New role for me: Seattle Times’ first news applications editor

Dorky photo taken by Hannah Birch. Thanks, Hannah.

I’m honored and thrilled to announce that today is my first day in a new role at The Seattle Times: the company’s first news applications editor!

It’s no secret that this is the direction I was headed. Though I’ve been working for about a year and a half at The Times as a homepage producer, my free time and energy has been spent working on special, app-like projects. In the spring, we started a beta tools and apps team, then this summer we really kicked it into high gear with Kevin Schaul working as a news apps developer  —  proving that we need people to work on this stuff full time if we want to create quality products.

Now I get to spend every day doing what I love and what I hope will move the company in the right direction. As news apps editor, I’ll mostly be serving roles of a project manager and creative lead.  I’ll be working directly with (and learning from) designers, data enterprise editor Cheryl Phillips, news artists, engineers and the rest of the newsroom to build some awesome stuff. And keep your eyes peeled — we’ll hopefully be hiring throughout the next year to expand the team.

Here’s the announcement sent out by Eric Ulken:

Colleagues: You’ve seen her fingerprints on The Today File, our acclaimed Election Guide, our word cloud app, the local Olympian medal tracker and many other digital projects. And if you’ve been fortunate enough to work with Lauren Rabaino, you know that she has vision and creativity that match a can-do spirit and the practical ability to build cool stuff.

I’m pleased to announce that, starting today, Lauren will be focusing her talents full-time on creating compelling digital news experiences as The Seattle Times’ first news applications* editor.

In this capacity, she’ll work within the newsroom and with counterparts in design and IT to help conceive and build tools for presenting news and information in innovative ways that our increasingly sophisticated digital users are coming to expect — all with an eye toward growing audience and engagement.

Our audience isn’t standing still, so neither can we — and I’m confident Lauren won’t let us.

Please join me in congratulating her on her new role.

Eric

*What’s a news application? News applications are digital tools and platforms built for the purpose of presenting news and information or building engagement and conversation around the news. Together with the core content management system, they form framework within which information is delivered across our digital channels.

If you have any words of wisdom for me, I’d love to hear.  Charting new territory!

Thanks to everyone who helped me get here.  xoxo

First project from The Seattle Times tools & apps team: a better word cloud

Ok, ok. Before you tell me that word clouds are harmful or that most people use them ineffectively, let me start by saying that the one we built at The Seattle Times isn’t meant to be some type of comprehensive data visualization tool or a way to tell a narrative. The goal of the project was to create a reader engagement tool to easily collect and gauge reader sentiment around important issues.

We always ask people, via Twitter or Facebook, how they feel or what they think  about a topic, and we usually get pretty good answers. But we don’t do anything with that information; it falls into an abyss.  We sometimes use word clouds as a visual way of collecting and displaying reader input — but prior to the existence of our Word Cloud tool, the only way of doing that involved Google forms, which put data in a Google Spreadsheet, which we manually moderated and exported, then imported into Wordle, then changed fonts and colors, then saved as a JPEG, then manually uploaded into a blog post or story page multiple times a day (and it sure looked fugly).

Our word cloud tool — tentatively named the ‘Tude Cloud — removes all those steps. It’s a simple reader input form that validates against a few rules and a bad word API, records responses to a database, then displays them in a cloud format via jQuery and updates in realtime. It has an admin backend for Seattle Times staff to create clouds, moderate or add new bad words to our no-no list. The first project we used it on was our Recession Generation project, where we asked people how they feel about today’s job market.

Screenshot of our first usage of the word cloud tool.

Oh, and if you’re wondering: The tools and apps team at the Seattle Times is a “beta” team that consists of a producer, web designer and engineer who get a few hours a week to work on innovative tools for the newsroom. I’ve been sort of hush-hush about the launch of this new team because I wasn’t sure how long it’d be around, but now almost three months in, looks like we’re here to stay. Victory!

We’ll be open sourcing this project soon, along with a few other projects we’ve been working on . Stay tuned.

Behind the scenes of Seattle Times’ new WordPress blog, The Today File

This week marks my fifth month at The Seattle Times, a perfect time for an update about what I’ve been up to. Almost since the minute I walked in the door, Eric Ulken has had me working on an unprecedented project for our newsroom — a WordPress blog.

So here I bring you, The Today File. We soft launched the blog two weeks ago and are now regularly linking to it from the homepage. The slideshow below is the presentation I gave to editors and reporters.

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On open news budgets

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Making Your News Budget Public: How And Why – I feel like I’ve been talking about open news for years and years. Back then, I referred to it as “making your editorial calendar public,” but now that I’m an old fart in a newsroom, I say “open your news budget.” Same diff. My latest post at 10,000 Words outlines examples of a few news orgs who are actually doing it – finally. Some use Facebook, others use Twitter, some are writing straight-up blog posts and others are using Google Spreadsheets. More later today on how The Seattle Times is approaching this concept.

Inside the Seattle Times’ basement

This morning I ventured into the Seattle Times “press room,” which I expected to be a room for press conferences. But, nope. It was the other kind of press room, where they actually printed the paper years ago. The whole experience was like entering a time capsule back to 1994. Everything was untouched, as though everyone got up and left, never to look back.

There was still ink in the canisters and open log books with pens sitting atop. There were even coats and gloves in the lockers. An eerie place.

It’s so strange that an entire floor of a building with levels of heavy machinery and dozens of workers was required to publish a piece of content, and today all I have to do is click a pretty blue button.

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What I’ve been up to these past few weeks

Phew, what a crazy three weeks it’s been!

I’m writing this post from Seattle, where I’ve now been officially living for a full week. Yesterday was my first day at The Times. Here are a few highlights about the move and about the job (following suit of Heather, who has been blogging about her first few days at WaPo).

It was the longest drive of my life. We (boyfriend and I) started in Santa Barbara. Spent four days in our hometown of Porterville, Calif., (four-hour drive) where we packed up the UHAUL with furniture from storage. Then did an eight-hour drive to Santa Rosa, where we stayed for a night to catch some shut-eye. Then, came the long haul, from Santa Rosa to Portland, which (coupled with gas stops, pit stops, nap stops, food stops) took 19 hours. Finally, we did the drive last Tuesday morning from Portland to Seattle, which only took four hours with the UHAUL. That puts us at a grand total of 35 hours of driving.

I’m headed to The Seattle Times

20110518-064454.jpgBig news today in the life of Lauren Rabaino: I am taking a job at The Seattle Times as a resident producer.

For those of you who don’t know, I left Publish2 at the end of December. Since then, I’ve been blogging, doing freelance design and lounging on the beach — all while searching for the right job. I have finally found it.

The Seattle Times is the second-largest newspaper on the West Coast and has a newsroom of about 200. The team I’ll be working with, led by Eric Ulken, is awesome and loaded with good ideas — and exciting changes on the way.

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