Wei: A new code for journalists

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Sisi Wei
Sisi Wei, Photo by Cramer Anderson
Celina Carr

The University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication hosted ProPublica news-application developer Sisi Wei as its first Professional-in-Residence of the fall semester.

Wei’s visit gave SJMC students the opportunity to learn why coding matters for journalists.

“What is important for journalists is to be able to know enough coding to do their own data analysis, just to verify facts that are given to them by experts,” Wei said.

She described coding as learning the language the computer speaks to be able to create interactive Web graphics and gather and analyze data. Before Wei began at ProPublica, an independent, non-profit investigative newsroom, in January 2013, she was a graphics editor at The Washington Post. There, she did front-end web programming, which is coding that determines colors, fonts and the size of page graphics. At ProPublica, Wei does it all.

“At the Post I did the end product,” Wei said. “I wanted to do the whole thing from beginning to end.”

In her current position, Wei does original reporting, creates codes and does front-end Web programming for each story she produces.  

“A lot of times I have a ton of information in front of me and I need to figure out what actually matters, and then I have to find out how to communicate that to other people,” Wei said. “And when you do it right, it’s really, really nice.”

Wei graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 2011, majoring in journalism, legal studies and philosophy. Throughout college, she taught herself how to code by learning and training online.

Wei’s visits to classes and meetings with students left SJMC junior Maritza Salinas wanting to pursue coding on her own. 

“I plan on scoping out a few different sites to find something to learn from during my summer here in Iowa City,” Salinas said. “I think in today's digital age, it’s almost vital to stay ahead of the rest.”

SJMC students working at The Daily Iowan also met Wei and learned about coding. Editor-in-chief Jordyn Reiland said Wei brought ideas that will enhance their website and other various projects.

“I think the biggest thing the DI will take away from her visit is to try different things, and if it doesn't work out, then just try something else,” Reiland said. “When we’ve done things like that, it usually works out well in our favor.”

In addition to her work at ProPublica, Wei co-founded Code With Me, a business that provides two-day educational workshops that teach the foundations of HTML, CSS, and Java Script codes to students and journalists around the country.

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