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Last-minute holiday shopping tips; public report on Bucks, Montco water contamination to drop | Morning Newsletter

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Glitterville ornaments available at Egan Rittenhouse.
Glitterville ornaments available at Egan Rittenhouse.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

    The Morning Newsletter

    Start your day with the Philly news you need and the stories you want all in one easy-to-read newsletter

Morning everyone, we hope you’re staying warm and dry on this wet Sunday. The Eagles take on the Rams in a late evening game tonight and, while the Birds' chances of making the playoffs are slim, perhaps they can pull off an early Christmas miracle. In this week’s Q&A, we sat down with two newsroom colleagues whose work with data, coding and design brings context and creativity to some of our most important stories.

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Tauhid Chappell, Oona Goodin-Smith (

The week ahead

  1. Tonight the Eagles are in Los Angeles to take on the Rams, who lead the NFC West division with an 11-2 record. This won’t be an easy game for the struggling Birds, with fans hoping quarterback Nick Foles can save the day as he steps in for Carson Wentz.

  2. The Pennsylvania Department of Health is slated to release its public report and answer residents' questions on water contamination in Montgomery and Bucks counties this week. A letter obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News shows that residents who participated in a blood-testing program because their drinking water was contaminated by chemicals on nearby military bases have dramatically higher levels of certain chemicals in their blood than the general U.S. population.

  3. After some dress rehearsals, SugarHouse Casino says its sports betting is officially open for business this week. 

  4. Christmas is just a week away, which means there’s a week left to wrap up your shopping. If you’re looking for the perfect present, columnist Elizabeth Wellington recommends checking out Philly’s specialty stores. (Oh, and don’t forget Christmas Village in LOVE Park.)

This week’s most popular stories

Behind the story with Garland Potts and Jared Whalen

Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week, we interviewed news developers Garland Potts and Jared Whalen, who help our reporters elevate their storytelling with graphics, interactive designs, and other tools that help readers understand complex and hard-hitting stories.

How would describe your job to someone who has never heard of it before?

Garland Potts: The job of a news developer means we do a little bit of everything. It’s part traditional web design, part data visualization, part web development. We work with many different departments to make sure the web presentation of specific stories or projects look their best and that they work on all platforms. We also work to build tools for our coworkers to make their workflows easier.

Jared Whalen: I like to describe our job as being a jack of all trades in the visual journalism space. Some projects require a knowledge of data journalism and coding (charts, maps, and data tools), while others are more design heavy (longforms and illustrations). I come from a photojournalism/video background and sometimes use that as well. It’s fun to not be locked into one specific skillset, but rather to borrow from all of them to tell the best story.

What’s been your favorite project to work on so far at the Inquirer?

JW: I really enjoy making maps, so one of my favorite projects was about gerrymandering. When the new Pa. congressional maps were being drawn up, we wanted to create an interesting way to compare the different map proposals that were coming in from various politicians.

Working with reporter Jonathan Lai, I made a tool where a user can select two map proposals and a race from the 2016 election and then see how many of the congressional districts would have gone for either candidate under those new maps.​ It took a very complicated issue and answered the main question most readers have - how will this impact the vote?

GP: A great thing about my job is that I work in so many different areas of the newsroom – investigations, sports, food etc. – so it is hard to pick just one. Saying that, one of my favorite projects that I have worked on is the yearly Dining Guide. Best of the ‘Burbs, the first dining guide edition that I designed, was by far the biggest project I had done at that time. It included 14 separate pages, interactive maps that could be filtered by price and topic, and special navigation to get you from page to page. The amount of work that went into the writing, photography and organization of everything was extensive and the final product was a hit. This year’s guide, The Classics, was even bigger, included 22 individual pages. It’s such a fun project to be a part of and I also learned quite a bit about where to go for the best food in Philadelphia and the suburbs!

What’s your biggest concern or goal when designing and developing for news that’s different from other industries?

GP: Things change so quickly in the digital world, whether that’s new internet browsers, phone operating systems or upgrades to technology. Making sure what we do is accessible to everyone is always the goal, no matter what device or computer you are using. Keeping in mind all the different ways readers see our content can make projects more complicated, but it always needs to be taken into account when planning and designing. The last thing you want is to spend a lot of time working on a design and then realize that is not accessible to all of our readers that want to see it.

JW: In any industry, the key element of design is usability. In journalism, it is even more important that your design doesn’t get in the way of the information because the stakes are higher. Enhancing the storytelling​ while delivering the information in a clear and concise way is the goal of any project.

If a reader wanted to do what you do, what’s the most important thing they should learn or know?

JW: On the design and web development side, becoming familiar with code (we write in HTML/CSS and JavaScript) and learning how to use design programs (Photoshop, Illustrator​) is a good first step. Like most hard skills, the best way to learn is by doing. Most of what I know I’ve learned by working my way through projects. Learn a little, apply it, repeat.​

GP: There is no set path to this job. News developers have all sorts of backgrounds, from traditional journalism, graphic design, and computer science. I did not study computer science, but rather taught myself a lot of the development tools that I use today. Because of ever-changing technology, the job can change from year to year, so it’s good to be curious about what’s new, willing to try new things and experiment with different platforms.

Contact Garland Potts at or on Twitter at @sgpotts and Jared Whalen at or @jared_whalen.

Through Your Eyes | #OurPhilly

Have you checked out Franklin Square’s light display? Head over there before it’s gone! Thanks @living_for_the_city for giving us a nice peek at the fun.

Tag your Instagram posts or tweets with #OurPhilly and we’ll pick our favorite each day to feature in this newsletter and give you a shout out!

#CuriousPhilly: Have a question about your community? Ask us!

Have you submitted a question to Curious Philly yet? Try us. We're listening to our readers and doing our best to find answers to the things you're curious about.

Our readers' latest question: Why is there a Liberty Bell icon on some Philly street signs, but not on others?

The answer: It all depends on the street’s name.

What we’re…

  1. Eating:  Robert Bennett’s cheesecake. His pastry department pushes out more than 8,000 cheesecakes a day and you can find them all over the world and in a plethora of Philly stores

  2. Laughing at: All the hilarious comedians funneling into Philly’s intimate Good Good Comedy Theatre, which just landed renowned comedian Janeane Garofalo. 

  3. Watching: Longtime Flyers fan (seriously, he had his own Broad Street Bully-themed Legion of Doom as a kid) Jason Momoa fight for undersea justice in Aquaman.

  4. Shopping: At Armstrong & Wilson, whose pocket squares in their Men’s Style Pro collaboration are cleverly named after Philadelphia neighborhoods and streets.

Comment of the week

Considered to be worth $52 million when property values were lower, and $10 million now! And there’s never money for pot holes or schools. Is there every any accountability in this city? Ml64730 on Philly to come out $42 million behind in sale of jilted police HQ property.

A Daily Dose of | Snow Camel

After his viral trek on Route 309, Pennsylvania’s “snow camel” Einstein is staying busy, doling out kisses at car dealerships and schools, hanging with wise men at nativity scenes, and dreaming of giving Gritty a ride.