And yes, it is in fact as delicious as it looks.
Just a heads up to everyone to keep your eyes out for my story for Next American City’s Forefront on how cities, nonprofits, for-profit enterprises and pop culture figures have embraced urban entrepreneurship as a cause and a means of improving American cities.
Late in 2011, I had the privilege of being added to the freelance roster of WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR affiliate. My first assignment called on me to assist with field reporting and editing a piece for the station’s Front and Center series examining the city of Milwaukee’s positioning of itself as the “water capital of the world.”
A few months after that experience, I went solo for the Front and Center on their series about the impact literacy has on the regional economy. I pitched a story looking at rural libraries and their evolving role in an increasingly tech-focused, recession-wearied world. That story evolved to become a story about immigrant communities in Beardstown, Ill., a small town an hour west of Springfield, Illinois’ capital. The immigrants, mostly from Mexico and West Africa, were drawn by jobs . The story explored the role of the library, local community college and Cargill itself in teaching these newcomers English and the impact such actions have on society and the economy.
The assignment ranks as one of my most memorable assignments, not only because I had to master a previously unfamiliar storytelling medium, from field production to studio recording, but also adopt a reporting mindset of being observant about everything going on around me from the sounds of someone checking out a book to the Spanish-language conversations that take place everyday in Beardstown’s restaurants and supermarkets. While I have always appreciated details as a way to enhance my storytelling, this experience taught me to always notice everything. It’s a tough thing to do, but I believe the journalist’s most important role is to notice and filter noise down to something that is understandable. What I learned on this particular assignment will loom large on my future ones — radio, print or anything else.
In 2011, I had the privilege of producing the second of my three websites for the National Security Zone, an initiative that gives master’s students at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism an opportunity to dive deep into national security matters. It also brings in experienced journalists and Washington policymakers to craft in-depth journalism packages. The Data Minefield, curated, edited and created by Paul Rosenzweig, the founder of the security-focused Red Branch Consulting PLLC, addressed how the government has used large databases in the name of national security. One of the features of the assignment was to present a timeline chronicling the history of data mining in the United States in a compelling way. Through that process I came across several different web applications that try to convey chronology on the web. Some are better than others, but here are some of what I found out there.
TimelineSetter: Created by ProPublica, TimelineSetter is by far the most attractive and compelling timeline tool out there. It’s the program I used in the image you see above. The program offers a great deal of customization and seamless integration of images and video. With a little CSS know-how, it’s easy to get the right typography and color schemes. Admittedly, using this tool is not idea for the tech averse. Installing the application requires an installation process that utilizes the Mac Terminal, Ruby on Rails and tricky spreadsheet actions. Date entry is a bit iffy too. Nonetheless, the end product is beautiful and well worth the inevitable frustration.
Dipity: Dipity serves as the baseline of web-based timelines. It’s easy to use, especially when it comes to adding photos and video.. Still it’s pretty ugly and not very customizable, unless you get the paid versions. Not bad, but with a little work, you can get better timelines for cheaper.
Timeline 3D: There’s very little redeemable about the $65, Mac-only Timeline 3D from Beedocs. There aren’t many presentation options and even few customization options. I never figured out a way to integrate video into this program either. Save your money and pass on this.
TimelineJS: It’s the newest timeline app on this list. Created by the Knight News Innovation Lab, a joint venture between Northwestern’s computer science and journalism department, TimelineJS is much like ProPublica’s tool with the added benefit that there is no need to enter foreign Ruby coding into your computer. Enter the chronological info via a Google spreadsheet and out pops a timeline. The application also seems to have great Twitter and Google Maps integration. The end product is quite pretty too.
I wrote a lot of stories, produced a lot of websites and took a lot of photos, all in the name of journalism, before I set this site up. Periodically, I will feature some of my past work that I am most proud of and talk about some of the thought processes about how I came up with the story, how I reported the story and how I produced the story.
I like to think that as a journalist I always be aware of what is going on around me in order to find the next story. My story for GOOD’s website about Subway offering falafel sandwiches in its Chicago restaurants and what that might mean for the crunchy delights in American society is perhaps my best example of that.
Prior to taking on this story, Subway has always just been that ubiquitous sandwich shop I only go into when everything else is closed. Standard sandwich meat, standard bread, standard ingredients. Nothing terrible, though nothing great either. But my interest in the chain piqued considerably when I was passing an outlet one day in Chicago with a poster of its new falafel sandwich in the window. Seriously, that’s how I came up with the story. I walked past a Subway, saw a big photo of a falafel sandwich and thought, “Huh, I wonder if someone has written this story yet.”
Others had written the story about Subway offering falafel, but those were very surface level. I wanted to get into the significance of that for the Mediterranean societies where the falafel is a fixture at the dinner table. Can the fact that the largest fast-food chain in the world is taking on a dish foreign to so many Americans. I suggest you read the story and find out.