Saturday, January 20, 2018

If You Were Still Programming, What Software Would You Like To Engineer?

Answering the questions people have
asked (or I have asked myself) about
my past, present, or future.
I would love to design a newsroom computer system that's more producer-friendly and built for speed. I can type faster than my work computers can keep up with. I don't know if it's a software issue or a hardware issue, but it's still an issue.

Any system I would design would have to come with these specifications:

  • I need a way to put in graphics quickly, without having to open some other window or program to put them in.  I would like to just type some special character followed by a short instruction, and then the graphic:  "-CG 2line:  John Doe/Resident."  The more things I can do on the keyboard, without having to drag something with a mouse, the faster I work.
  • I need a system that will let me track changes on a story coming in over the wires without me having to search several times a day.  I would like to be able to put the headline up in the corner of my screen and have it change colors if the AP, CNN, CBS or Fox sends out an update.
  • I want to customize the way I type in scripts so I can see how they're going to look on paper as I put them in.
  • I want to have multiple rundowns open without the system slowing down.
  • I want to be able to merge Twitter and Facebook feeds into the system like they're a wire source.
  • I want the system to intelligently scrape websites for information and put them in like a wire source.
Generally, I need one integrated system to be even more integrated and flexible.  But it can't be so heavy it weighs things down.  I once told a college professor about my vision of designing newsroom software.  She said:  "Go for it!"  But, for better or for worse, that dream had to go on the back burner while I started my career.  

I did some amateur IT work every so often at KRGV after we got our first computer system, and somebody suggested I could do it for real, full-time.  It sounded too good to be true and too above what I knew, and I didn't even have an A+ certificate or anything resembling a Computer Science degree except for minoring at it at Mizzou.  That meant I had to keep my hands to myself on the tough problems and let our engineering crew solve them -- even if they couldn't solve a few problems.  That's where I came in.  I was able to fix an issue with one of our servers by testing a theory on one of the machines without wrecking the system, with the permission of management.

That was back in 1999, when it seemed IT support was less critical in a newsroom.  Now with internet and all sorts of other nets, the system is your lifeline.  And heaven help you if it crashes.  So your software needs to be great, not merely good.

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