New at California Schools Guide

Our newest database project, launched today, is a guide to schools in California with test scores, demographics and other useful info on public schools in the state. (Private schools are listed too, but there’s less good info available on them.)

Data guru Ben Welsh (of L.A.’s Top Dogs fame) is the brains behind this project, also built in Django (which, it’s safe to say, has become the framework of choice for our editorial data projects).

I think my favorite part is the ability to rank schools in your county by different criteria, such as average SAT scores or API score (California’s benchmark for academic performance). Factoid: Of the 10 schools statewide with the highest API scores, eight are in the Bay Area and four of those are in Fremont. Is it something in the water up there?

Delicious links: Er, on second thought…

My short experiment in posting my Delicious bookmarks to the blog is over. My infrequent “real” posts are getting buried, and I’m not sure that these hodgepodge daily link lists are particularly useful except to people who have the exact same tastes and interests as I do.

If you happen to be one of those people (or for some other reason you want to see what I’m bookmarking), you can always subscribe separately to my Delicious feed — or, if you use Delicious yourself, why not just add me to your network?

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Update 2008.08.29: OK, now it’s really stopped. I swear.

A visit to the pressroom

After four and a half years at the Los Angeles Times, I finally made the trek to the other side of downtown Friday to tour the paper’s Olympic printing facility. As part of the effort to merge the web and print staffs, the Times has been giving some of the websters a “Newspaper 101” crash course. I tagged along for the tour, but my low-res BlackBerry photos just don’t do justice to the size and scope of the place.

Anecdote: The machines that were bought to insert preprints (like the ones flying off the presses in the photo) ended up being too error-prone, so the distributors still have to stuff them into the paper by hand. Let’s see:

Umpteen preprints x 1.1 million Sunday papers = a lot of hands

I’m reminded of why newspapers are still largely a manufacturing and distribution business. And why this business model is falling apart.

(For robotics geeks: Here’s Dakotta’s video of one of the robots moving a roll of paper. They follow electromagnetic guides embedded in the floor.)

New at L.A.’s Top Dogs

Last week we launched a fun new database at work: L.A.’s Top Dogs, which shows the most common dog names and breeds by ZIP code, based on dog registration data from L.A. County animal control agencies. My colleague, Ben Welsh, assembled the data and built the app in Django. I did the UI.

Warning: It’s pretty addictive. For example, if you ever wanted to know how many dogs are named after your favorite superheroes, dictators and hip-hop stars, we can tell you.

It’s already drawn some notice in the linkosphere:

It’s taken some criticism from folks who seem to think it’s not serious journalism. To those people I say: You’re right. Lighten up. We do a lot of other serious journalism.

New at Electoral vote map

Now that the primary season is over and the general election campaign is heating up, it’s time to introduce a fun little electoral vote map built by my colleague, Sean Connelley. What’s unique about this one is that you can create your own scenario here and then grab some code to embed it in your website, like so:

What anger looks like

I’m not an angry journalist, but it’s hard not to be drawn to the alternately sad/funny/heartless/clueless screeds at Seeking some aggregate wisdom from the 2,794 comments posted to date, I captured all the venom and slammed it through TagCrowd (omitting various forms of the words “angry” and “journalist”). The result (click a tag to see where it appears in comments):

created at

Glad to know the web doesn’t figure as large in people’s anger as I might have guessed, but I’m not encouraged by the relative sizes of love and hate.

Update (2008.04.02): There aren’t enough posts at to turn out a good cloud. C’mon, people!

Technical skills in journalism jobs

The students in my online media class at USC are looking for the technical skills that will help land them jobs in journalism, and I want to help them identify what those skills might be. I have a pretty good idea, of course, but I thought I’d be more quantitative in my assessment. So I took all the online job descriptions on from this year, omitted the non-technical words (like “editor”, “seeks” and “self-starter”) and built a tagcloud out of the rest. Here’s what it looks like:

created at

Update (2008.02.04): This post drew a lot more notice than I would have guessed. My favorite response comes from fellow Mizzou alum Chris Heisel, now at the AJC, who built his own tech skills tagcloud. I have a feeling Chris’ wish list comes a lot closer to nailing the critical skills than most of the postings on JournalismJobs do.

Update (2008.04.02): The tagcloud is hopefully more useful now that the tags link back to keyword searches in’s online job listings. I was linking keywords for my post on and I thought I might as well do it here too.