Brazilian journalists, programmers come together in country's first hacker marathon sponsored by newspaper (Interview)

On the one hand, there are reporters that are eager to tease out available data and extract valuable information about public administration. On the other hand, there are technology enthusiasts that are trying to find ways to build mapping and information visualization tools that can circulate on the world web. What happens when you put these two groups together? Searching for an answer, the Brazilian newspaper Estado de S. Paulo will launch the first hacker marathon, or "Hackathon," organized by a news outlet in Brazil.

The meeting will put reporters, publishers, designers, layout artists, illustrators, programers, and journalism students together for 24 hours, starting on Saturday, June 23, to analyze public data bases and create solutions and digital applications and practices for data, according to Estadão. Those interested in participating can sign up through this link.

The initiative started from Estado, in partnership with the House of Digital Culture, and is another example of Estado's pioneering spirit in the field of data journalism. During an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Daniel Bramatti, reporter for Estadão Dados and one of the persons responsible for the hacker meeting, explained how the programming marathon idea started and why the São Paulo newspaper has invested greatly in public data projects.

Knight Center: What are the motivations behind this first "hackathon?"

Daniel Bramatti: It was an idea that came from different areas of the newspaper and transformed into a joint effort of the news site Estadao.com.br, of Estadão Dados, of Estadao.edu, and of Link. Our goal is to join journalists and hackers/programmers that are interested in projects of public interest.

KC: What are the newspaper's expectations of the meeting?

DB: We are expecting the marathon to provide knowledge for both groups, and for new methods and tools to be created to work with public data available through governments.

KC: Is it possible to combine the newspaper's commercial interests with the growing open data culture?

DB: Without a doubt. Our experience with Basômetro - an online tool used for measuring the government's base in Congress - already proved this: both codes and data were made public. That initiative made an excellent impact, and we hope to see the "offspring" of the Basômetro soon.

KC: The Estadão is one of the outlets that most invests in data journalism in Brazil. What is the reason for this interest?

DB: It is about perception, the journalists' views on where the newspaper is heading, the fact that it is necessary to use new techniques and tools to extract relevant information from the plethora of available data in numerous public databases available online. We believe that soon other outlets will wake up to this reality.

KC: How has the audience responded to the new applications, such as Basômetro?

DB: The responses are very positive. The tools have enabled us to write reports with unpublished analysis about parliament and party behaviors. Researchers called the Basômetro the "amusement park for political scientists" and produced a series of 10 analytical articles about relationships between the government and Congress.

KC: The Columbia School of Journalism, one of the most prestigious in the world, created in 2010 a masters degree that combines computer sciences with other journalism sciences. Is the boundary between journalism and software development diminishing?

DB: I have no doubts about that. I personally would have liked to learn about programming at some moment - and I still hope to do so. Work would be much better if, as reporters, we wouldn't limit ourselves to using only pencils, pads, and tape recorders.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.