(Photo by Sam Markowitz)
This article is sponsored by The Philadelphia Inquirer and was reviewed before publication.
For some of us, getting out of our comfort zone means finally mustering the courage to pick up the mic on karaoke night.
For News Developer Garland Potts, it meant traveling to Spain to intern at a Spanish-language online newspaper.
We should mention, she was not fluent in Spanish.
“I studied graphic design at [the University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill where my degree was very print-focused, but my interests were in digital,” said Potts. “So, I found a digital media internship at an online newspaper in Madrid through a journalism school exchange program. I stayed and got my master’s degree in digital journalism in Madrid, as well.”
Potts’ desire to work in journalism has never once wavered, but finding the right role took a little time and a few thousand airline miles. Nevertheless, her willingness to chase down the opportunities she wants, no matter where they take her, has proven to be a successful strategy.
After Spain, Potts landed a job in print design at The Seattle Times. Once she was ready to get back to the East Coast, her network helped her find her dream role in digital news development at The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“There’s just a ton of opportunity in digital journalism because the industry is changing so fast,” said Potts. “It’s all new territory; there’s just so much to explore and figure out.”
We caught up with Potts to learn more about her job and why she thinks technologists should consider working in the journalism industry.
Tell us about your role as a news developer on the Innovation Team.
The Innovation Team was just created in January of this year. Our mission is to make it easier to create new and transformative digital news experiences for more people.
We have our hands in a lot of different things, but a good example of our work is the tool we created for our Toxic City: Sick Schools series — a 2019 Pulitzer finalist.
My role in that project was to build the web interface. Utilizing a massive database on school inspections, I built a web application that would make it easy for readers to digest the series content and to use the school checkup tool.
Our team does both design and development. It’s not like one team does a mockup and one builds it. We do both.
I love working in journalism because every day varies. One day we work with the sports team, another we build a photo display tool or figure out how to best display an investigative story, and others we build internal tools for our teams in the newsroom. It’s quick, it’s deadline based. That appeals to me. You get to do so many different things.
How does the Innovation Team come up with and bring new digital ideas to life?
The process starts with the entire group brainstorming together. We discuss what we want an idea to be, produce some quick sketches, turn them into wires, then build a prototype and finally develop the product.
We also do internal user testing, pulling people in from different departments to try out the products.
There is a lot of open source software in the newsroom industry right now. There are a lot of opportunities to borrow and optimize tools that already exist, like The New York Times’ ai2html, which converts your Illustrator documents into HTML and CSS so that you can make it responsive. We’ve been adapting it to work with our system. It looks better and it’s easier.
We’re always looking for opportunities to use what’s out there or to optimize workflows that already exist, in addition to building our own tools.
How have your experiences abroad helped you thrive at The Inquirer?
Learning about how journalists do their jobs around the world was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. Especially seeing how different the risks are depending on the country and the story.
I was in Spain when a lot was happening within its government. We covered a massive story and it was such an interesting learning experience.
What is the internal culture like at The Philadelphia Inquirer?
Well, my situation is a bit unique in that my position is a hybrid of newsroom and product. I love working with both sides because I can see every part of the journalism process.
But that said, what is cool about news institutions is that we all have the same goal: to produce the best journalism for the most people. The mission feels important. It’s very collaborative. I get to meet everyone that works here.
I moved to Philly knowing only three people in the entire city. Three years later, all of my best friends I met here at The Inquirer.
What does your personal tech stack look like?
But I’m constantly looking for frameworks and languages to make development easier. For instance, I recently taught myself React in order to make a new tool.
What would you tell job candidates to do prior to coming in for an interview at The Inquirer?
I would tell them to look at the kind of work we’ve been producing online. We’re doing tons of creative work with our website.
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