Job Post: OpenBlock, Django and Community Newspapers

Written by Ryan Thornburg October 29, 2010 11:08 am EDT No comments

Request for Proposals:
Specifications for Community News Tool Using Python and Django.

The School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with funding from the McCormick Foundation, is developing business models and editorial products to help community newspapers transition to the digital age.

We are seeking someone who has experience with Python and the Django Web development framework to install a Django application called OpenBlock on a Web server and write a report that details the technical challenges, specifications and scope required for integrating OpenBlock into newspaper websites hosted by TownNews.com. The report would also propose potential alternatives that would be more efficient than using OpenBlock.

In order to write the report, the person we hire will need to perform these tasks:
1. Install the OpenBlock application on a server, and become familiar with its codebase.

2. Identify technical specifications for transforming data formats given to students by city and county government into geo-coded data formats optimized for use in OpenBlock. (See http://developer.openblockproject.org/wiki/Ideal%20Feed%20Formats) These technical specs might include the technical specs for building a site scraper (See http://developer.openblockproject.org/wiki/ScraperScripts) to retrieve the data, a feed parser or a program to impute the latitude and longitude of data types that are vaguely described in their original format from the government.

3. Identify high-level technical specifications for integrating an OpenBlock installation with the CSS styles, site navigation and URL structure of the news organizations so that users and search engines perceive the TownNews.com content and the OpenBlock content as a single site.

4. Contribute findings back to the OpenBlock project developers wiki at http://developer.openblockproject.org/wiki
We intend to select a candidate by December 1. The project would start immediately upon selection.

Please e-mail your proposals – including a proposed timeline, cost bid, resume, cover-letter and three references — to Christine Shia at shia AT email DOT unc DOT edu. Please include “Proposal – OpenBlock RFP” in your subject line.

Questions about this RFP can be addressed to Assistant Professor Ryan Thornburg at 919-962-4080 or ryan DOT thornburg AT unc DOT edu. Please include: “Query – OpenBlock RFP” in your subject line.

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Journalistic Brainstorming: What Don’t We Know

Written by Ryan Thornburg August 25, 2010 3:07 pm EDT 1 comment

We kicked off the fall semester of Public Affairs Reporting for New Media at UNC yesterday by brainstorming in 10 minutes at least 50 questions that we were going to need to answer in order to create a new “Everyblock”-style community information database for small newspapers.

It’s a great example of how the design thinking school of innovation intersects well with the world of journalism. Good reporters should always be asking themselves “What don’t I know about this?” And great reporters take that question to a diverse group of collaborators and ask “What don’t we know about this?”

Here’s what my students and I don’t know:

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Newsroom-Classroom Panel at ONA: A Bridge to Nowhere?

Written by Ryan Thornburg September 13, 2008 8:28 am EDT 3 comments

As yesterday’s Online News Association conference panel about collaboration between universities and newsrooms drew to a close, it was becoming clear that intellectual transactions were just waiting to be made, that a new marketplace must be created. The room had decided that the news biz did indeed have problems and that the academy just might be stocked with the resources needed to solve them.

The only thing standing in the way of better collaboration had been the difficulty so far in matching the problems with the resources. We would need to create a Match.com of journalism innovation, I said, where newsroom leaders could submit RFPs and where educators could post the research and technical resources of their students.

So with 10 minutes left in the panel, I whipped open a Word document and projected it on the screen at the front of the room. I was ready to start brainstorming right there and begin making a quick list of research questions and innovation projects. Oh, the excitement of a panel discussion that would be more than just talk! The bridges that would be built!

But then we hit just one small snag. Of the hundred or so people in the room, about 90 percent were from the classroom. Somehow, on an otherwise unremarkable Friday afternoon in Washington, the Statler conference room at the Capital Hilton had transformed in to an ivory tower. We had built a bridge to nowhere.

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