Lynda Requirement – Zhiyan Zhong

Instead of writing a blog post about what I learned on Lynda.com, I decided to write about my experience at the Computer-Assisted Reporting (CAR) Conference held by the IRE and NICAR in March, which was an amazing learning experience.

At the CAR conference, I learned a variety of topics, from the basics on using spreadsheets, databases and online mapping to filing FOIA requests and data visualization. My biggest takeaways from the conference was learning how to build my first news app.

During the seven-hour-long training session, the instructor walked us through the process of building an interactive data visualization from a structured dataset. We got to learn every stage of the development process writing HTML, JavaScript and Python. At the end of the class, we published an interactive map with a table about people who died during the Los Angeles riot in 1992. Here is the project I made.

The process was complicated, so I will just highlight the major steps of the project. With all prerequisites installed on the computer, we started the project with creating a new development environment with virtualenv. Then we created a new Git repository and connected our local directory to GitHub. The second major step was to use pip on the command line on Terminal to install Flask, the Python “micro-framework” we used to put together our website, and then configured Flask to make a page at our site’s root URL. The third step was to build the HTML document. At the meanwhile, we also used Python’s csv module to access the data we wanted to put on the website. After that, we used Jinja to sculpt the data in index.html to create an HTML table that lists all the names of the victims. In step 4, we made use of the Leaflet JavaScript library to create a map on each detail page showing where the victim died. In the final act, we published our application to the internet using Frozen Flask, a Python library that saves every page we had made with Flask as a flat file that can be uploaded to the web.

The concept of building a news application was totally new to me and I still haven’t totally understood each stage of the process. But the course has definitely cleared up some confusions I had about news apps before and taught me the logic of building such an app, which I think is more important than being able to code everything on my own. Understanding the logic will allow me to apply the concept to other projects and dig deeper later. I can make unique interactive data visualization with the knowledge I learned from the class. This is also helpful for our dataviz class. Especially for my final project about farmers markets, it would be useful to make an interactive map listing every market in the state by creating a news app. I didn’t end up making it because I didn’t know how to put the news app to our class website and there are other good mapping tools available, but I will definitely look into it when I have time.

All in all, it was a very helpful training and I was inspired to explore more possibilities with the knowledge I learned.