Journalism meets Tech at Media Party 2014
04 Sep 2014
(This is the first in a two-post series.)
In August I spent three intense days at Media Party 2014 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It’s a Hacks/Hackers event at the intersection of journalism and technology, with over 1200 people — the biggest digital media gathering in Latin America. We explored tools, technology and approaches to bringing tech to the newsroom. My trip was very kindly sponsored by Code for Africa.
Hacks/Hackers have been incredibly successful in making the newsroom attractive to coders, hackers and other technologists. This has driven creativity in both the tech space (much of the work is open source) and in the newsrooms.
Why is better than How is better than What
I’m interested in how Hacks/Hackers, Open News and others have built this community over the last few years. There has been both an inside-out approach — where technologists working in news organisations share what they’re working on — and an outside-in approach: the community invites outside technologists working on interesting things to share their work. This sets up a flow of ideas and talent which, if nurtured, can be beneficial to both sides.
Brian Boyer of NPR emphasised how a manifesto for a team and a project focuses ideas and reduces conflict, and a team blog helps both the writer and the team to learn new things. They’re also really good ways of sharing passion, ideas and knowledge outside of the team to the benefit of the wider community. Most of all: the why is more important than the how and the what.
We should consider sharing to be a part of our jobs and not a nice-to-have that we throw together outside of work hours. Building community and improving our skills and those of others should be a fundamental aspect of what we do. Writing about our work is the knowledge equivalent of open source code.
Sarah Schnadt spoke about human-driven design. She’s a designer on the team behind the awesome Census Reporter tool which we repurposed for South Africa as Wazi. Through research and interviews they identified about six journalist personas which drove their design process, ranging from a “shoe-leather” old-school, story-telling journalist to a software developer who’s migrated to journalism and loves working with data but doesn’t have good story skills. The diversity of the personas they identified, and the use of those personas in their development, allowed them to produce a tool which not only serves their intended audience, but a broader audience as well.
When we’re building tools to help journalists with their investigations our responsibility doesn’t end with the journalist. We still need to bear in mind the final end use. Nuno Vargas summed it up well: have empathy with your reader.
In the second post of this series I’ll go into detail on some of the cool projects that were on show at Media Party.