and push the changes back online (you will actually need to push every new change – called ‘commit’ – because this allows GitHub to keep versions of your work).

I am sorry, but at this stage you need to do everything in Terminal. Type Terminal in Spotlight and open the app. It looks sweet, doesn’t it?

Terminal is a Unix command line programme – a magic window into the deep dark world of your computer’s internal system. Obviously, it’s here for you to give it commands, and it will obey.

For instance, (always) find a $ sign and type whoami after it. Press enter (always press enter and wait, however long it takes, for something to happen, at least an ERROR).


See, it obeys! I am shveda indeed.

If you have some extra patience, do check this Command Line Crash Course.

There is also a desktop app for managing GitHub but using a command line is honestly more straightforward.

5. Install GitHub Pages and other important packages to your computer

Before you can proceed to using a hipster GitHub, you’ll need to install some development packages on your Mac. It’s not too painful, just do it.


As Wiki explains, Xcode is an integrated development environment containing a suite of software development tools developed by Apple for developing software for OS X and iOS. You’re not going to develop an iPhone app today, but you still need it.

Simply search for Xcode in AppStore and install (or update) it for free. Warning: it’s a large app, so it’ll take ages to install. But you have no choice.

Xcode in AppStore (top left corner)

In case something goes wrong, check this installation guide.


Homebrew is a package manager for Mac OX. Installation is very straightforward – go to Homebrew website, it will tell you to paste this code into the command line of Terminal (just paste and enter):

ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL"

The code should work without your help. In case of an error message, read what it says and google how to solve it. Probably, you’ll need to download an extra package like the ones above. Or if the error says you have no administrator rights, try typing ‘sudo‘ before any other command (sudo prompts the systems to ask for your password as an admin).

GitHub Pages

After the $ sign is back in Terminal, type this command:

gem install github-pages


6. Clone your repository to the computer

Finally, you can clone (make a copy of) your online repository to your computer. Go to the repository page on and copy its HTTPS clone URL in the bottom right corner of the page.

Clone repository
Clone repository

Go back to Terminal and type this command:

git clone

(Use your own URL obviously).

As a result you will find a GitHub folder named after your repository in the Home folder of your Mac (Finder – Go – Home, if you’re lost).

Yay, you can start posting now!



Meanwhile, here are some words of the wise on the value of using GitHub for journalism:

For an alternative to my writing, try this video tutorial on GitHub for beginners.

Let us know how it went or what problems you’ve faced via Twitter!

Billy Ehrenberg on data journalism’s future and the skills you need

Billy Ehrenberg, ex-Interhacktive and data journalist, has spent the last year working on new data-based projects with City A.M.’s expanding online team.

I caught up with him to ask what his role involves, and what he sees as the future of data journalism.

In his average day, he admitted that he doesn’t do as much data as he’d like.

“There is a common misconception that graphs in stories means that it’s data – but I try to get at least one data piece done a day.

“Some of what I do is trying to find a story in the numbers, but often the story is quite obvious or easy to tease out, and I need to use visuals or explanations to make it accessible and interesting. To do this I use a few different tools.”

“Excel, Google Sheets, QGIS, CartoDB, HighCharts, Quartz Chartbuilder, Outwit Hub, Illustrator – each one has their advantages”

Billy has several different favourite data tools depending on the job at hand. For example, he says he usually prefers Excel for cleaning datasets.

“I’ve used Open Refine a bit, and that’s certainly worth getting into. Excel and Google Sheets have a bunch of functions that let you pull data apart and whip it into shape – so how useful Excel is depends mostly on if you’re boring enough to have fiddled with functions for days on end.”

data journalism at city am

“Fake data”

On what he sees as the future of data journalism, Billy reckons that “it will naturally divide between real data and fake data. You see some people who do things like not adjusting historic financial data (even film revenues) for inflation because they are in a rush or just don’t realise they should. That’s a dangerous thing: people can see a graph or chart and think that what it shows is fact, when it’s as easily manipulated or screwed up as words are.”

“That’s a dangerous thing: people can see a graph or chart and think that what it shows is fact, when it’s as easily manipulated or screwed up as words are.”

“I think you’ll get two sets of people: those who do not do a lot else, with big skillsets like coding, stats, cartography and programming, and those who have to rush out faux data for hits.”

The next ‘hot topic’

Billy told me he’s not sure what the next hot topic is, but he think it’ll be related to coding – “maybe it’s a cop out, as it’s nothing new.

“People wonder if it’s worth coding if you’re a journalist, and even if you are a journalist if you code. I’m obviously pro-learning.”
data journalism at city am

Data principles

“It’s really important to try not to mislead people. Graphics are easy to use to manipulate people. The more complex they are, the more likely you are to mess up and the less likely it is anyone will notice, even if it changes something.”

“Visualising ethically is important too: even the colours on a map or the extents of an axis can make a change look hugely dramatic”

“I try to let the data tell the story as much as I can and if I don’t like what it’s saying I won’t change the message.”

When asked what data-related skill he wishes he could master, Billy said: “it’s got to be D3. It’s so difficult that I get a real buzz out of solving something in it, even if it’s taken hours.

“Probably learning JavaScript is the best way to crack that nut. It’s a work in progress.”

Ladies Who Code: Interview with co-founder Angie Maguire

Ladies Who Code began in 2011 and is a collective of professional coders meeting to share knowledge and ideas. Two Mint Digital employees saw an opportunity to bring people who use code in their jobs, or who are just pretty damn good at it, together to create awesome stuff. Since then, the brainchild of Angie Maguire and Shoshi Roberts has gone from strength to strength through their flagship meet-ups in London and New York. They have just recently surpassed 1000 members and have huge ambitions for the group. Angie kindly spoke to to tell us more.

So, How did Ladies Who Code start?

We started in 2011, myself and my colleague Shoshi Roberts who works out of our New York office, were just discussing the kind of communities that exist in tech. One thing that we felt was lacking was monthly meet-ups. Shoshi was really into going to Girl Geek Dinners and I knew of a couple of other things like Women Who Code, Rails Girls and so on. There were loads of interesting communities around but one thing we felt was lacking was a monthly meet up for professional coders.

We thought we’d pilot it in New York and the first ever meet-up was the end of June 2011, I think about 10 people showed up, which was great, and we’ve spent the time since then developing a format that fits each community.

We’re now in Manchester, London and New York now and we’ve just hit over a thousand members, which is really exciting for us. It’s a really hot topic right now and everyone’s screaming about women in tech. We’re trying to create a safe space for people who wouldn’t have gone to meet ups before and trying to empower women in tech.


What happens at the meet-ups?

In New York it’s like a homework club, people bring their ideas and their laptops. Some people come because they’re learning a new language others come because they need help in a particular sector. There’s a lot of peer tutoring but if they don’t have a project we have a couple of charities, not for profit organisations and social enterprises who ask for help and people can adopt that project.

In London we also have a speaker series, one of the things that have been brought up again and again has been the women at conferences ratio. I think it’s really important to give people the opportunity to practice and get feedback, through Q&As and just getting people involved. We’ve actually got a start-up growing out of the London community, it’s still very early stages but the fact that those people have come together at the meet-up is really good.


What kind of people come along?

It’s a huge mix, Manchester, for example, is a very academic community. Some of the stuff going on there is amazing. In London people tend to be multi-lingual developers, we have a few people at the moment writing apps and a lot of the time people are doing hobby projects. So they’ll work full-time for an agency but LWC gives them a bit of space to do their own stuff. It’s so diverse, there are people who work for massive tech companies down to students who are just amazing coders, it’s great.


Sounds good, but how do you make money?

We don’t make any money! We get approached a lot by recruiters but that’s just not something we want to do at this moment in time. Maybe eventually we’ll find a space for that but it’s not really the point right now. It’s about bringing really interesting, dynamic and intelligent people together and getting them to build awesome things.We have a nice association with Developers for Good and Apps for Good and we encourage our members get out there any use their expertise for good.


When did you realise it was taking off?

It feels like it started yesterday, it’s just such a natural part of my life now. What’s really exciting are the plans to expand and to do a lot more stuff. I think we have such a brilliant talent pool now and everyone is so giving, there are so many talented people willing to give up their time and skills so I think that’s going to be something that we give more structure to.


But this is a side project, right? How do you get time to do this?

My boss Cameron is really supportive. if it wasn’t for him recognising what value it has to me and to the community as a whole then I think it would be a lot more difficult. I went to him with the idea and then ourselves and Shoshi sat down and talked about it and he lets me take time out of work to organise it all.  I wouldn’t say it’s been easy but it’s been really enjoyable and I can’t wait to see what we do next.


 So what will you do next?

My dream for the whole thing is to make it a bit more open source. I get emails every week from all over the world who would love to have their own groups and that’s what I want. I want people to be able to say, ‘I want to start a group somewhere, I’ve got three friends who are developers..’ and be able to do it. At the moment I’m working on a Chapter document that will allow people to do that. I want it to be completely global.


By Beth Ashton