michael henry
interactive + data
Michael is a journalist in new york city.
He speaks two languages and writes code in a few others.
Scroll down to see his recent work.
a b o u t

Michael is on the Interactive Multimedia team at Al Jazeera where he reports, designs and programs interactive projects on a mix of breaking news and issues around technology, privacy and surveillance. From 2012 to 2014 he was a Research Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University where he co-produced a research project called NewsLynx, which sought to help newsrooms better measure the qualitative impact of their work. He's formerly the Senior Data Reporter for Newsweek & The Daily Beast (once upon a time AdWeek wrote a nifty article about some of the stuff we were up to). He co-founded csv soundsystem in 2012, a New York City-based civic-hacker and data art collective. Even before that he reported on New York City and State government during a fellowship at The New York World.

He has a Masters in journalism from the Columbia J-School and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BA in Comparative Literature and Psychology from Georgetown University, Phi Beta Kappa. He is partial to historiography and LCD Soundsystem. Here are some his recent awards and nominations:

  • 2015 Editor & Publisher Award, Innovation in Storytelling for Terms of Service
  • 2015 Online News Association Finalist, Innovative Tool in Service of Journalism for Pulp and Pulp Press
  • 2015 Online News Association Finalist, Breaking News (large organization) for Amtrak 188 coverage
  • 2015 Data Journalism Award, General Excellence, Individual portfolio
  • 2014 National Magazine Award Finalist for the Geography of Abortion
  • 2013 Data Journalism Award Finalist for This is Your Rep on Guns
  • 2012 Data Journalism Award Finalist and 2012 Information is Beautiful Finalist for Our Future Selves
t e c h & p r i v a c y
What effect does technology have in our lives as it increasingly sits between us and — broadly speaking — most everything we do in the world. From keeping in touch with family to finding a romantic partner and choosing our state and federal representatives, software increasingly plays the connecting role. Over the past few years, I've been working on stories that explain and investigate this unfolding dynamic.

Terms of Service: Understanding our role in the world of Big Data


As we put more and more of ourselves online and into our devices, what are the questions smart consumers should be asking? I produced this graphic novel with award-winner non-fiction cartoonist Josh Neufeld as a field guide to our new digital condition. Michael and Josh spoke about the story with PRI's The World, FastCompany and others. This story won an Editor and Publisher award in the Innovation in Storytelling category.

Uber practices fall short of written policy


My partner and I read through the privacy policies and service agreements and tallied up where their business practices didn't align.

How much do data breach notification laws protect?


When a company's security is compromised, 47 states require companies to notify their customers. What counts as "personal data" vary widely, however.

The Apple 'Kill List':
What Your iPhone Doesn't Want You to Type


I reverse-engineered iOS spell check to see what words it would not offer to spelling suggestions for including "abortion," "rape," and "virginity" while correcting similarly potentially-controversial words like "suicide," and "marijuana".

Voting's 'impending crisis'


The country's supply of voting machines is aging all at once, and few jurisdictions have the funds to create new ones in time for the next general election. I buit an interactive map where readers could look up the voting machines used in their county and the potential problems with them.

Latest Internet voting reports show failures across the board


I filed a public records request with the City of Toronto to find their candid reports the security and accessibility flaws of an international Internet voting vendor. Although such systems are purported to benefit the disabled, the reports found numerous flaws. The company holds contracts with a number of U.S. jurisdictions as well.

Women shown fewer online ads for high-paying jobs, study shows


Covering the latest developments in the increasingly complex world of online advertising, a surprising finding by researchers at Carnegie Mellon was an interesting jumping point to examine how little insight experts and average consumers alike have into how personal information is used and shared in marketing.

b r e a k i n g n e w s
In addition to the enterprise stories above, I've also produced stories off the news cycle that use graphics or data that aim to further the conversation.

Where would millions of displaced Syrians fit?


Putting the abstract number of the Syrian refugee crisis into context, readers could enter their address and see how much space that many people would fill up. I also created the ability for readers to screenshot and share their view of the interactive with a comment, which I open-sourced as its own library called Banquo. I wrote about how it works for the Tow Center for Digital Media at Columbia University and a more technical walkthrough on Banquo for Source.

Derailed Amtrak train sped into deadly crash curve


This project was a finalist for a 2015 Online News Association Award in the Breaking News (large organization) category. I had been scraping the exact speeds and locations of Amtrak trains for over a year when Amtrak 188 crashed on a curve outside Philadelphia. Sooner than any other news organization, we were able to figure out its exact speed, 106.22mph — over twice the limit — as it sped into the curve.

Texas abortion clinics: How far is too far to drive?


In order to give readers a sense of the lived experience of those affected by the current court battle over abortion rights, we created a series of maps that would show the before and after of women living in the state.

The politicization of the debt ceiling, in one chart


Using data from Treasury.io and the Sunlight Foundation's Capitol words project, I created a quick chart to show how the debt ceiling has only recenly become a debated issue in Congress.

A guide to hunger strikes at Guantanamo Bay


We collected media reports, research and detainees' handwritten letters to give context to the recent hunger strikes at Guantanamo Bay. We also catalogued the camp's population over time by extracting dates from hundreds of government documents, which had not been done in the same way before.

Right or Wrong, Force-Feeding Is Ugly: An Illustrated Guide


News reports were covering this summer's hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, but no one had explained what the actual process of force-feeding does to the body. We spoke with doctors and built a scroll-based interactive that viscerally brings readers into the story.

This is Your Rep On Guns


During the run-up to the gun-control vote in 2013, we categorized the position of member of congress to allow readers to see where their representative stood and to contact them. This project was nominated for a Data Journalism award. Sadly, parts of this project are no longer online.

The Geography of Abortion Access: Roe v Wade Turns 40


Nominated for a National Magazine Award, my partner and I created the first of its kind database of every abortion clinic in the country, which we verified by calling all 750+ locations. With this data we were able to paint a picture of the country and the diminishing access to abortion services. We pinpointed locations with large populations far from clinics and did further on-the-ground reporting there. We also prominently featured readers' voices sharing their personal stories around abortion. Parts of this project are no longer online.

p r o j e c t s
Outside of normal business hours or in support of daily operations, I have worked on grant-funded research projects and passion projects on various topics from building an analytics platform to help newsrooms better measure the qualitative impact of their work to "Big Data: The Board Game," an art project that seeks to educate players about the modern day personal-information-sharing economy to which they implicitly belong.

NewsLynx: Measuring the qualitative and quantiative impact of journalism


As the non-profit / foundation-funded model of newsrooms becomes more prevalent, measuring beyond pagesviews is more and more a pressing question. NewsLynx was a research project funded through the Tow Center for Digital Journalism to a) study how newsrooms were currently measuring the impact of their work and b) to develop a proof of concept platform to help these organizations better wed the qualitative and quantiative sides of impact. We produced a white paper and released our code under an open-source license. The project's debut was covered by Nieman Lab and others.

Pulp & Pulp Press


For the graphic novel Terms of Service, we wanted to make sure the story was easily readable across devices and on different platforms such as iTunes Store and Google Play. To do this, I designed, built and open-sourced a web comic viewer called Pulp and a builder interface called Pulp Press. The project has been used by independent comic creators as well as the San Francisco Public Press and the BBC Magazine. This project was a finalist for a 2015 Online Journalism Award in the Innovation category.

Treasury.io: An API for the government spending


With a group of other journalists, developers and data scientists, I built and open-sourced a first-of-its-kind data feed for how the U.S. government spends and takes in money on a daily basis. The project has been used in stories by Al Jazeera America, Time and others. The project was funded through a Knight-Mozilla Code OpenNews Sprint grant.

csv soundsystem


For the past three years, I've co-organized a weekly meetup and group of journalists / developers. The rotating collection of folks has led to a number of small scale, informal projects and larger ones such as Treasury.io, Big Data: the Board Game and NewsLynx.

Interview syntax highlighter


As a way to make more structured interviews and create a tool to introduce reporters to programming tools, I developed a language syntax and syntax highlighter to conduct interviews.

Big Data: the Board Game


For the opening gala of Data & Society, a think / do tank run by danah boyd, we created a board game that seeks to teach people about the dynamics of targeted advertising and data collection. We laser cut the board and cards out of maple.

Aufbau: A place for all your newsroom tools


In our newsroom, we've made a number of small helper tools for things like CMS-friendly Document Cloud embeds or using Quartz's Chartbuilder. The problem is that remembering the URLs for these tools gets tiresome for folks. I developed Aufbau as a kind of iframe for web apps but for a desktop apps. It lets you connect any number of tools and have it all live in the easily-accessible dock.



I developed the deployment and publishing process for our digital projects at Al Jazeera America that allows for versioned, scheduled and collaborative deployments.