Manya Gupta and Andrew Paley are the first Knight “programmer-journalist” scholarship winners to participate in the News21 multimedia reporting project, an initiative in its fifth year that engages some of the nation’s top journalism master’s students.

The Northwestern University team that Manya and Andrew are part of is focusing on young urban Hispanics and “how they are transforming American politics, media and education now and will continue to do so over the coming decades” said Steve Duke, director of Northwestern’s project and associate professor at the Medill School of Journalism.

Gupta, Paley and their teammate Kennedy Elliott are developing the website for the Northwestern project. Paley is building the technical infrastructure and developing a “data wall” with information about Hispanic voting patterns, elected officials, population growth, educational attainment, and more. Gupta is developing graphics and interactive pieces for stories written by her and other News21 reporters.

Here are their reflections on the experience, which wraps up later this month

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Describe your role in the Northwestern project

Gupta: As a true multimedia journalist, I am reporting and writing a media story, creating the introductory info graphic for the project, building data-driven Flash packages for two stories and helping in Web design and development of the Northwestern News21 website — serving as media reporter and web developer.

Paley: Most of my work at News21 has been focused on database-driven, geolocation-specific visualizations that cover a wide array of datasets compiled from the Census, the American Community Survey, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, and other sources. The idea is to supplement the team’s reporting with a “data wall” that presents the user with a trove of pertinent information based on his/her location — down as low as the county level whenever possible (when data’s available at that level). Beyond that, my work here has also comprised web development, technical assistance on other members’ projects, WordPress theme building, and server administration where necessary (in concert with Medill’s IT department).

What have you gotten out of the experience?

Gupta: The fact that the Hispanic population is growing at a rapid rate is well-known. But during the course of reporting on my media story and working with other people on different stories, I have learned how the market, institutions and the American landscape are evolving to cater to this audience. I was always interested in web development and creating interactive graphics, but this was the first time that I attempted a data-driven infographic using the Adobe Creative Suite tools. I came up with a simple design and used colors strategically to represent multi-layered data in a clean, accessible format. I am thrilled to have received great feedback on it and have become a more confident designer.

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Paley: I suppose the valuable piece of all of this for me has been the opportunity to continue to work with database-driven visualization techniques. A lot of what I’m doing now was informed by my prototyping of the American Visualizer project, though I’m now working with a different visualization library (based in Javascript instead of Flash).

Other thoughts?

Gupta: I think News21 is a great platform. It not only gave me an opportunity to use my technical and journalism skills in creating some wonderful news pieces, but also further proved to me that today’s world of news has several opportunities for programmers like me, who can use their technical skills, learn journalistic skills and blend them all together to create news packages that are appropriate for today’s audience.

Paley: It’s been interesting to have the experience of working with a team of journalists outside the guided classroom environment. Our experiences in News21 have been largely self-directed on a day-to-day basis — though the overall topic and focus was chosen by Medill — and that self-direction has afforded us some room to experiment and collaborate in ways that we might not have had otherwise.