When I told my mom that I went to a hackathon, her immediate response was, “Hack? Hackers? Aren’t those bad people?”
I chuckled at her reply; no, Mom, these are good hackers.
To put it plainly, MigraHack’s hackathon hosted at Pilsen’s Cibola at 1647 S. Blue Island was awesome. And even though Migrahack was my first hackathon, I knew it wasn’t like most. While most hackathons revolve around hacking, this free event concentrated on hacking development for journalists through immigration issues, which is something I have never heard of. And what a brilliant idea; hacking for social change. A curation of about 100 data-driven geeks, storytelling journalists, local nonprofits and community members of general interest put into one room and taught how to tell stories through creative ways was a recipe itching for success.
Originally falling in love with the start-up scene, attending the hackathon with Community Media Workshop last Friday was kind of like a dream come true. I was excited to meet new journalists in the Chicago area but I was even more excited about being able to explore journalistic tools on the internet. So when I walked into Cibola, I was more than pleased.
Being able to map out Chicago and visually make connections through an amazing (free) city data website, along with Google was, as Derek Eder stated, “mind blowing.” Eder (@derekeder) was our professor for the short hours we were together and finding out what he did for a living was almost as cool as having him teach us about maps. Who knew those fancy maps that are able to coordinate school closings with city crime could be so free and easy, with a little bit of practice. Within two hours of being taught by Eder, we made a water colored map of the city infused with a picture of a kitten in every part of town you clicked on. Sure, it seemed pretty funny at the time, but as soon as journalists put their data mapping skills to the test, they will hold a beautiful tool to add onto their stories as well as an easier gateway to able to exploit injustices throughout the city–and all over the world.
If that was the only journalistic tool I learned that day, I would have been happy going home; but fortunately, it wasn’t. Moving on with the workshops and training, I extended my digital storytelling knowledge with help from Nuno Vargas (@nunovargas). Vargas, educated at Stanford, taught the class of about 30 students how to use infographics to repurpose an immigration story written by the New York Times. As I was working on my info-graphic, I remembered why they looked so familiar. I admired all of these educational graphics while reading news stories that I would stumble upon via Facebook and Twitter. Little did I know, there are so many free tools available. Although my first infographic was poorly executed, I now have the basic tools and knowledge to turn a simple investigative report into a digital narrative.
As the evening came to a close, there were other classes I could not attend and were offered, like data mining or data animation. Even though I could not participate in the entire hacking extravaganza throughout the weekend; taking what I learned and integrating it in my journalistic stories will be a skill not even college will teach me.