“Take one thing you like, and then take another thing you like, and then try to make them mesh.”
That’s the approximate direction Sarah-Jaine Szekeresh got from Shannon Turner, founder of Hear Me Code, when she was looking for a programing project to dig her teeth into. Thus, @TuneIntoNews was born.
Szekeresh doesn’t have a background in tech, exactly. “I probably tried to personalize my MySpace page when I was 14, or something,” she joked.
She came to D.C. for a job as a systems administrator at a charter school, but digging through databases was sometimes tedious. In order to keep her sanity Szekeresh listened to a lot of music at work, and took breaks to read the news.
So when Szekeresh got the computer bug and started taking coding classes via Hear Me Code, she decided to build something that combines those passions for music and news. She also wanted to create something she can show off in interviews, as she has since quit her systems admin job and is looking to join the tech world full-time. That something is a Twitter bot — tweet ‘play’ to @TuneIntoNews and it will return a randomly generated NPR article along with a thematic piece of music from Spotify.
— TuneIntoNews (@TuneIntoNews) January 19, 2016
It works like this:
First, @TuneIntoNews pulls a random article from the NPR API. It does this by drawing on articles filtered by the “top news” tag — Szekeresh wants her bot to deliver need-to-know news over entertainment and commentary. @TuneIntoNews then uses a Python program to tag nouns, plural nous and adjectives in the headline of the article. The bot then searches Spotify for those words in a track title, and voila!
Of course, Szekeresh had to set some conditions on what kind of music and articles could be paired.
“I didn’t want to make light of really serious things,” she said. Szekeresh told Technical.ly that she considered cutting out any articles about gun violence or war, but in the end she didn’t want to get into the business of censoring the news. @TuneIntoNews might not always be perfect, but “it’s an entertaining way to take a break at work.”
Why NPR? For one, Szekeresh is a fan. She listens to NPR, reads NPR, and just likes their content. The other reason, though, is NPR’s clean API — it happened to be the first of her shortlist that Szekeresh figured out how to use.
Now that @TuneIntoNews is live, Szekeresh is focusing on redesigning a website for a friend, perfecting her portfolio and ramping up her job search. She’s still got the computer bug.
“I never wanted to do computer programming because I thought it was really formulaic,” she said. “But I’ve learned that it’s actually the ultimate creativity.”-30-