The IJF is a digital-only publication that relies on constantly updating databases to power our journalism. This means that having a strong tech team is as critical as our corps of reporters. The code we write is as important as the words we publish.

Our tech has two pillars. The back end handles the daily harvesting of data around the country, cleans it up, and loads it onto databases. It’s what readers don’t see. The front end is the public website the readers interact with.

Daniel Nass, the IJF’s newest tech recruit, will be building up the front end, ensuring the website is easy to use and making new features that members want. Daniel knows a thing or two about making news pop on the web. Before joining the IJF, he worked as a web developer at Global News for two years and as the data and graphics editor at The Trace, a U.S. nonprofit that reports on gun violence, for four years.

What’s your role at the IJF?

I’m the IJF's new web developer and I’ll be focused mainly on the front end of the site. The IJF has a fantastic team of folks who build scrapers and various other ways of collecting data. In addition to publishing articles, it has these custom-built databases for presenting that data. So my job is to maintain the site, build new databases, build new features on existing databases and basically help the organization achieve its ambitions.

How does web development help news organizations tell better and more powerful stories?

The basic article template is only going to go so far. So whether that's video, illustrations, data visualizations or other types of graphics, newer storytelling formats can make an ambitious reporting project really land with its audience.

Some level of customization is often needed. And so that's where web developers can come in and really enhance the journalism. There's a whole range of ways that it can happen. In the IJF’s case, the organization is almost 50/50 split between the reporting and the databases, and because the databases are so central to the newsroom's identity, the web developer plays a really key role here.

In some of your past roles at Global News and The Trace you did things like “scrollytelling” presentations of stories and a lot of data visualizations. How is your role now different?

Earlier in my career I was on the editorial side of things. My title at The Trace was data and graphics editor. So I was doing reporting and building data visualizations, building news applications and interactives and that was kind of my entry point into web development.

For example, at The Trace, I worked on a project where we published several thousand inspection reports for federally licensed firearms dealers. That required building out a big multi-page database.

And then, more recently at Global News, I was on the digital product team, building out tools for the newsroom to use to improve their storytelling, working on the performance of the website and solving various bugs and technical challenges.

At the IJF it's mostly going to be product-focused. But I am hoping that there will be opportunities to collaborate with reporters because that's something I really enjoy doing.

What projects from those past jobs are you most proud of?

With Global News in 2022, I worked with reporters on a multimedia interactive story about Covid rehabilitation hospitals. It was a big team-wide project that brought in video, audio, map data, and text and presented them in a way that Global News had never done before. Everyone who worked on that was just so dedicated to making something great.

At The Trace, I did a map of gun violence incidents. I believe it’s the largest collection of data about gun violence in the U.S., from an organization called Gun Violence Archive. It felt really important to disaggregate the data, so rather than saying, “this is the rate here” and “this is the rate there,” I wanted to show every one of those hundreds of thousands of incidents as a point, which is an engineering challenge. Most web maps can't handle that volume of data.

A map of gun violence incidents that Nass built for The Trace.

So you've worked for these well-established newsrooms and you've contributed to the New Yorker and FiveThirtyEight. Why did you want to join a fledgling startup like the IJF?

Throughout my career I've moved between more traditional for-profit media and nonprofits. I think that the nonprofit model enables reporters to do their best work and enables the newsroom to be really focused and mission-driven. It enables journalism businesses to find new avenues of sustainability when the current models are failing. Canada is newer to the nonprofit journalism model. There aren’t nearly as many as there are in the U.S. but as soon as I saw the announcement about the IJF a few years ago, I was excited to see that it existed.

Your first job in English media was in Cambodia. What took you there?

I graduated from university in 2013 and I had a couple of friends who did a program called Princeton in Asia that placed them in a one-year fellowship at a non-government organization or a media organization. 

I went to visit them and met people working in Cambodian media and found out that it’s a place where the barrier to entry for media jobs is a bit lower. It's historically a place where a lot of journalists have started their careers.

Nass at Beng Mealea temple in Cambodia in 2016.

And so my first job there was at an English language radio station where I worked for about eight months. I made some friends at the newspaper, and when a position opened for the web editor I just went for it.

Being an English speaker in Cambodia definitely went a long way towards getting me in the door. I didn't have many qualifications on paper, but they took a chance on me. And that was the start of my journalism career.

How are Canadian issues different from some of these other places you worked at?

It feels like there's been less scrutiny historically because it's a smaller country with a smaller government compared to the United States. But I don't think that's true today. I follow the Toronto Star, Canadaland, The Globe and Mail, and I see great accountability reporting in all of those places, but it feels like it’s a slightly newer discipline here. So it's exciting to see the IJF as the newest player in that space.

How do you like to spend time outside of work?

I like to cook and eat many foods, and I like to bike a lot. The wintertime can be harder, but generally, when there's no ice on the ground, you can find me biking somewhere around Toronto to find new bike routes. There are a lot of great urban parks and ravines throughout the city.

What's your favourite bike ride in Toronto?

Lately, I've really liked biking along Lake Shore Boulevard to the mouth of the Humber River. There's a bridge there and if you turn north, you can head up through Humber Marshes Park. There are a lot of really nice forests and wetlands along the way.