It's Wednesday of Eater's first ever Hack Week. The sun is out, the jackhammer across the street is pounding away at the pavement, and inside our triangle-shaped fifth floor nightclub/hack space, bottles of water, sweating iced coffee cups, and shiny red Coke cans litter the tables. The time has come to get work done: It's Data Day.
This year, Eater's put a focus on telling stories about food, restaurants, and the industry at large through other lenses, like policy and technology. Data as a concept is admittedly pretty hot in the media world right now, and as we expand our reporting team and the scope of our coverage, we look forward to exploring more ways to tell engaging, smart stories. Here's what went down in the Meatpacking District.
The day started off with two members of Eater's video team showing a quick video reel highlighting exactly what they do on a daily basis. McGraw Wolfman and Spencer Wardwell, our shooter/editors, talked through the process and answered questions about getting the best shots, choosing the right music, and how to edit raw video into a final product. Some fun takeaways including learning that McGraw and Spencer have "darlings" in terms of footage the same way writers fall in love with certain turns of phrases that later get cut by their editors. The video team ended their presentation with a quick sneak peek of a new show we're working on.
After that, editorial projects manager Chao Li walked through some best practices for charts and graphs — and warned us against using pie charts, aka "the Comic Sans of the chart world." That's Comic Sans burn number two for those of you keeping score at home. Eater's critic Ryan Sutton, who frequently incorporates such visualizations into his reviews, followed up by showing us some of the graphs he's used in his restaurant-focused writing and talking about the benefit of their interactivity when it comes to restaurant data, like prices for meals with or without drinks or supplements like truffles and foie gras.
From there we broke out into small groups and started working on new projects based on what we'd learned. And then came lunch: Sweetgreen! Much of Team Eater covets Sweetgreen salads on a regular basis, but since the closest location to our Midtown HQ is just a little too far for a workday lunch, this was a true (and healthy) treat — which is good, because we ended our day with some amazing Korean barbecue at Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong.
The afternoon kicked off with a great conversation about data and visualizations from Anand Katakam from Vox.com, and then came a complementary talk about social sharable visuals and their best practices from Vox's Susannah Locke. It was fun for Eater editors to hear about the processes implemented by one of our sister verticals. Anand talked about why clean data and clean presentation make for the best visuals — #removetoimprove. He also gave an example of why experimenting with graphics can be good: If you are telling a story about a protein bar, use the bar as one of the lines in the chart.
Key points from Susannah included telling the best story by taking advantage of headline and subhead space, stressing the importance of telling one story very well instead of a range of stories not as well, and when to create specific social graphics.
From there it was back to the actual hacking. Here's what people worked on on day three:
Our friends at SB Nation made a nifty Vine small talk generator to kick off March Madness, and today Eater got in on the fun with ideas like Greg's what excuse will you use to get out of dinner tonight, Atlanta editor Chris's how to rationalize your fourth brunch cocktail, and Andra's where to eat in Denver this weekend. Vox Media designer Kelsey designed a layout for the template so that this can be used more in the future.
Large preview posts
Eater reports editor Erin requested a new way to format the large preview posts that frequently run on the site. Jody, a designer who usually works on the advertising side of things, took the challenge and ran with it, coming up with this great new layout — featuring a side rail for easy access to all of the content.
Ryan (editorial), Casey (developer), and Dylan (designer) worked on refining a tool that will mine Department of Health data, specifically regarding letter grades. What they wanted to do is take the DOH's data and improve it by adding an editorial narrative to better the access to this information for NYC diners. How? The team explored showing an average grade per restaurant for a variety of letter grades for restaurants rather than just the single most recent grade to provide a comprehensive look at the restaurant's health history.
As Ryan explains, they're also looking to categorize the data together in new, more helpful ways, like grouping rats and mice together and flies and roaches together, and creating separate icons for sick workers and for restaurants that re-serve food like bread baskets (yikes!), so customers can tell exactly what violations a restaurant has received easily. Also — controversially — the team is developing a BS icon for potential violations that one could argue are not actually violations. Fun!
Khushbu from Eater's news team along with Erin and Hillary from reports are working on a piece on Zero FoodPrint. Along with Vox.com's Anand, they took poorly designed charts from a data set they wanted to report on and reworked the information in new charts so that they're easier to understand and — taking in Susannah's tips — made them sharable for social.
Funny Restaurant Name Generator
DZ created a funny name generator for Eater, and Dylan helped with the design. It's created MadLibs-style and DZ says the goal was to keep it flexible and fluid, which is nice from the editorial perspective since it allows for more creativity. Eater's Greg put together some awesome copy for this, thinking about trends in the restaurant industry — some veering into ridiculous territory — and capitalizing on those to build the tool.
James Beard predictions
Stay tuned for more on this tomorrow, but one thing that's coming out of it is the ability to have multiple polls in one piece. users will be able to see what they voted, what everyone voted, and how the editors voted.
Kat and Amanda's drinks generator is looking great, thanks to the help of developer DZ and designer Jody, who made these lovely illustrations for us. This thing is powered by an awesome spreadsheet made with the help of The Verge's Ross.
- From the Eater NY team, Layla joined Hack Week for the first day today and already churned out a great flowchart.
- Editorial intern Cynthia learned how to build out features with snippets and contributed to the Vine generator.
- Chao created demos for tools, including a great multiple choice quiz: How well do you know your diner lingo?
- Rachel implemented smart quotes as a direct result of Jason's talk yesterday.
- She also added to her intensive burger week quiz, resocialized it to Eater Boston's readers, and saw a bump in traffic. She adds that it was helpful to sit in on the data talks in the earlier part of the day and think about her past data work with respect to coverage on Eater and how to make it even better in the future.
- We're so excited about getting a better treatment for our theme week logos. The mocks from Jason look awesome and DZ is helping with making these a reality.
Other things that have been completed so far? We're getting easier access to snippets in our article layout (including the new update and corrections snippets), left-aligned photos will render better at smaller breakpoints (like for mobile) now, and our quiz practice yesterday led to an actual quiz making it onto Eater.com.
Tune in again soon for Thursday's coverage: a day full of photography, motion graphics, and maybe even some emojis.