hen Gutenberg invented the printing press, little did he know that he was effectively ushering in the onset of modernity. The boom in various forms of media has been one of the defining hallmarks of the 20th century. Its twilight years saw new technologies forever change the way news is disseminated. Tech companies like Yahoo, Rediff, Sify made steady inroads into providing news content, while blogs and social media like Twitter became the latest forums where real time news unfolded, away from the TV screens and newsprint. Meanwhile, the split second differential edge of breaking news continues to narrow even more.
It is evident that technology has forever changed how the newsroom works and how news is disseminated. Hacks+Hackers, an organization started in the US, seeks to bring together journalists and techies (coders, software developers, hackers) to try and fathom how technology can assist the production and dissemination of news. Founded in 2009 by Aron Pilhofer of the New York Times, Rich Gordon from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, and Burt Herman, a former AP foreign correspondent, the American chapter works with leading organizations like the Washington Post and The Guardian. A global, grassroots journalism non-profit, today it has chapters in Europe, Latin America, and Australia.
Its Indian chapter started off on a small but intimate meet this month at What's Up Bharat, Hauz Khas Village. Anika Gupta, a journalist who heads its India chapter, organized the event along with Shrey Malhotra, who heads the Google Developer Group. "The Delhi chapter of Hacks+Hackers is looking to organize networking events, skill swaps and hackathons, where journalists and techies can explore ways of how to present news to their viewers and readers in a more interesting way", she said. Explaining the concept of the hackathon, Gupta likened hackathons to events like start-up weekends, where people gather over the course of the weekend and pitch ideas that they would like to work on. "Around ten ideas are then selected and the crowd is divided into teams who start working on developing them — coming up with tools to explore story ideas. For example, around the time of the US elections Hacks+Hackers organized a hackathon in Washington DC which looked at new ways of presenting data related to the US elections", she explains. Plans are afoot to organize the first hackathon in Delhi in January, 2013.
Among the many issues that came up at the first Delhi meet was how to build new revenue models for digital media in India, as well as how data available in the public domain can be analysed to yield starling insights into industry and politics.
Among the many issues that came up at the first Delhi meet was how to build new revenue models for digital media in India, as well as how data available in the public domain can be analysed to yield starling insights into industry and politics. Nikhil Pahwa, founder and publisher of the digital analysis site, MediaNama, gave a few examples of how this could prove useful. "At MediaNama, we had started a project called Charts, some of which had to be abandoned because of the cost involved. One of our projects involved sorting through data on government of India's advertising expenditure on print media. The chart gave us a perspective on who was getting more money from the government. To give you another example, if there was a shortage of water and electricity supply in Delhi, and if we had an app that could visualize the data on which localities had regular supply, we could point out which households were being privileged," Pahwa explained.
Pahwa explains that traditionally, data analysis is done for marketing purposes. "Companies like Google and Facebook, who have a lot of data regarding user's choices, use the data to personalize advertising and marketing. But journalists can also exploit data to track reader's responses to their stories. They can judge by the traffic a story attracts whether they should follow it up," he said. Despite the fact that online news organizations today often have more techies than journos, the two often do not seem to comprehend they can learn from each other's skills. Hacks+Hackers is an attempt to start a conversation between the two to improve journalism.