Why I’m joining The Chicago Reporter as senior editor of design and delivery

David Eads will build on the Reporter’s dogged legacy of investigating race, poverty, and income inequality by creating journalism experiences that are accessible and actionable for the public.

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If you follow the news, you may have seen my work and not even known it. A lot of times, it doesn’t “run” with my byline because most of it is actually code and design. 

David Eads

I’ve built a career out of combining fundamental journalistic values, technical wisdom, and reporting approaches that push the boundaries of what digital journalism can be. I’ve come to believe that journalism in our era is a social practice, a form of collective inquiry and a tool for spreading accountability.

My analysis of 54 million tickets made it possible for ProPublica’s Driven Into Debt series to have a significant impact on the lives of Chicagoans. And I managed the development of a live annotation tool for presidential debates at NPR that remains one of its most popular and engaging projects ever. I was at the Chicago Tribune for several years where we built  tools to track crime, told compelling stories and even developed a content publishing system I named for one of my heroes, Ida Tarbell. 

One of my most ambitious projects is A Donde Van Los Desaparecidos (Where Do The Disappeared Go?), an interactive map I created with a group of independent journalists in Mexico that integrates hundreds of public information requests about mass graves in the country to create a single compelling image to spur accountability, as well as detailed information for families searching for their loved ones. 

You’re probably wondering how this all maps to my new title — Senior Editor, Design and Delivery — and role at the Reporter. It speaks to two key tactics I believe fuel the most effective local journalism. As design editor, I will facilitate and guide team-based efforts to create great experiences and engagement. I will work with designers and visual journalists to build editorial products that are simple, hot, and deep. On the delivery side, I will build technical architecture tuned for sustainability, flexibility and broad collaboration through open source.

As a software engineer, I have an abiding love for combining old methods with state of the art technology. In my recent projects, data processing is handled by tools that originated in the 70s while the frontend — what you actually see as a user — is powered by tech developed in the past few years. The Chicago Reporter embodies this same spirit. Since its inception in 1972, its reporters and editors have pushed the bounds of data journalism to expose systemic racism and inequality. The Reporter’s topics are as clear, fundamental and relevant in 2019 as they were when it was founded.

The Chicago Reporter, which has emerged as one of Chicago’s most forward-thinking  news organizations, will experiment with distributed publishing, remixing existing content, augmented reporting tools, open data, open APIs and open source software. One of the things that drew me here is the pivot we’re about to make from publishing for the few in power to deliberately focusing on making our journalism accessible to the public. It’s an institution open to all kinds of ideas about how to best cover the most vexing issues we face. 

The core mission remains the same as it has always been: dogged, trustworthy accountability journalism. At the same time, our methods and goals must adapt to the challenges of our era to give more people mechanisms for accountability and for learning about what’s going on in the world around them.

In recent years, the Reporter has made significant strides as a digital-first, data-savvy newsroom. Under the leadership of Fernando Díaz, the organization has embraced creative, collaborative reporting and production practices with projects like Chi.vote. I intend to expand on this approach with accessible open source software and data projects that empower citizens to dig into issues that affect their lives and empower them to do something about it. 

I’m excited to be joining the Reporter because it has the same spirit as my approach to tech. It is combining old school values and deep local roots with bold, creative strategies for expressing those values in an era of climate change and rising fascism and nationalism.

There is obviously so much more to discuss and share. And in the spirit of openness, we want your help in guiding what we do and how we do it. I start Aug. 12. If you want to reach out with an idea or a collaboration, let us know via email at tcr@chicagoreporter.com. We’ll see you out there!