Chris Amico: Journalist

Highlights of my professional work

Oil in the Gulf

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The PBS NewsHour’s Gulf Leak Meter grew out of a simple question: How much oil has leaked into the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20 and sank two days later?

Given a starting point and a flow rate, figuring out how much has spilled isn’t actually that hard: Total = Rate x Time. But choosing the correct rate was probably impossible. Official estimates went from 1,000 barrels a day to 5,000 to somewhere between 35,000 and 60,000. As more information trickled out, independent scientists said the leak could be as high as 100,000 barrels per day.

So the challenge was to build a tool that would do simple math, but had all the uncertainty of the situation baked in. Hence the slider. That way, we let users pick which estimates they believe, and the ticker shows them how much oil has leaked into the Gulf based on that figure.

When BP began siphoning oil directly out of the well using a mile-long tube, I rewrote part of the code to subtract that amount from the leak rate–after the user had picked a leak rate. When BP increased, then decreased, the amount of oil it was capturing, I rewrote the main function again. Now, each time BP tells us how much oil it is sucking up, we create another time segment, adjusted by the siphoned amount, and add it to the total. If this sounds confusing, well, thank BP.

Production notes

The widget itself is embeddable as an iframe. It is built entirely in HTML, CSS and JavaScript. An explanation of the math and a working (though deliberately incorrect) version is available here.

Coverage and Commentary

Al Tompkins, Poynter Online: Virtual Meter Lets Viewers Estimate How Much Oil Is Leaking in Gulf

So far, nothing — not the oily birds or the nasty-looking ribbon of waste floating on the Gulf of Mexico’s surface — has stunned me as much as this rolling graphic from, of all places, the website of the PBS “NewsHour.”

MediaPost: The 100 Most Important Online Publishers

Look no further than the depressing widget Newshour created and the video feed it adapted to keep the public informed about the BP Gulf oil spill disaster and you’ll see why Public Broadcasting still matters online.

PBS MediaShift: 6 Key Lessons From NewsHour’s Coverage of the Gulf Oil Spill

My own debriefing of what worked and what we learned covering the spill.

Written by Chris Amico

May 10th, 2010 at 9:22 am

Posted in PBS NewsHour

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The Annotated State of the Union

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State of the Union

Last night the NewsHour went all-in covering State of the Union. We had on-air analysis, video from the Capitol and coverage on our new blog, and a new app to annotate the speech as it happened.

The Analyzer (I can never think of clever names for my apps; this is what everyone here calls it) is built in Django, with a lot of help from jQuery. From pitch to launch took exactly a week, including a working weekend.

Read more about the project on my blog.

Written by Chris Amico

January 28th, 2010 at 11:12 am

Patchwork Nation

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Patchwork Nation is a project covering complicated national issues from a local perspective with a lot of data to back it up. It’s a way to talk about tough subjects–politics, the economy, race, religion, culture–in a human way. It’s also a set of tools to find stories in data that might otherwise be missed.

Patchwork Map

Production notes:

This was my first major project for the NewsHour. I built the Django application that feeds data into the map and controls the county and community type pages.

The Flash map was built by an outside vendor, and I created hooks to manage it via Django’s admin interface. The database stores close to a half-million individual statistics covering population, ethnicity, religion and culture.

Blogs are imported from a handful of sources and platforms, including the Christian Science Monitor (WordPress MU), community bloggers (Blogger) and the NewsHour.

Written by Chris Amico

June 1st, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Tools for News

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Journalists need new tools to work online. In the last year, I’ve used more that I can count, most of them free, to find and tell better stories on the Web.

Back in October, I started building an online database of such tools as a personal project, just a way to keep track of everything I was using. It has since grown into something I think others will find useful, so I’m releasing it into the wild.

Try out Tools for News

The site is in public beta for now. Eventually, I hope to move it to its own domain.

Anyone can browse this site and subscribe to an RSS feed. Registering allows you to add new tools, add links to existing tools and bookmark tools, which will be saved on your contributor page.

Feeds available (as of Jan. 5, 2009):

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Chris Amico

January 6th, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Multimedia

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Bay Area cement plants and global warming

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Funded by and produced for See other places this story has been published here. For production notes, read below.

The KilnCan California’s cement industry walk the fine line between regulation and innovation to fight global warming?

CUPERTINO, California–From the lip of the quarry at Hanson Permanente cement, all of Santa Clara stretches out in panorama. (Photos here).

Few plants in California are this close to this many people. Most of the state’s 11 kilns are well away from population centers, close enough for workers to commute, but otherwise out of sight.

Here, houses reach right up to the edges the Permanente land, where suburban homes suddenly give way to an industrial road leading up to the expansive plant and the limestone mining operation behind it.

Here, engineers and executives will have to figure out how to make an essentially dirty process clean, or at least cleaner.

As California tries to fight global warming–with or without the rest of the country–cement manufacturing remains one of the trickiest industries to regulate.

“I don’t think there’s anybody quite like cement,” said Mike Tollstrup, one of the state officials overseeing California’s effort to fight global warming on its own. “There are not a lot of facilities. Cement is used everywhere. There are significant issues of leakage. If we don’t do it right, the potential for increasing emissions is a real concern.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Chris Amico

December 16th, 2008 at 7:26 pm

Posted in Multimedia,

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Pastor, partner tie knot as Prop. 8 vote nears

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16-year couple marry less than a month before Proposition 8 hits the ballot, as many same-sex couples are now doing (slide show)

HAYWARD — With quiet vows and an eye toward November’s Proposition 8 referendum, Stephanie Sue Spencer and the Rev. Arlene Nehring made their 16-year union a legal California marriage in Hayward’s Eden United Church of Christ, where Nehring presides as pastor.

This “much-awaited day” wasn’t quite the wedding they’d hoped for, but with voters going to the polls in a month in an election that could make their union unconstitutional, the couple felt it was better now than never.

“People are hedging their bets,” said Todd Bove, a member of the church who married his partner of 10 years just a month ago. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Chris Amico

October 11th, 2008 at 3:44 pm

Alameda County law-enforcement teams train for disasters, attacks

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HAYWARD — This is what the tactical team knows: They are protecting a speaker who is strongly against immigration. The day before she is set to deliver an address to students at Cal State East Bay, someone calls in a death threat to the university. The tactical team’s job: keep her alive.

This is only a drill, but an important one.

Across Alameda County, tactical teams from 25 law enforcement agencies are going through 48 hours of simulated disasters, terrorist attacks, riots and jail breaks, from 6 a.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Monday. In all, 1,700 people are involved in making look real a long list of answers to the question: What’s the worst that could happen? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Chris Amico

October 8th, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Posted in Bay Area News Group

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Map: China’s second-tier cities

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This map was part of a larger project on Chinese real estate. I built it in Zeemaps using data organized in and imported from a Google spreadsheet. The interactive version is available here.

Written by Chris Amico

August 26th, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Posted in Multimedia

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For many, Hayward is home of West Coast blues

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Hayward/Russell City Blues Festival from Chris Amico on Vimeo.
Originally published in the Hayward Daily Review

Terry “Big T” Williams pours his blues out over a swaying crowd, music and sweat rolling off him, green guitar howling.

“I’ll play the blues for you,” he sings, and he delivers on the promise.

The sound comes from the Mississippi Delta, translated and augmented on its way to the West Coast, to Russell City, where a new blues emerged.

Playing in front of Hayward City Hall on Saturday, Williams captures the endpoints of a musical journey espoused by the annual Hayward/Russell City Blues Festival.

“West Coast music is mutt music,” Ronnie Stewart, founder of the Bay Area Blues Society, explains. “It’s a mixture of everything.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Chris Amico

July 13th, 2008 at 4:16 pm

Cal Student Who Twittered to Freedom Tries to Help His Peer

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James Buck secured freedom from an Egyptian jail, but wants the world to remember the plight of his translator.

Read it in the East Bay Express here.

Hear James Buck describe his arrest in EgyptJames Buck is famous on Twitter. The photojournalist and UC Berkeley graduate student used the messaging service to text “Arrested” as Egyptian police took him into custody on April 10, and after a flood of media coverage, he was released the next day. But Buck would like a different name remembered: Mohammed Salah Ahmed Maree, his 23-year-old interpreter, who was taken at the same time.

Maree may still be in prison. The veterinary student has been held in a high-security facility called Borg al Arab outside Alexandria since his arrest two months ago, and while local news reports say he may be freed soon, neither Buck nor aid workers in his case could be certain. Maree has been tortured, Buck and others allege. According to his family and Human Rights Watch, he has gone on a hunger strike and been put in solitary confinement. Agents of the interior ministry have allegedly threatened the family, saying that Maree will never be released, even though no charges have officially been filed. Other organizers of the April protests have gotten out, but Maree, for a time, was simply lost in the system. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Chris Amico

July 9th, 2008 at 2:35 pm