The Baltimore Marriott’s Cyber Café filled up auspiciously enough for the 9 a.m. class. By 6 p.m., though, only ten remained – the die-hards. Actually, most people peeled off within the first hour – traumatized by the screenful of code and the earful of jargon.

But if you hung in there, it got easier. Evangelists from Los Angeles, New York, and Iowa converged at the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) conference in Baltimore to initiate the willing into—as one presenter put it—“the Shaolin order” of web framework fans.

People in the class by and large knew what they were in for. Web frameworks are software tools that juggle data and streamline website design – all in one. In geekspeak, the software separates design from application logic. Web frameworks make it easier to not only collect data—think community-based, data-driven—but then to present it quickly and cleanly—think interactive, multimedia, dynamic.

Some examples of frameworks at work: Los Angeles Times’ Neighborhoods, New York Times’ Electoral Map, and Politifact.com, which was mentioned often as a good example of how to take volumes of data and present it clearly. It won the Pulitzer Prize this year.

There are many web framework toolsets – Ruby on Rails, Symfony, and Catalyst. But the IRE class concentrated on teaching Django, designed by a journalist for journalism.

But now for the bad news. Frameworks are … computer programming. The adoption of web technology is pretty much unavoidable these days. It’s certainly better able to handle the fast pace and whiz-bang expectations of today’s news. But the technology is tough to follow, let alone to keep up with. As newsrooms begin to include people who are solely technologists, some people see a deepening rift between journalism and technology.

But, like everyone says, journalism is in a state of flux. Almost everyone suffered with the growing pains of the Internet in the 90’s; newsrooms’ late adoption of the technology may have simply delayed the inevitable.

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