Hacks and hackers meld minds

August 9, 2011 § 1 Comment

When I’m thinking poetically, I imagine MoJo as a massive hacks and hackers mind meld. Developers and journalists working together in a gritty, real-world, open-to-the-public lab. Answering each other’s silly questions. Playing together. And making news differently.

Six months in, this melding is upon us. Or, at least, folks in the nascent MoJo community are actively trying to make the meld happen.

Example: NewsLab participant Corbin Smith wrote a great post reflecting on how to make the hacks and hackers relationship work in practice. One piece of advice from Corbin’s post:

 In the beginning of your hack/hacker relationship, explain and elaborate as much as possible. Hackers: don’t assume a hack knows what an API is or does. Hacks: say something like “media captured in the field, as opposed to in studio” when referring to EFP. You don’t have to avoid jargon – but you absolutely should carefully describe industry terms and jargon so that in the future both parties can confidently converse using the language of both industries.

In my heart of hearts, this is what I most hope for from MoJo: dozens, hundreds, thousands of developers and journalists sorting through the very practical challenges of working together.

While MoJo has had many trials and tribulations in its first six months, this hope is becoming a reality. I first saw it in the dozen+ local events during MoJo round one, although the conversation was a little more hack than hacker. With the arrival of so many big brains to the NewsLab course, it’s going further — and the hacker part is getting richer.

Example: a thing you hear a bunch from the more journalisty folks in the NewsLab: wow, my ideas about the web and open source are really shifting a bunch, so much more is possible. Great stuff!

The big challenge ahead is making sure this meld will continue — and grow — now that the NewsLab course is over. We’re in a sweet spot at the moment: a community of 60 people who have been collaborating on projects while interacting with some of the smartest hacks and hackers in the world. This connection won’t last forever.

Of course, our most immediate challenge is finding five awesome news-hacker-steins. The first round of MoJo fellows will need to exemplify this hacks and hackers mind meld within one person. As Andrew Leimdorfer of the BBC put it to me recently:

Our team focuses on client-side delivery of projects that go from brainstorm to live in a short time frame (1 day to 2 months max). If the fellows are going to be a success, they will need to be hack/hacker types, people who love finding a story and mashing up the technology at their disposal to tell it in the most engaging way possible.

As Corbin’s post says, being both hack and hacker is hard. They are different mindsets, lexicons, ways of working. But hard makes for a fun challenge, and I think NewsLab process has helped quite a number of people rise to this challenge. Warning: more mind melding ahead.

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