By Alejandro Martínez
The Buenos Aires chapter of the organization Hacks/Hackers is a few days away from the beginning of its second Media Party, which in less than two years has become one of the biggest events on the continent for techie journalists and programmers interested in media.
Media Party will be held Aug. 29-31. With more than 2,000 confirmed attendees, 30 speakers and 50 workshops on the agenda, the event aims to repeat last year's success and cement itself as one of the leading innovation-focused events in the region.
Indeed, the Media Party not only has been an essential part of the phenomenal growth of the Buenos Aires chapter of Hacks/Hackers, it has also helped spark the growth of the organization throughout Latin America and serves as a reflection of the desire for more innovative journalism on the continent.
The event was organized for the first time last year and was so popular that the announcement doubled the number of members of Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires almost instantly.
“It was a groundbreaking and massive event for media. This year we told ourselves to go beyond," said Mariano Blejman, one of the founders of Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires and recipient of the Knight International Fellowship, in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.
Just like last year, the event will offer several workshops and hackathons where participants can learn and use new tools. Some discussion topics will include how design optimizes data visualizations, sports coverage in the age of data, how to protect oneself from cyberattacks, creating maps with local data, and the objectives of Media Factory, the first venture-capital accelerator for budding news organizations in Latin America.
Among the confirmed speakers are Ryan Mark, director for digital development and strategy for the Chicago Tribune Media Group; Miranda Mulligan, chief of the Knight Lab and EiC in Evening-Edition and former director for digitial design at The Boston Globe; Brian Boyer, editor for news apps at NPR, Jacqui Maher; assistant editor for interactive news at The New York Times; Chilean journalist Miguel Paz, founder and CEO of Poderopedia and co-organizer of the Hacks/Hackers Chile chapter; and Daniel Sinker, director of Knight-Mozilla OpenNews.
“The goal is to transfer value, that the pioneers who are doing data journalism not just talk but sit down and teach,"Blejman said.
Media Party has played a vital role in the Latin American growth of Hacks/Hackers, the popular group that started in 2009 in San Francisco and has become an international phenomenon. Their only goal, said Burt Herman, one of the organization's founders, was to create a space where journalists and techies could gather under the same roof.
Although the profiles of both professions are quite different, combining a programmer's knowledge of digital tools with a journalist's sense of narrative and nose for information results in powerful alliances and incredible stories, Herman said. Both they share a passion for transparency, and in the era of massive amounts of information, together they stand a better chance at finding an answer to the all-important question: How do you make sense of all the data?
“It seems to work really well when you bring those two together,” he said.
Soon other people from around the world began launching their own chapters. Currently Hacks/Hackers has more than 60 chapters and thousands of members around the world. And the movement has grown rapidly in Latin America.
"There's so much hunger for transparency that is kind of lacking in some governments, and the hacker movement is leading the way," Herman said.
For Blejman, who grew up interested in programming and journalism and used to produce the technology section of the Argentine daily Página 12, the idea of joining up reporters and programmers was so obvious and necessary that he often wonders why he didn't think about it first.
"The idea of journalists and programmers joining together was going to happen at any moment," he said.
Blejman did not lose time and in 2011 helped found the group in Buenos Aires. With more than 2,210 members, the group recently became the second largest chapter in the world (the New York chapter is first, with 3,060 members). In its two years of existence, Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires has organized several events and produced new tools, such as opendatalatinamerica.org and hackdash.org, an app that keeps track of projects that came up during the hackathons.
Now, as part of his fellowship, Blejman is helping spread the Hacks/Hackers community through the rest of the continent.
There are already chapters in Santiago, Chile, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and San José, Costa Rica. Recently new groups were started in Argentine cities like as Rosario, Mendoza and La Plata. Another chapter started in Asunción, Paraguay and others are being formed in Uruguay and Bolivia.
For Blejman, part of the goal is to create a regional network for people working in innovation that serves as a forum to share ideas and projects.
“For us, Hacks/Hackers is about creating a space where we can learn and generate projects, something that was not happening in traditional media," he said. "We like the idea of having a network with a recognizable name where, no matter where you go, you'll find people doing simiarl things."
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.