Knight Center
Knight Center


10 tips for starting a Hacks/Hackers group in your city

*Also Read: Media Party brings together techies and journalists, spreads the spirit of Hacks/Hackers in Latin America

Hacks/Hackers believes meetings between journalists and tech specialists can help create better ideas to innovate the media landscape. The organization, which started in San Francisco and has spread to 60 chapters spread across 25 countries since 2009, works to get “hacks”, as reporters are often called, with “hackers” and re-think how journalism and community media is done.

Do you want to start your own group in your city?  The process is simple but takes time and dedication, says Chrys Wu, global coordinator for Hacks/Hackers and co-organizer for the New York chapter, Gustavo Faleiros, organizer for the São Paulo chapter, and Mariana Santos, co-organizer for the recently created chapter in San José, Costa Rica.

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas spoke with these three journalists and put together some tips to help new participants create groups in their regions and spread the message of Hacks/Hackers throughout the world.

1. Check to see if a group does not exist in your city

Chrys Wu advises those interested in starting a local chapter to check if there has been one already created, or at least in the process, on the Hacks/Hackers site. If there is one, just contact one of the representatives and join up. If that is not the case, state your interest on the form available on the site.

2. Don’t try to do everything on your own

Get journalists, designers and programmers involved with the Hacks/Hackers mission. “We think that local groups are more successful when they start with at least two co-organizers that combine previous experience with journalism, design and programming,” said Wu.

Faleiros with the São Paulo chapter added that it is important to count on enthusiastic people to create events and enjoy creating communities.

First meeting of the San José, Costa Rica chapter of Hacks/Hackers. Photo: HHSJO

3. Start with the organizers’ networks

The experience of Costa Rica’s Hacks/Hackers de San José, which had almost 200 people at its inaugural event, shows it pays to start with the network of the contacts of its organizers to expand the group.  “It was all done in basically a week, everyone use their own networks to spread the word. The key is to want to do it,” Santos said.

4. Look for newsrooms interested in data-driven journalism

"I work for La Nación in Costa Rica and I suggested the idea to start a chapter. So the investigative reporting group, the infographics team, designers, programmers and other reporters joined together and we had an initial brainstorm,” said Santos. She added that it is important to not just concentrate in one outlet.

“Hack/Hackers doesn’t just pertain to one newspaper, it is a community of people interested in learning about the same field, in this case technology, journalism and design. 

5. Reach out to other organizers from other cities

Get close with other chapters to share notes and experiences, learn about what are good practices to have, and what to avoid.  “I invited Chrys Wu, the world coordinator for Hacks/Hackers, to give tips and share their experiences from New York in the first Costa Rica public event.  That also gave the event a more official feeling,” Santos said.

6. Plan out your events and keep up a schedule

Wu observes that a regularly-kept schedule is essential to consolidate a new chapter.  “The local chapter should have at least one event per three months,” she explained.  Before filling out the application for creating a Hacks/Hackers group, ideally there should be at least three events already planned, Wu added.

7. Create a collaborative atmosphere

For Faleiros, it is important to break the initial ice between reporters and programmers. “There exists a gap between the people in these groups.  With a bit more conversation it is possible to see that we have common interests in the field of communications, data and sharing information. Now the São Paulo chapter is much more solid and has been meeting on a monthly basis,” explains Faleiros.

8. Invite data specialists

Inviting people who can share their knowledge with the group can be a good way to attract new members and create more meetings. That is what Santos and other organizers did in San José. “Our first event was much stronger because we had invited people like Chrys Wu, Giannina Segnini (investigative news chief at La Nación) and Nicola Hughes (data journalist with The Times London),” she said.  

9. Create collaborative projects

Take advantage of the events and regular meetings between professionals with different backgrounds to find solutions to problems based on datasets and propose projects.  Engage members in the group’s activities. “Each successful local group is maintained by people who go to events, give ideas, offer to teach, talk, clean spreadsheets, share code, APIs and sites, take photos and film, write posts and do translations.  Hacks/Hackers advances thanks to the participation of these people, and that’s incredible,” Wu said.

10. Don’t complicate things

That is Faleiro’s main tip. “Try to get the team together with an eye on the ball, find a space and let them go. The first meeting we did in São Paulo was perhaps a bit tense because of the formal structure of the presentations. Later I noted that there was more interest in people using the time to meet and exchange ideas. Events with an open agenda are very productive for us.


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