St. Pete Times Hires "News Technologist"
Years ago, investigative reporter Matt Waite and I used to talk about how newspapers need to leverage the information they gather into new forms: creating searchable databases with real estate information we gather for stories or interactive maps of crime reports.
So I wasn't that surprised to see an internal announcement last week noting that Matt -- who has won a truckload of prestigious awards for his work on environmental coverage with pal and colleague Craig Pittman -- was taking over a new position at the Times: News Technologist.
I'll let him explain what that means: "it's going to be developing a lot of news-driven products we've talked about but never had the chance to create," said Matt, who was instrumental in creating our new political fact-checking web site, Politifact. "There's a long, messy distance from talk to reality."
Or, as he says on his own Web site: "I’ve been given the mandate to take my skills as a journalist and my growing skills as a coder and bash them together really hard to see what comes out. I’m going to take my 12 years of data-driven journalism and try to build things online that people want." the data delivery editor jobs some newspapers have come up with, which shackles the employee to building databases from information collected by the institution.
Even Matt admits this is something newspapers should have been doing five or 10 years ago -- freeing up tech-savvy staffers to work positions which are essentially research and development gigs. The advent of digital technology is turning every newspaper into a news company -- an aggregator of data which can provide that information to consumers in any variety of ways. It's a more expansive gig than
But better late than never. Those of us who have worked for big news organizations awhile know it is not unusual for guys as talented and filled with ideas as Matt to sit around for long years offering concepts to superiors who can't see beyond the next quarterly circulation report. Cutting Matt loose in this new role is a smart way of acknowledging that it is time to come up with new configurations for the information we assemble each day beyond the typical forms.
The platforms in question can range from cellphones to the Nintendo Wii (at least, that's Matt's pitch for getting a Wii at his desk; I'd look a little closer at that purchasing request, Mother Times!) The only drawback for Matt: leaving behind his more traditional journalism work.
"Literally since high school, every day I've woken up and said, 'How can I be a better investigative reporter?'" he said. "My whole frame of reference is changed, now."