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Why Develop in the Newsroom?

If you’re a software developer looking to make more of a social impact with your talents, there are plenty of exciting opportunities for you to break into the field of journalism! But what’s it like?

If you’re a software developer looking to make more of a social impact with your talents, there are plenty of exciting opportunities for you to break into the field of journalism! But what’s it like?

Writing software in a journalistic environment is still pretty new so different newsrooms do it differently, but we’d like to share with you what it’s like to be a news applications developer at ProPublica, why we all love the work we do here, and why we think newsrooms are an exciting place to be right now.

Here’s our list of 10 reasons why programmers should join us and develop for the newsroom:

Wait for it...

You do something different every day.

Developing on a news cycle means that projects, needs, goals and priorities change quickly. No two days are alike! At ProPublica, you might write your own key-value store one day and make phone calls to government officials the next. Our news applications developers do everything from sysops to statistical analysis to good old-fashioned reporting.

You constantly learn about current events, politics, history, science, math, you name it.

Newsrooms tell important stories. Here at ProPublica we’ve written software to help tell stories on racial segregation, to America’s drone policy, to transparency in medicine and much more. There is a lot of stuff to know -- but don’t fret! In the newsroom, you get to work alongside (and learn from) some of the best reporters in the world who are experts in the subject you’re working on.

You learn lots of new tools -- and build them.

Computer vision and 3D interactive maps can’t be used for every news project, but when they’re the best tool, nobody will stop you from trying them out. In most shops you’ll also build many of your own tools, from web scraping frameworks to key-value stores -- and open-source them.

You’ll be on a quick development cycle, and publish code on a regular basis.

You won’t be stuck in an infinite loop developing a tiny component of a years-long project. While some projects take months to complete, other projects have turnarounds between a few days and a month. Most often you’ll be working on many projects at once.

You’ll have a chance to pitch "story" ideas and execute them.

If there’s a topic that interests you, you can always pitch making projects related to it. Do some research, come up with a graphic or app idea, pitch it, and go go go! We’re even making newsgames these days.

Your work will do something good for the world and have impact!

Why not use your powers for good? Make apps that hold doctors accountable, show inequality in schools and reverse-engineer political targeting. Help readers make sure the nursing home they’re considering doesn’t have years and years of deficiencies. Or help voters look up whether their representative is for or against SOPA and PIPA. Let other journalists and researchers easily see how nonprofits spent their money.

Reporting means you'll get to talk to strangers and ask them interesting questions.

Venture beyond the comfort of the LCD glow. It’s not that scary, we promise. Plus, you’ll have an excuse to call up people who are doing great work and ask them nosy questions.

You'll see your name on the internet, maybe even in a print newspaper.

Being recognized for your work is pretty cool, especially when it’s a byline at the top of the page, and not hidden in the credits deep within your website.

You get to define the future of journalism.

You may have heard that journalism is dying. That isn't true. But it's changing really really quickly. We can't know exactly where it's heading. We do know that we're still at the beginning of a new stage in what journalism even means, and that we’re innovating, experimenting and always trying new things. You too can be a part of journalism and help shape its future.

At the end of the day, feel really good about the work you’ve done.

There really isn’t anything else like the feeling of publishing an important story, whether it's in the form of a narrative story or an interactive project. We’re proud of everything we make, and we’re even more thrilled when readers or other journalists send us emails saying how helpful or meaningful our work has been. It pushes us to make better tools to help even more people.


So if any of this excites you, we’d recommend that you try it out. Next month is the deadline for the Google Journalism Fellowships, which is aimed at undergraduate, graduate and journalism students interested in using technology to tell stories. One of the fellows will be stationed in our newsroom here at ProPublica, and honestly we can’t wait for you to come join us.

Apply Now

Originally published July 17, 2013.

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