Amor and Exile 3-day Amazon Kindle Countdown Deal

The authors of Amor and Exile are commemorating the first year since publication by hosting an Amazon Kindle Countdown Deal today, Saturday, May 31st, through Monday, June 2nd, 2014.

We never would have guessed that a YEAR after delivering 635 books to Congress, immigration reform STILL wouldn’t have passed! But the fight still continues.

To help get the word out there to the American public who can help us win this fight, we’re practically giving it away copies of our Kindle version for $0.99 today, $1.99 tomorrow, and $2.99 on Monday on the Kindle store. Regular sales price is $7.99. Kindle apps are available for almost every mobile device and laptops.

Please tell all your friends why you think they should download a copy. Or if you haven’t yet, now’s a better time than ever to learn more about the laws affecting American families with undocumented spouses and their heartbreaking stories.

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Free Kindle book: Amor and Exile, 48 hours, Jan 23-24, 2014

Free Kindle Book: Amor and Exile
Amor and Exile, Kindle version on ipad … your choice, at
Congress is back in session and 2014 will be another do-or-die year for immigration reform.

To promote meaningful debate and public awareness about immigration, deportation and exile, we will be giving away copies of the Amor and Exile free Kindle book on Thursday and Friday of this week!

Our Kindle version can be read on almost any computer, tablet or smartphone, not just on Kindles.

Here’s the free Kindle book details:

  • When: Thursday, January 23rd through Friday, January 24th (48 hours!)
  • Where: The Amor and Exile Kindle Page:
  • What: Download the free ebook for yourself or gift to a friend by clicking the “Give as a Gift” button on the Amazon page!

NOTE: We’d like to move thousands of copies of the book next week and need your help! The more books we move, the more the folks over at the Amazon book palace will notice our little work of nonfiction. This is the next phase in self-publishing. We are counting on our readers to rate, review and download our book so that the rest of the world has a chance of seeing it out there!

Please plan to download a free Kindle book of Amor and Exile from the Kindle store on Thursday and Friday, even if you already have a copy of the book! You can use it as a backup copy, gift to a friend or use it to beef up your digital library. If you support immigration reform or human rights, please share this special opportunity with everyone in your circles! And thanks for all of your great reviews of the book as well!

Here’s a short sample message for your Twitter: Get @amorandexile for #free, Th-Fri, Jan. 23-24 from the #Kindle Store: #immigration #goodreads

If you have any questions about the giveaway or how to gift a book to a friend, please ping us. Thanks again for your support!

Crossposted from

What makes radio “independent”

Daniel Hill of Riverfront Times on independent media and the new KDHX Larry J. Weir Center for Independent Media in St. Louis’ Grand Center:

On the heels of that Kresge grant, the station received many additional donations in the $10,000 to $100,000-plus range. The rest of the money came in much smaller amounts.

These large donations could cause some to question the station’s prized status as an “independent” radio station. When KDHX received a quarter-million-dollar grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 2007, one of the first things the nonprofit did was bring in a media sociologist to see what people valued most about KDHX. One of the most commonly given answers was its “independence,” but as it turned out, different people had different definitions of the word. To programmers (who host their shows without pay), it means they have the freedom to play whatever music they wish without anyone exerting control over content. To the station’s board of directors, it is in decision-making — the lack of corporate ties allows the station to be more nimble in its business dealings. To the listener, it simply means no one is telling the station how to run itself.

For Hacker, independence is all of these things. “We get to do radio in a way that used to be really important, and it’s not done anymore. We get to take advantage of the passion and the knowledge and aesthetics of our programmers. We were able to move into the digital world so seamlessly because we’ve always been crowd-sourced.”

Proposal for master of arts in data journalism at Boise State

Copied below is my proposal, to be submitted today, for an Interdisciplinary Studies MA in Data Journalism at Boise State. It includes a list of courses I’ll be taking through the Fall of 2015:

The Interdisciplinary Master of Arts degree in data journalism proposed here describes a course of study that will prepare the student for work in data journalism, a specialty within the field of journalism that has flourished in the past five years. Websites like ProPublica, data scientists like Nate Silver, until recently with the New York Times, and data desks at media outlets from the venerable Washington Post to the upstart Texas Tribune to our own Boise State Public Radio demonstrate the popularity and usefulness of incorporating stronger data collection, analysis and presentation skills for journalism. Data journalism provides for an increased watchdog function of the popular press, leads to more rigorous storytelling backed by data, fits well with the the online news ecosystem and increases collaborations between scholarship and popular journalism. And the open data movement—a trend of providing large data sets to the public, along with analysis tools—while most vibrant in certain journalism circles, extends to government, university and even the private sectors.

Network diagram example
Example of network diagram from The Blue Review

I propose a course of study at Boise State that leans on both the practice of data science, considered broadly, and the theory behind popular media, especially online media. Data considered broadly includes traditional sources of data—collected and observed data and widely available government data sources—as well as wider conceptions of data including text analysis, web scraping, geographic data, social media data and API (application programming interface) analysis. Courses in geographic information systems, statistics and survey methods will provide a background in the limits and uses of data and data analysis tools (GIS, statistical packages,etc.) A graphic design course and computer science course (or independent study) in best practices for serving and presenting data online (data curation) will round out the skills necessary for presenting findings to the public in attractive and useful ways.

A second track of study in communication theory and nonfiction writing will round out the storytelling skills that represent the other side of data journalism. Finding and telling stories based on number crunching is essential to presenting data to the public. I have 13 years experience in daily and weekly journalism and propose a few courses in media theory to ground my experience in contemporary research on rapid changes in journalism, particularly the factors associated with the massive shift to online journalism.

Boise State does not currently offer an MA in journalism and the MA in communication strays significantly from my particular interest in data journalism. No current graduate program at Boise State fits my needs directly, but the interdisciplinary MA allows for a custom program, pulling relevant courses from several Boise State Departments. In fact, only a handful of journalism programs across the country now offer tracks in data journalism. Columbia University now offers a dual degree in journalism and computer science, for example, and many journalism schools are developing courses in programming and data science or specializations in data visualization and curation. By combining the offerings in public policy, community planning, communication, computer science and English at Boise State, we can approximate such a course of study and aid Boise State in further developing its journalism programs. Additionally, the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods that will constitute my thesis, will constitute a true implementation of interdisciplinarity.

Finally, my position as editor of The Blue Review, an online journal of popular scholarship, published by Boise State’s College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs, serves as a venue for many of the concepts covered by this proposal. The Blue Review will continue to serve as a lab for data journalism, marrying scholarship and reportage, serving open data to the public and providing popularly written analysis and description of research findings.

This proposed Interdisciplinary MA in Data Journalism represents a cutting-edge program, at the forefront of the national and international trend of bringing data to the masses. A thesis, still in the development stage, promises to present new findings on the marriage of journalism and scholarship in the realm of both information provision and the financial models supporting journalism, a topic with global ramifications.
The proposed courses represent a complete program in data journalism with a clear educational and career outcome.

Proposed Coursework

The following courses constitute my proposal for a master’s degree in data journalism at Boise State:


Course Name Credits Semester / Year
CRP 510 GIS Applications and Visualization Techniques in Planning

Covers geographic data gathering, analysis and presentation, with focus on community data points and city planning, essential for understanding political decisions and demographic and social indicators.

3 Spring 2013
SSPA 590 Center of Idaho History and Politics Internship

Report that incorporates geographic data from the Department of Environmental Quality and both print and online presentation of findings.

3 Spring 2013
PUBADM 533 Research Design (Methods series)

Applied quantitative research design, including basic and advanced statistics and survey methods. Essential for reading polls and producing more rigorous journalistic studies (PUBADM 533-537… see below).

1 Fall 2013
PUBADM 534 Descriptive Statistics 1 Fall 2013
PUBADM 535 Inferential Statistics 1 Fall 2013
PUBADM 536 Survey Methods 1 Fall 2013
PUBADM 537 Advanced Statistics 1 Fall 2013
ART 483* New Media Design

Online presentation of data, graphics and charts is key to communicating ideas and findings. This course will provide fundamentals of online presentation.

3 Spring 2014
COMM 505 Theory & Philosophy of Comm

Advanced media theory course to provide grounding in new thinking in the globalization and democratization of information.

3 Spring 2014
COMM 508 Media Theory and Practice (Ashley)

Deeper reading in journalism theory and news economics with focus on online models. Media sociology.

3 Fall 2014
ENGL 524 Creative Nonfiction Writ Wrksp

Writing and editing critique, techniques in new journalism, long form writing and the place of creative nonfiction in journalism

3 Fall 2014
COMPSCI 564 Visualization Techniques1

Fundamentals of visualization including data sources, representations, and graphical integrity. Visual perception and color theory. Applications from medical imaging, social media, sports, security and surveillance domains.

3 Spring 2015
PUBADM 532 Grant Writing

Supplements study of news economics and funding mechanisms.

3 Fall 2015
INTDIS 593 Thesis 6 Fall 2015
  TOTAL 35  

10 Steps to Maybe Getting Your Nonfiction Book Published

A generation ago we learned that the medium is the message. We segregated ourselves into media categories: TV people or radio people or print people and we perfected our medium with inverted pyramids and driveway moments and close-up, highly emotional footage.

And then, in the late ’90s, Google or Al Gore invented the internet and the media blew up again, mashing together our disciplines and ruining our attention spans. Some of us took to blogging, learned video and audio editing and survived. I dropped out to write a book during the precise two-year period in which “the book,” as we’ve known it for six centuries, ceased to exist.

If the medium is still the message, then this is the message to journalists who want to write books: you are crazy. You are better off getting a massage, as Marshall McLuhan hinted at in his famous 1967 book. But if you are willing to change the image of “the book” that is embedded in your DNA, if you are a media agnostic and know something about ones and zeroes, there is no limit to maybe getting your nonfiction book published if you follow these 10 ridiculously nerve-wracking steps.

  1. Pick a topic now. Find the universal themes in your work: what stories do you like to tell and how are they connected? For me, it was migration. I was fascinated by immigration as a cub reporter in Nampa, through 9/11 and throughout my early career. I eventually found the nugget of my book in a story about an American woman whose Mexican husband got stuck at the border after returning home to visit his sick mother. I wrote the story in 2005, but I knew that I hadn’t done it justice and that I’d come back to it one day. For a few years I knew I’d write an immigration book, then I figured out it would involve bi-national love stories and, boom, I had a topic.
  2. Tell everyone you meet what your book is about. This is counter to our competitive reportorial instincts, but is a key feature of the modern media age. Put it all out on the line. No one is going to steal your book topic and if they do you will do it better. Every conversation you have will increase your number of sources, hone your thesis and establish your expertise and credibility. Watch people’s faces as you tell them about your book. What do your crazy uncle, your best friend, the kid at the cash register, your doctor want to know about your topic? Another benefit of talking about your book all the time is that about 14 months later, all of these people will start asking you when it’s coming out and searching for your name of Amazon and you will be shamed into actually finishing it.
  3. Figure out the social media now. Use your social networks and your blog to connect with people about your book in the same way you are telling everyone around town about it. People are going to be searching for you, so give them something to find. This is your chance to force yourself into the book-writing class by sheer will. You will also need the connections that social media provides because when you write a book, you are utterly alone. You are no longer that guy or gal from the Weekly or the Times. You are not the local media or the national media. You are a lonely intellectual entrepreneur. Own that. Practice putting your name on the cover now by typing it again and again on Facebook and Twitter.
  4. Marry well. I mean this in a few senses. It’s going to cost you to write a book, both emotionally and financially. So it helps if you have a partner—not necessarily a spouse, but someone to support you emotionally and financially through the process and to kick your ass when needed (or at least get all Lysistrata on it). You are going to need to quit your job or take some time off and you are going to need to follow the story wherever it takes you. Get a simple part-time job so you can tell yourself you are helping pay the bills and keep your partner happy.
  5. Forget about grants. If you are good at getting grants, good luck to you. But nobody is going to pay you to write your first book. You may be able to raise some money for specific parts of the project—the Idaho Press Club granted me $500 to travel to Texas on a reporting trip (in exchange for this article). Use crowd-sourced fund raising sites like Kickstarter strategically, but don’t plan on getting paid upfront to write. You are some kind of tenured professor or something. You’re still just a hack.
  6. As soon as you know what the book is about and decide to write it, call all of your friends and their friends who have written books and ask them for advice. There are at dozens of paths to getting a book published and the more people you ask the quicker you will develop your own path. Have your elevator speech ready: what is the book about, why are you qualified to write it and who is going to read it? Don’t take it personally when there are long pauses on the other end of the line but don’t be afraid to ask how they got published and if they can help you in any way?
  7. Ignore all of the advice you get, despite what I wrote in No. 6. Also, ignore all of the laments about the demise of the book, the death of the reader, the end of writing. Those eulogies are not for YOUR book. Don’t join a writing group. You are better off having drinks with your former press colleagues and hearing about their scoops and deadline shenanigans and deep throat sources than hanging out with other people who are trying to write books. You are a journalist, not a novelist. Don’t forget that, even when your crazy uncle asks how your novel is coming along.
  8. Attack publishing from all the angles. Try to get introduced to an agent, preferably through the people you called in No. 6. Put together a non-fiction book proposal because it will force you to organize your ideas, consider your competition and future readership and establish your credentials. Google “self-publishing” once a month or so. Show your draft chapters to people whose opinions you value. But don’t forget to write your book and edit the heck out of it—no one is going to do this for you.
  9. Get organized now. Save your notes and label your notebooks. Archive your own stories so you don’t have to buy them from your old newspaper three years later. Keep track of your sources—that PIO or lawyer or business owner that you call once a week winces every time you write something because he or she knows there is so much more to the story. You are going to tap that when you decide to write the book. When you are on deadline, it’s no big deal to keep the contents of a notebook and 12 scraps of paper in your mind. But it’s going to take you much longer to write this book than you think. You may forget if that interview was from June 8, 2011 or June 8, 2010, so type everything up and keep it organized on your computer and then back it up in multiple places. I use Dropbox to keep all of my notes and drafts, more than 80 separate files at this point, synced between two computers, my iPod and the cloud.
  10. Enjoy the ride. You will bring all of your journalism skills to bear on this project and you will invent new ones. Your relationship with sources, your ideas about writing and deadlines and first-person and objectivity and transparency will all change. The question of what the book of the future looks like is wide open. Really smart, experienced writers and moneyed, old school publishers have no idea what it’s going to be. You will help shape this future with your book. Own it. And don’t get a massage until you are done.

This post originally published in the Summer 2012 Idaho Press Club Communicator.

Scraping pdfs, Ruby and Idaho elections, or …

… why I am never going to be a programmer. Last week I saw several reporters tweeting about checking the Idaho Secretary of State’s Election’s page throughout the day so as not to miss any new candidate filings during the current Idaho elections filing period.

I feel for Kevin and the rest of the Idaho Capitol Press Corps. While the Secretary of State does make a good effort to provide public information, and Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has been a champion of public records, there has got to be a better way.

See the live map here!
This is what happens now: The Secretary of State updates a .pdf file two or more times a day during the filing period and posts it on his web page. That means that anyone interested in the intrigue of candidate filing in Idaho’s newly refigured legislative districts has to bookmark the page, reload it several times a day and scan it for new entries.

I’ve been reading a lot about data journalism and thought I could follow some of the tutorials out there and create a nice little web scraper to tease out the scoops on candidate registration. I am really inspired by sites like ProPublica, which puts together awesome databases like this one on what influenced support on SOPA/PIPA or one on unequal course offerings in schools across the nation that incorporates maps. I like maps. The Guardian in the UK is also doing amazing things with data journalism and making information public and available and accessible. These guys make it look easy.

Brett Nelson, AKA "The Ruby"
So I took a Boise City Community Education class on Ruby programming last week, thinking I could pick up a few new skills. The only thing I really learned was that I’m going to stick with WordPress as a blog platform and it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be a real programmer. But I suggested to the teacher, my friend Brett Nelson, who works at, that I had this idea to grab the candidate .pdf from the Secretary of State, convert it into a useful format and post it somewhere automatically so that my reporter friends don’t have to work so hard.

As with anything, it’s harder than it looks, and Brett ended up doing all of the heavy lifting on this.

Here is what (I think) we did:

  1. Wrote a ruby script (a little computer program) that automatically downloads the .pdf from the Secretary of State’s website as often as we like, converts it to text using Xpf, which preserves the spacing, and then uses Regular Expressions to parse the text into fields: District, Office, Party, Name, Address. The program runs remotely, on a server and activates itself. Yeah, it’s a bot.
  2. Use our nicely formated text file to build a Google Fusion table. Again, this is automated, using Google Maps/Fusion API commands. Google Fusion Tables allows us to easily place candidates on a Google Map, though it’s a bit more difficult to actually build the map on a web page, and requires a working knowledge of Javascript, another programming language.
  3. I told Brett I’d take it from there, but again, it was not that simple. First of all, I could not figure out how to embed all the javascript I’d need in a blog post on this blog, so I had to just make a new web page, that looks like it’s on this blog. Also, I really don’t get the details of javascript anyway. So once again, Brett bailed me out.
  4. I found a cool use of fusion tables that I wanted to emulate, allowing the user to select Senate, House A or House B races to display on the map so that they could easily see which districts had contested races. I spent hours trying to customize the Chicago homicide map linked above to my own needs, but gave up in desperation. Brett figured out the right calls we’d need to redraw the map (it’s not really that complicated, but it’s like learning a foreign language).
  5. Finally, after I’d say 25 hours between us, though my hours were much less valuable than his, we had a workable map. I’m still bummed it’s not as pretty and full of functionality as the Propublica projects are, but I think it’s quite useful.

So what can you do with this web app? First of all, I think it’s the first Google map of the newly drawn legislative districts. I converted the .shp file (L93) that the Commission published to a .kml file (which Google Maps reads) using Qgis on my Mac. So now people cal fly around the new districts, find their house, make sure that candidates actually live in their districts, figure out which legislators have the best nearby hunting spots, etc. UPDATE: The locations plotted for candidates are their filing addresses, not necessarily their home addresses, and thus may be located in a different district.

Second of all, you can easily see which races are contested for the May 15 Primary Elections by selecting one of the three Legislative races and looking for red or blue markers on the map. This map is constantly updated with new filing information. Candidate filing closes in a week, on March 9, so we will have to figure out how to make this information useful on an ongoing basis. I’d like to add web links and Twitter feed info for candidates and links to news articles about the races (if anyone wants to help, please speak up)!

Please let us know what you think and feel free to use any of the info you glean from our web app!