Bridging the divide between hacks and hackers

I have some exciting news to share from the data journalism trenches but I’m not sure how to write the lead because it depends on the audience.

For data geeks I would write it this way:

I have finally managed to create a data story from a csv file on the Toronto open data site.  I edited the file name to delete .xls and then used Google Refine to split the document into readable columns.  I imported it to Google Docs and cleaned up the messy columns using the formula =split(G2, “, “) and then uploaded it to Google Fusion Tables where I merged data to create a visualisation to embed on my WordPress blog.

For my mainstream journalism friends I would write this:

The city of Toronto now has a website loaded with interesting statistics and data and I used it to create a chart to track the voting record of my city councillor since the day he took office.

This illustrates the great divide between most journalists and data experts  that I’ve been trying to bridge for the past several months.  I made some inroads while living in Birmingham because I was enveloped in a vibrant online digital community that included a strong local branch of Hacks and Hackers.

Now I’m back in Canada and joining new communities of practice, partially for an assignment in the mulitmedia module of my MA program, but mostly because the successful practice of online journalism requires a balance between journalistic content and community interaction.

In an effort to expand my skills in data journalism, I’ve joined datato@googlegroups.com, the discussion group affiliated with the City of Toronto’s new  open data initiative.  I’ve also signed up for the NICAR mailing list (National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, a program of Investigative Reporters and Editors).  They’re both excellent resources but so far I’ve been in “read only” mode as opposed to posting content.  I’ve learned that the culture of these groups requires asking practical, answerable questions based on specific problems that users face and I don’t think my skills are at a level yet where I can make a useful contribution.

In light of this, I’ve also joined groups with meetups, such as Toronto OpenStreetMap, where I can interact with and hopefully get inspired by others who share an interest in data and mapping.  I am particularly looking forward to attending my first Hacks and Hackers Toronto meetup.   First established in 2009 by three people “interested in the intersection of journalism and technology”, it has now spread around the world:

It’s for hackers exploring technologies to filter, visualize and distribute information, and for hacks who use technology to find and tell stories. Hacks/Hackers is a digital community of people who seek to inspire each other, share information (and code) and collaborate to invent the future of media and journalism.

My first Hacks and Hackers Toronto meetup is March 29th and, coincidentally, the theme is “community”.   Can’t wait.

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One Response to Bridging the divide between hacks and hackers

  1. Pingback: Communities of practice: teaching students to learn in networks | Online Journalism Blog

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