Phillip Smith

A peek inside the @TribApps Team at the Chicago Tribune.

Open-Web innovation appears to be the name of the game in the Chicago Tribune’s News Applications department. I had a chance to sit down with Joe Germuska, Christopher Groskopf, and Brian Boyer from the @TribApps team yesterday in Chicago, and I had a few questions on my mind:

  • What is the scope of their work? What do they work on day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-over-month?
  • How does the news apps team interface with the editorial and other departments?
  • What is the experience of being an island inside a ‘traditional’ or ‘legacy’ news organization?

The scope of this team’s work is nothing short of awe-inspiring. They’re responsible for a wide range of projects: from classic ‘news apps’ like the 2010 Illinois School Report Cards to the unlikely job of deploying a massive number of Wordpress sites to power the network.

Nonetheless, they still have the time and opportunity to work on forward-thinking initiatives like the Chicago Breaking News Live Web app, and to release tools like the The Newsapps Boundary Service for other newsrooms to build on.

Through all of these varying demands, open-web thinking seems to permeate everything they do. For example:

  • Chris shares his experiences building news apps with big data for other organizations to learn from;
  • Joe is collaborating with other newsrooms and news apps developers to build tools that will make it easier for reporters to explore and make sense of census data (Joe, do you have a link for me?)
  • The whole team is focused on releasing re-usable code and building a body of knowledge about how to handle the unique needs of a newsroom.

As for the advantages of working in a nimble team like this, Brian put it succinctly when he said “we can roll a new rig every day to improve how we do our development.” Translation: even in the real-world environment of a newsroom, with deadlines and deliverables looming, and despite the challenges of IT departments, this team is able to rapidly experiment and test new ideas.

Interestingly – and even though the team was started by individuals with a journalism-first background – new team members have come to the job with more technology and computer science experience, than traditional journalism chops.

I was curious about this from the perspective of the Knight-Mozilla fellows that will be heading into newsrooms this fall, and how they might have similar backgrounds.

If the @TribApps team is any indication, I think our fellows will have a fighting chance at survival.


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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