No Community Members Were Harmed in the Making of This Doc Sprint: How we ran a 48-hour event to collect community wisdom into a guidebook for newsroom developers


For developers in newsrooms, whose work supports great writing and journalism all day long, writing their own docs often falls by the wayside. News deadlines can leave little time for cleanup and documentation (much less the planning that leads to reusable code). At OpenNews, these developers, designers, and data analysts are our community, and we designed a series of small events to address that time crunch. We bring people together a few times a year to refine, document, and release open-source projects, because a common set of tools means more time spent covering the news, less time on recreating code.

During these events, we''ve seen a common set of cultural and technical questions come up before, during, and after projects--but our community didn''t have a common pool of answers.

So last year, we did something about it. Inspired by collaborative book-writing projects, we put together a community documentation sprint in December 2016. The goal: to draft a guidebook for releasing newsroom code. Over two intensive days, 11 contributors gathered with us in Washington, D.C., and another dozen signed on as remote editors. Together, they captured our community''s best practices for open-sourcing software, specifically in the context of newsrooms and journalism. They worked in pairs or small groups, clustered around laptops, collaborating for long stretches of writing. We fed them many snacks.

The Field Guide to Open Source in the Newsroom launched in February, and we learned a lot as it came together. We''d love to tell you:

  • How we recruited and prepared a diverse, expert team of participants for a productive event

  • How we ran the two-day documentation sprint, with a flexible, supportive structure

  • How we built in time for followthrough after the event, with plans for outreach, adoption and onboarding

  • And how we made the whole thing human-friendly

  • Conference: Write the Docs NA
  • Year: 2017

About the speaker

Ryan Pitts

Lindsay Muscato