Nerds among nerds: The Thunderdome data team


One of the many exciting aspects of Project Thunderdome is its commitment to building engaging interactive news applications and empowering our local newsrooms to pursue strong data stories.

Now that our data team here is at full strength, we thought this would be a good time to introduce ourselves, beyond the 140 characters we’re allowed on our Twitter feed. Once you’re acquainted with us, if you’d like to learn more about data journalism, you should submit a request to join our email discussion list, where we share ideas, tutorials and resources with our DFM colleagues across the country.

Peggy Bustamante

A longtime print journalist, Peggy stumbled into web development while building multimedia projects in the mid-90s.

Joining us from Newsday in Long Island, Peggy is obsessed with investigating new forms of storytelling through code. Her projects range from simpler forms of data presentation such as tables and maps to data-driven interactives (Major League Baseball free agency, Oscars polls, sports report cards) to experimental forms of multimedia/video presentations (a 12-part series about fighters at a Long Island boxing gym).

A firm believer that the best work comes from collaboration, she welcomes the opportunity to hash over ideas for cool projects, and she’s eager to spread her addiction to coding, teaching web development to anyone willing to learn.

Born on a small volcanic island off the coast of Alaska, Peggy has peripatetically lived all over the world. Consequently, she has an inordinate fascination with migration and will be following closely the Out of Eden walk project, while making plans to do the same someday. Peggy has a daughter, Alejandra, whom she dragged in and out of various newsrooms over the years, yet failed to lure into the news biz. Alejandra is now a fashion designer in Los Angeles.

Nelson Hsu

Nelson is the designer/front-end developer on the team and also serves as the graphics editor for Thunderdome. He’s had prior stops at the Washington Post and at NPR where he held similar roles.

Nelson’s projects range from news apps, simple interactives, and static graphics to multimedia presentations.

“Whatever gets the story or information across the best way, that’s what I like to work on,” Nelson says.

Vaughn Hagerty

Vaughn Hagerty has more than 20 years of experience as a journalist and more than 15 as a web developer. He has won numerous awards for his online work, including a 2009 Knight-Batten Award for Innovation in Journalism for

Vaughn began writing code in the mid-1990s, when he was metro editor at the Corpus Christi, Texas, Caller-Times. It started with a single-sentence email from the paper’s executive editor: “What’s the delay in getting us on the Internet?” A few months of mad code dash later, the first edition of was born.

He’s handy with programming languages such as PHP, Perl and JavaScript and with setting up and managing database-driven applications using MySQL (which he pronounces “My Ess Cue Ell”). Then again, he also calls those old image files “jifs”. Go figure.

Before joining Digital First Media in October 2012, Vaughn was a web development manager for the New York Times Regional Media Group, based at the StarNews in Wilmington, N.C, where he still lives and works.

Tom Meagher

Tom Meagher built his first rudimentary website in 1994 and has been infatuated with the possibilities of the World Wide Web ever since.

Tom has spent much of his career working for local newspapers in New Jersey. As a municipal reporter covering Paterson, New Jersey, Tom built databases to track local campaign finance abuses, profiteering from municipal tax liens and the warehousing of the needy in substandard housing. In the process, he learned to specialize in computer-assisted reporting. He eventually wound up at the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, where he led a team charged with mining databases for enterprise stories.

He joined Thunderdome in August of 2012 and is thrilled to be able to combine his long love affair with the web and his affinity for strong data reporting. Tom is a big proponent of version control and Github, and he is an advanced beginner in the Python programming language. In his free time, he helps to organize Hack Jersey, an open public data hackathon intended to bring developers and journalists together to learn from each other. He’s always happy to discuss cheeseburgers, soccer and beer.

Tom Meagher

By Tom Meagher

Tom Meagher is the data editor at Thunderdome, leading a team of journalist-developers who build interactive web applications, support computer-assisted reporting projects in local newsrooms and offer training in data analysis and visualization.