September 23, 2014
Building a community out of ones and zeros
For the Herald
Hacks/Hackers BA Media Party gathers professionals from two areas of expertise
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” That quote, spoken by none other than Spock in Star Trek II, was quoted by journalist Brian Boyer in his key note speech at the opening of this year’s edition of Hacks/Hackers BA Media Party. The quote goes a long way not only in making people chuckle in complicit geek understanding, but also in reflecting the theme of collaboration that defines the event.
Boyer was actually the second speaker of the event. A few hours before he went on stage, journalists and programmers were already lining up outside the Centro Cultural Konex to attend the third annual Media Party, an event that aims to bring professionals from these two areas of expertise together. The event was scheduled to start at 10am, and by 9.30am the courtyard of the Konex was already crowded.
It all started when, in 2011, Mariano Blejman got in touch with software programmer Martín Sarsale and Hacks/Hackers BA was born, modelled after media parties in other parts of the world.
Today, Hacks/Hackers is a community that spreads over five continents, and Blejman announced at Thursday’s opening that “as of three days ago, we have outnumbered New York in membership,” which makes the Buenos Aires chapter the biggest in the world. Hacks/Hackers consists of two days of lectures and workshops related to reporting through several digital platforms, and a third day where a hackaton takes place; that is, an event where computer programmers and journalists collaborate on different projects.
The beginning of Hacks/Hackers as an international organization. It dates back to 2009, when Burt Herman, a former AP foreign correspondent who had just graduated from Stanford University, brought together a group of journalists (“hacks”) and technologists (“hackers”) at casual gatherings in San Francisco bars to exchange ideas and find collaborators.
Since then, Hacks/Hackers has grown exponentially. At his key note speech on the opening of the event, Herman (who is nowadays best known for co-founding Storify) explained that he founded it because he felt like, “There was a gap in understanding between the world of media and technology.”
He went on to explain that, “Journalism is going through a period of transition,” and that this new scenario “really requires technologists and journalists working together to find stories and give them to audiences. It’s gonna take people who can translate these languages, who can talk the talk between both spheres.”
Getting professionals from both worlds to work together would result, he later explained, in the reporting of news where the data is both qualitatively and quantitatively solid.
Herman also talked about collaboration, and said that, “Rather than just building bigger megaphones for people who already have a voice, we need to build platforms to empower many more voices.”
However, it was Brian Boyer and journalist Dan Sinker, who spoke right after Herman, who hit this point even harder.
Boyer walked a packed auditorium through a sort of tutorial on how to be happy while working as a team manager, and came to the conclusion that there’s nothing more effective than showing your work and collaborating with a group, and nothing more satisfying than having a mission.
“In our team, the mission is to make people care,” he said. “Our goal is not page views, money or prizes. The approval of your peers is useless; it is your audience who matters.” Sinker agreed with Boyer, but he took his motto one step further and said that it was not about showing your work, but rather about sharing it. He said it was important to share not only the successes achieved but also the struggles faced.