I’m learning Django, blame Matt Waite, grumble….

Jesie Hart, via Flickr (CC license)
Matt Waite, you owe me a drink. At least one.

So today I downloaded and installed Django, the web framework that apparently is one key to creating kick-ass data-driven sites. Adrian Holovaty just wrote a book about it (due out in September, I’ve pre-ordered it). Smart web developers and database geeks who really grasp the value of relevant journalistic information keep raving to me about it.

And then Matt Waite of the St. Petersburg Times, reporter-turned-geek who’s one of the lead developers of the data-driven presidential campaign truth squad site Politifact.com, had to go write this:

“PolitiFact was born when St. Petersburg Times Washington Bureau Chief Bill Adair called me in very late May with an idea he had. He wanted to take the “truth squad” idea and expand it. And he wondered if we could somehow use databases with this idea. He didn’t know how we could do that, just that we should, and that was why he was calling me. I was knee deep in learning Django, the rapid development web framework, and immediately knew we could use Django to make this happen. Based on our conversation, I quick sketched out a series of related tables — models in Django parlance — and PolitiFact was born.

“Learning Django has been a transformative experience for me. PolitiFact is the first Django app I’ve completed, and it won’t be the last. Not even close. Before this, I’d never developed a website before — I don’t count installing WordPress on a hosting account as developing a website — or done anything in Python.

“Learning Django was a challenge for someone like me with no programming experience, but the framework puts incredible abilities into your hands once you learn what you are doing. The documentation is a truly remarkable resource: It is a monument to it’s quality that 98 percent of PolitiFact comes from the documentation.”

Damn you, Matt Waite, I felt like such a coward after I read that. It haunted me. There have been too many times when I’ve hidden behind “I’m not a programmer” and found geeks for hire, rather than knuckling down and learning one truly geeky (rather than semi-geeky) tool that would allow me to apply my own data-driven creativity directly. So today I broke down and downloaded and installed Django. And it’s all your %^*%&^ fault, Matt Waite. I hope you’re proud of yourself.

Of course, I’ll be blogging my learning curve with Django — something that will take time and courage. I’m sure I’ll make a lot of stupid mistakes I’ll be forced to fess up to, and I don’t enjoy looking stupid more than anyone else. Well, if I can deal with it, so can all of you. I figure if I’m going to goad people into learning new online skills, I should be willing to take my own medicine — and then some.

So I’m officially a Django newbie.

And Matt, I’d say you owe me one helluva drink. I’ll Be in St. Pete. Sept. 16-17 for a Poynter seminar. Pencil me in. And be prepared to hear me gripe.

3 thoughts on I’m learning Django, blame Matt Waite, grumble….

  1. Deal. And if stupid mistakes were an impediment, PolitiFact would have never happened and I’d be back covering night cops somewhere. A stupid mistake is just another name for learning. I promise you that the mistakes you make will be so small they will drive you bats*** insane. And then you’ll figure it out, and suddenly it’s a whole new day. This is going to sound strange, but figuring it out that you’ve figured it out is a complete rush.

    When you’re ready, holler and I’ll send you the code for this, a side project I’m picking away at when I get time (between two kids, a book project, a day job and sleep).

    Good luck.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Matt.

    Love the ‘datamonkeylabs’ domain! I just checked out the pedestrian death stats for Boulder and I’m amazed they aren’t higher. Does that count bicyclers, skateboarders and rollerbladers as pedestrians? I know there are tons of those accidents around here, since it’s a university town. Maybe it’s just that few of them are fatal.

    Recently a fellow journalist, whom I respect in many ways, scoffed at the idea that lots of people would be interested in plowing into datasets from news organizations. “People don’t want data, they just want to be told stories about what happened.”

    Sorry, but I look at this and she is so very, very wrong. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface.

    – Amy Gahran

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