Last June, at the annual Center for Future Civic Media Conference, I got to talking with Aron Pilhofer (an old friend, leader of the New York Times news applications team and a Knight News Challenge winner for the DocumentCloud project) about the growing number of people who are now doing computer programming to serve news organizations or the larger goals of journalism, such as informing the public about what government is doing.
The conference featured a small grant competition to reward new forms of collaboration. Aron and I put together a winning proposal to create a a new organization and website for people working at the intersection of technology and journalism. We had to decide what to call it. Aron’s first suggestion was News Nerds — but we realized that while some of us aren’t fazed by the idea of being called a "nerd," others would find it a negative term. Instead, we came up with "Hacks and Hackers," a name we both liked. While neither "hacks" nor "hackers" is an unequivocally positive word outside of our respective communities, the relationship between "hacks" and "journalists" felt comparable to that between "hackers" and "programmers." A little self-depracating, perhaps, but still a label that a practitioner might wear proudly.
Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley, someone else was also thinking about "hacks and hackers."
Burt Herman, a veteran foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, was completing a year-long John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University. His work at Stanford focused on innovation and entrepreneurship, and he saw a need to increase communication between journalists and technologists. Taking advantage of his location in Silicon Valley, he launched a series of events — also under the banner of "hacks and hackers" — to bring journalists and technologists together. Burt launched his initiative with a Meetup group which, as of this week, had more than 270 members. It has held four events since November; a fifth meetup is being held March 18 at Google headquarters in Mountain View.
With this blog post, I am pleased to announce that Burt, Aron and I have joined forces to develop the "Hacks and Hackers" community. Here’s what we’ve done so far:
- We’ve launched a (WordPress-based) "Hacks and Hackers" website, available through hacksandhackers.com and hackshackers.com;
- We’ve created a LinkedIn group, which we see as a place where we can share links that other "hacks and hackers" might find interesting or relevant;
- We are curating a Twitter list (@richgor/hacksandhackers) made up of journalist/coders who are doing computer programming for journalism and media.
And we’re not done. The original "Hacks and Hackers" proposal from me and Aron was for a website where members could seek help solving problems and provide assistance to their peers by, for instance, sharing a tutorial for a project using Django or Ruby on Rails or Drupal. We know there are people — in journalism and technology, in industry and academia, scattered through organizations such as the Online News Association, Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Society for News Design — who can use this kind of mutual help and support. We like the idea of having some kind of reputation management system — say, like Stack Overflow — that would reward members based on the quality and quantity of their contributions to the community. We still want a site like this and would welcome suggestions from developers who want to help us build it.
Aron and I also are interested in doing meetups in Chicago and New York — and anywhere else we can find a critical mass of "hacks and hackers."
For now, though, find us at the Hacks and Hackers website. Click the "Join" button to join the community and tell us more about yourself. If you’d like to contribute to building Hacks and Hackers, be sure to fill out the question indicating what you think you could contribute.