Why I’m Asking You To Come Hack With Us

Let’s play a game that could lead to better journalism in NJ and everywhere.

By DEBBIE GALANT We’re holding a hackathon March 28–29 at Montclair State. The theme is A Weekend of Making Journalism Better Through Data, Code and Play.

A lot of journalists think a hackathon is not for them. They either don’t know the word “hackathon” or they think it’s only for coders. They’re wrong. Journalism hackathons are designed to make journalists and coders equal members on a team. This year, our organizing committee is asking participants to fill out a survey with their skills so we can match teams up ahead of time. Yes, we want to know whether people have programming skills, but we’re also asking registrants whether they’re good at social media, getting to the truth of things and playing on a team. Are you good at any of those things? Then we want you at Hack Jersey 2.0.

I want you to come because it’s fun–I’ll get to that next–but first I want you to come because it’s important. Here’s why in less than 140 characters:

Let me expand on that a little. Let’s talking about fixing journalism anywhere. Let’s talk about making it sustainable. Let’s talk about how companies like Trulia, Zillow, Yelp and Craigslist are eating our lunch, because they’ve figured out how to harness technology in ways that the news business hasn’t. Let’s talk about how Twitter has made breaking news a commodity. Let’s look at how journalism, along with social media, whips up a frenzy ahead of snowstorms. Let’s fix that. And then, let’s figure out how to harness technology and creativity to make our profession smarter and more sustainable. While we’re at it, maybe we can sketch out some cool ways to work with the people formerly known as the audience.

But it’s not all broken. Some, in fact, is pretty darn magnificent — marrying data analysis, graphics and the flexibility of the web to tell stories in smart ways. Think Nate Silver. Think The Upshot. And a lot of that great work is being done by people on our hackathon organizing team. Look at Tom Meagher’s Defense Department Gift Guide 2014 or Carla Astudillo’s 9-click explanation of how NJ gas tax works. At HackJersey 2.0, some of us will be looking at the datasets in New Jersey and figuring out great ways to tell stories. Here’s your chance to start to meet Carla and Tom and others on our team who are pushing journalism forward. Here’s your chance to start becoming a data journalist if you haven’t started already. And if you have, here’s a chance to work and play with some of the best.

Now let’s talk about the fun part.

A few weeks ago, I participated in a hackathon put on by the International Women’s Media Foundation. It was, like most hackathons, something of an endurance test. After spending all day Thursday attending the IWMF’s #code15 conference, and then going to a party at Bloomberg, hackathon participants were required to attend a meeting from 8 to 10 p.m. to pitch ideas and pick teams. And be back to start hacking at 8:30 a.m. the next day. Lots of people I saw at the Bloomberg party said they were dropping out of the hackathon. Too busy or tired.

But I went. My team came up with a concept we called Trollbusters to combat online hate speech against women. As I wrote in a story afterwards, even though I’d organized a hackathon before, I never knew how fun it really was to participate:

But it was different being on a team. It was exciting racing the clock to finish our project. It felt heroic to battle the midday exhaustion. It was nerve-wracking to watch other presenters, especially when their projects looked sharper than ours. And it was incredibly thrilling to win.

A hackathon is a game. It’s a game that can make a difference. Bring ideas into the world. It’s a game where you’ll meet smart people, maybe even make life-changing connections. A game where you’ll have a chance, maybe, to build an app that will save journalism, or a visualization that will explain something in New Jersey that’s never been explained before.

What’s more, we’re offering a day full of inspiration on Thursday Feb. 26, when we hold Data Day 2015, to show you some of the smart things New Jersey journalists have been doing with data and introduce you to some companies how are willing to share their technology with you.

Will you come play with us? Register now.

Register for Data Day. Register for Hack Jersey 2.0.

Debbie Galant is the associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University and co-founder of Hack Jersey.

Originally published at njnewscommons.org.

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