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April 09 2013

11:00

OpenNews Revamps Code Sprints; Sheetsee.js Wins First Grant

imageBack at the Hacks/Hackers Media Party in Buenos Aires, I announced the creation of Code Sprints -- funding opportunities to build open-sourced tools for journalism. We used Code Sprints to fund a collaboration between WNYC in New York and KPCC in Southern California to build a parser for election night XML data that ended up used on well over 100 sites -- it was a great collaboration to kick off the Code Sprint concept.

Originally, Code Sprints were designed to work like the XML parser project: driven in concept and execution by newsrooms. While that proved great for working with WNYC, we heard from a lot of independent developers working on great tools that fit the intent of Code Sprints, but not the wording of the contract. And we heard from a lot of newsrooms that wanted to use code, but not drive development, so we rethought how Code Sprints work. Today we're excited to announce refactored Code Sprints for 2013.

Now, instead of a single way to execute a Code Sprint, there are three ways to help make Code Sprints happen:

  • As an independent developer (or team) with a great idea that you think may be able to work well in the newsroom.
  • As a newsroom with a great idea that wants help making it a reality.
  • As a newsroom looking to betatest code that comes out of Code Sprints.

Each of these options means we can work with amazing code, news organizations, and developers and collaborate together to create lots of great open-source tools for journalism.

Code Sprint grant winner: Sheetsee.js

I always think real-world examples are better than theoreticals, so I'm also excited to announce the first grant of our revamped Code Sprints will go to Jessica Lord to develop her great Sheetsee.js library for the newsroom. Sheetsee has been on the OpenNews radar for a while -- we profiled the project in Source a number of months back, and we're thrilled to help fund its continued development.

Sheetsee was originally designed for use in the Macon, Ga., government as part of Lord's Code for America fellowship, but the intent of the project -- simple data visualizations using a spreadsheet for the backend -- has always had implications far beyond the OpenGov space. We're excited today to pair Lord with Chicago Public Media (WBEZ) to collaborate on turning Sheetsee into a kick-ass and dead-simple data journalism tool.

For WBEZ's Matt Green, Sheetsee fit the bill for a lightweight tool that could help get the reporters "around the often steep learning curve with data publishing tools." Helping to guide Lord's development to meet those needs ensures that Sheetsee becomes a tool that works at WBEZ and at other news organizations as well.

We're excited to fund Sheetsee, to work with a developer as talented as Lord, to collaborate with a news organization like WBEZ, and to relaunch Code Sprints for 2013. Onward!

Dan Sinker heads up the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership for Mozilla. From 2008 to 2011 he taught in the journalism department at Columbia College Chicago where he focused on entrepreneurial journalism and the mobile web. He is the author of the popular @MayorEmanuel twitter account and is the creator of the election tracker the Chicago Mayoral Scorecard, the mobile storytelling project CellStories, and was the founding editor of the influential underground culture magazine Punk Planet until its closure in 2007. He is the editor of We Owe You Nothing: Punk Planet, the collected interviews and was a 2007-08 Knight Fellow at Stanford University.

A version of this post originally appeared on Dan Sinker's Tumblr here.

April 24 2012

14:00

Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Sponsors Dual Journalism Hack Days

There's no better example of the global scale of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project than the dualing hack days we recently sponsored in New York City and Buenos Aires.

In New York, we gave money for travel scholarships to bring top-notch developers to town to take part in the Wall Street Journal's Data Transparency Weekend, which brought more than 100 developers and privacy experts to town to create tools to help people see and control their personal data online. The "hackathon" grew out of the Wall Street Journal's excellent ongoing series that looks at how your online footprint is being used by corporations.

The three-day event (documented extensively here, here, and here) resulted in code for almost 30 different projects with winners in "Scanning," "Education," and "Control" tracks.

hacks.jpeg

Five-thousand miles to the south, we sponsored the Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires ShowTimeLine Hackathon, which brought 45 developers together to work on making new timeline-based visualization tools. The OpenNews sponsorship went to hosting the hack day, as well as a small amount of seed money to keep projects going afterward.

The team of developers and journalists in Buenos Aires took a series of different approaches to displaying data over time, from automatic data-and-date extraction from documents, to translating pre-existing timeline libraries into Spanish, and more.

These are exactly the kind of topic-driven code-based events that we're looking to help sponsor at OpenNews. If you've got an idea brewing for a journalism hack day, we'd love to hear about it. Let's work together to make this year the year of journalism code.

A version of this post first appeared here.

October 05 2011

12:05

3 Key Reflections From Knight-Mozilla's Hacktoberfest in Berlin

Last week, the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership invited 20 developers, designers, and journalists to take part in a week of hacking and making in Berlin. I forget at what point in the planning one of the participants jokingly called it "Hacktoberfest," but the name stuck. And so now that the jet lag has worn off for the most part, I thought I'd reflect on three of my standout moments of Hacktoberfest and how they're influencing my thinking moving forward on the Knight-Mozilla project.

Working in the open

Sitting in a meeting with our news partners, I got to witness a great moment. At the start of that meeting, a discussion cropped up around the Partnership's core belief that code produced by Knight-Mozilla fellows should be open-sourced. There was hesitation on the part of some partners, worried that open-source code would reveal too much. An hour or so later, there was a discussion about possible collaborations among partners' newsrooms, but it wasn't making much headway, as collaboration with possible competitors is not the normal order of business.

But then it dawned on everyone: Open source made that a non-issue. By working in the open, fellows won't simply be producing things for their host organizations, but for any news organization that wants to use the code. You could see people linking back to the earlier conversation about open source and realizing that it meant far more than just code -- it meant a new way of working, of embracing collaboration, and of blazing a real way forward.

Quit yakking and start hacking

Sitting in the back of our main hackspace at Betahaus, watching team after team get up and present their work, it dawned on me how awesome it was to spend four days seeing people with disparate skill sets truly collaborate around building something.

Too often we orient getting people together around having a drink or listening to a speaker. "Quit yakking and start hacking" was the order of the day, and it worked. Multiple projects went from just an idea to a functioning demo in a matter of days. It's gratifying to me that there is a GitHub repo full of code from the week. Even more so that it was built through open collaboration among so many different types of people.

hacktoberfest.jpg

A new community

After dinner one evening, we took both the Hacktoberfest participants and representatives from our news partners to Cbase, a storied (and slightly ramshackle) hacker space in Berlin. Standing at the bar next to a guy with a huge beard and a leather kilt, I looked out over the main room and was genuinely moved as I watched many from our group moving a table strewn with their laptops over to join in with a table full of German hackers. My eyes adjusted to the blacklight, and I saw hackers, journalists, developers and news partners all sitting around together, socializing and drinking and making. It was awesome -- a real lasting image of a new community built in Berlin.

So what does all this mean for the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership moving forward? Well, in the short term, Hacktoberfest was the last step in a lengthy process to arrive at our 2011 fellows -- expect an announcement in a few weeks. But longer term, I think there are some real lessons to be learned from the event in Berlin, and some real ways those lessons will help to shape the Partnership in 2012:

  • I think the news partners really enjoyed feeling a part of the process, of meeting people and being engaged in the ideas being bandied about. Definitely getting the news partners to be partners throughout the year, instead of simply hosts for fellows at the end is a key step.
  • Additionally great: More opportunities to make code. The paths blazed by the Partnership in 2011 centered around design challenges and learning labs, which I think were both successful and should be replicated, but there wasn't anywhere near enough hacking going on, so more code in 2012 I think is a great goal.
  • Finally, building community is important. It's easy to get focused on process and look inwardly for community, but figuring out ways to intersect with the community around news innovation and making, as well as with the many other developer, design and open gov communities and others that very much intersect with journalism, is crucial.

Three moments, three lessons learned. Let's hear it for a successful Hacktoberfest!

A version of this story first appeared here.

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