Interview with Vox’s German Lopez

After graduating from the University of Cincinnati with a journalism degree, German Lopez, 25, knew that he wanted to become a journalist. His passion for journalism, especially in politics, lead him from being a top contributor to his college newspaper to a political beat reporter for Cincinnati’s City Beat. However, as Lopez’s passion for journalism grew, his interest in sitting in on city council meetings quickly began to evaporate. As his city newsroom began to shrink, he knew that he wanted to start reporting politics on a national level. When he learned about the launched of a modern news organization, he quickly wanted to be a part of it. He sent his application in with a few of his best news clips and waited. The moment that he found out he got the job he was already packed. He couldn’t wait for this new stage of his life to finally begin. He was now a staff writer for Vox in Washington DC where he continues to reside with his husband.
“Waiting was the worst part,” he said,“I was ready for this new chapter of my life.”

Vox is a news organization that is run by Vox Media. Vox Media is made up of eight media brands: The Verge (technology and culture), Vox (general interest news), SB Nation (sports), Polygon (gaming), Eater (Food and Nightlife), Racked (shopping, beauty and fashion), Curbed (real estate and home), and Re/code (technology business). Since Vox doesn’t have a print publication they are not restricted to having to come up with new content daily. This gives staff writers the time and freedom they need to construct well written and more detailed pieces. Vox was especially able to give Lopez the ability to break away from traditional print journalism that he was used to in Cincinnati.

“At our first meeting, I knew I wanted to stay here,” he said. “They had the technology that I finally wanted.”

Since writing for Vox, Lopez has become the prominent voice when it comes to politics, drug policy, and LGBT issues. Lopez joined Vox at a time when great journalism and top notch technology were starting to become the formula for Pulitzer prize winners. When working at City Beat, Lopez recalls his experiences with working with outdated systems that would require a huge amount of time to make simple pie charts. At Vox, Lopez doesn’t have those problems. With its own tech and data team, Vox is frequently creating better systems and programs for journalists to add to their tool belt when crafting a story.

“Vox’s technology makes the job so much easier. In fact it has made the whole process easier, quicker and smoother,” he said. “Vox has built their systems from the ground up with being internet-friendly in mind.”

Vox’s content management system, Chorus, is used to publish to the website. Chorus in itself is creating a new kind of publishing that allows journalists to create amazing visuals, talk with readers and promote their work through social media with ease. Lopez’s story on police body cameras is a good example that highlights Chorus. Being able to add videos and create graphics to help visualize data was a huge help for Lopez to make sure that his story is filled with well-crafted examples and video.

“This kind of storytelling changes the way I approach news. It makes me think about going way more in debt in my stories.”

Vox encourages its journalists to think of new tools that would be helpful with producing their stories. If the idea is good enough than Vox will give it to their tech and design teams who will then turn the idea into reality. Lopez’s piece on gun violence illustrates the multitude of ways of how different graphs can be used to tell a story or represent data.

“It’s really cool to have an idea and watch it come to life to a point where you can use it in your reporting.”

Another big advantage that Vox has over its competitors is a feature called card stacks. These stacks contain stripped down versions of essential terms that a reader can turn to if they require more context on an issue. For example, Lopez’s story on the war on drugs breaks down easy to digest information in a way that gives readers a more non-linear way to dive into a particular subject. Highlighted words in the card stacks can jump you from card to card if you need to get more in-depth coverage over a certain topic.

“The first thing to do when creating a card stack is to justify it. I ask myself if the card stack will answer the big questions people are asking.”

When it comes to visualization and creating interactive charts and graphs, Lopez actually turns to Reddit for inspiration. Sometimes when he sees a really dramatic and visual graph, he will write a piece using the graph as a source. For example, when he was browsing through a subReddit called mapporn, he saw a visualization about the spread of religion from Business Insider and wanted to write a story based off the map along with some more in-depth research that he discovered along the way.

“I love going to the subreddits mapporn and dataisbeautiful to see what kind of charts and graphs people are creating.”

Even though the future of journalism is in flux. The need for storytelling and the search for the truth will always be prevalent in society. Many might have blamed the rise of technology to be the catalyst of the demise of journalism. But what if it is the exact opposite? Could the same thing that is said to destroy traditional news become its savior? Vox and German Lopez definitely agree.

“There will always be a place for writing. Now we can just enhance it.”

My interview with German Lopez has definitely inspired me to continue writing and telling stories. When I asked German for any advice in regards to post-graduation, he told me just to do 3 things.

“Create as much as possible. Throw yourself at opportunities. And learn code!”