Some more evidence that interesting things can happen when computer programmers spend some time learning (and thinking about) journalism: enviroVOTE.
The site, built by "hacker journalists" Ryan Mark and Brian Boyer, aggregates election results from around the country (contests for president, governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House) through the prism of how environmentally friendly the winners are. Mark and Boyer, the first two Knight News Challenge scholarship winners, are now completing their final term in the journalism master’s program at the Medill School at Northwestern University.
The site was developed using the Django framework in what Boyer describes as a "50-hour sprint" over the course of the past weekend. They collaborated with Medill faculty members Marcel Pacatte and Abigail Foerstner, and were assisted by fellow graduate students Alexander Reed and Julia Dilday, who updated the vote tallies as the returns came in.
The team came up with a fun way to summarize the results: environmintiness ("the percent change in environmentally-friendly candidates").
Ryan and Brian did the programming for enviroVOTE during the same quarter they are serving as the developers for the Crunchberry Project, a Medill "innovation project" class in which they and four other students are working on new approaches to conversations around news. The fact that they can make significant headway on two separate projects is a good illustration of the power of today’s Web development tools (such as Django and Ruby on Rails).
Despite all the challenges media companies face these days, enviroVOTE demonstrates how exciting a time this is for journalism. One good idea plus some publicly available data plus a little bit of programming can create something that literally would have been unimaginable a decade ago.