Last night I headed to London for the first Hacks and Hackers meetup in the country. It sprouted out of the Ruby in the Pub meetings and has been organised by Joanna Geary and colleagues at the Times as a meetup for journalists interested in coding and geeks interested in journalism.
It was very well attended – more than 50 people by my count – and full of interesting conversations to be had about what people are currently doing and what they want to move into. I hope it continues and develops into a more structured, regular meet – and that I don’t have to get up at 5.30am to do an early shift every time I want to get there.
A few things I took away:
- It’s obvious, but it bears repeating: ideas are easy, execution is hard. We need skills as well as inspiration to build what we want to build.
- The corollary: collaboration is key. We don’t all need to know how to do everything – what’s important is building working relationships with people who can make up for our own shortcomings.
- Regional data journalism is a massively different prospect from hyperlocal or national. This is something I need to parse out, probably in its own post, but an important realisation – regional data and its implications and interpretations have their own joys and challenges.
- There are not many regional data journalists, especially in print-first organisations. To my knowledge I was the only person there who works on a regional news organisation, never mind a newspaper. I suspect there are plenty of reasons for this – time, inclination and understanding being just the most obvious ones. If we want to include interested regional print people in these conversations, we might have to take the mountain to Mohammed.
- Practical beats theoretical. If you want to persuade someone that data journalism is important or relevant, creating something is far more persuasive than explaining it. Don’t preach it, do it.
- Start simple. Everyone I spoke to who’s played a part as a tech/social media/digital evangelist in their organisation has said the same sorts of things – start with what’s possible right now, and work upwards from there.
- Not everyone with something to say is on Twitter or participating on blogs. Sometimes if you have a wide circle of social contacts it’s easy to miss voices from outside that circle – and often those voices have something tremendously valuable to contribute.
- People are amazing. Everyone who was at the meetup last night had some incredible ideas and projects on the go. Everyone had something to offer, something to teach and something to learn. At the risk of sounding completely hokey, it gives me hope.
And here are just a few of the ideas that I heard kicked around for what the group could do in the future.
- Hour-long lessons in all sorts of subjects – Ruby and other languages, Freedom of Information requests, story construction, search engine optimisation, data cleansing, social media, and so on.
- Talks or discussions led by people with practical experience covering topics that hit the industry at the moment – monetising online, social media policy (or lack of it), the fallout from the Wikileaks disclosures, for instance.
- A swap shop for people looking for help with projects or for learning mentors – almost a lonely hearts system for hacks seeking hackers and vice versa.
- Practical demonstrations and talks from people with proven experience.
Whatever direction it goes in, I’m glad to have been involved and excited to see what happens next.