HacksHackers Belfast

HacksHackers Belfast: A monthly meet-up for journalists ("hacks") and technologists ("hackers"). Organised by @LyraMcKee and @EoghanMurray with help from the @FarsetLabs crew. For our latest news, follow us here or on Twitter: @HHBelfast.

HacksHackers Belfast & Farset Labs Present: Bobbie Johnson, Co-Founder of Matter (@readmatter)

After a summer hiatus, HacksHackers Belfast is back! And we have a very special event planned for Saturday 20th October in association with our friends Farset Labs, Belfast’s only hackerspace.

There are a lot of questions around investigative journalism and its future, such as: Who will pay for it? Can it find a sustainable business model? One person asking those questions is Bobbie Johnson. Bobbie was the European Editor of Gigaom, a popular technology news site. He didn’t want investigative reporting to die out. And the quality of reporting in the tech blogosphere was dire. He decided to do something about it. Along with a friend, freelance journalist Jim Giles, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new experiment, Matter. Matter’s mission is to publish longform investigative journalism about science and technology across smartphone, tablet, e-reader and desktop devices. Readers pay 99p for each story.

Matter’s Kickstarter goal was $50,000. They cleared it in 38 hours, going on to raise over $140,000. Since then, the Matter team have been hard at work, commissioning stories and getting ready to start publishing. Bobbie will talk at HacksHackers Belfast about his journey as an “entrepreneurial journalist” and Matter’s future plans. The event will kick off at 4pm on Saturday 20th October in Farset Labs, Weavers Court Business Park, Belfast. Bobbie’s talk will be followed by a 20 minute Q & A. Food and drink will be served. If you’d like to sponsor the event, please contact Lyra McKee via email: lyra@muckraker.me.

The event is open to everyone, from journalists to students to technologists. However, we are expecting a big crowd so admittance to the event is by ticket only.

You can get a ticket here: http://hhbelfast.eventbrite.com/.

For our next event…

For our next event (coding camp excluded), we want to run something loosely around the themes of investigative journalism and entrepreneurship. Why? Investigative reporters and entrepreneurs are the same beast. Investigations are like startups; for every 10 leads you chase, 9 will fail and one will fly. And investigative reporters are like pirates; our work comes with a high risk of failure but our appetite for adventure and danger drives us on. So it is with entrepreneurs. For some reason, we both have the same DNA (which explains why investigative reporting is sometimes called “enterprise reporting”). Even more interesting: in the same way that only a minority of the population are entrepreneurs, only a small percentage of journalists will ever be investigative reporters. The work is too hard and the hours too long for “normal” people. How can we bring the two groups together? How can we work together?

Hacking Crime: Thoughts On HacksHackers Belfast’s First Event

Our first event on Saturday, Hacking Crime, was amazing. I was blown away by the conversations that happened in the room. When you bring really smart people together, a magic happens and new things are created. The projects themselves were incredible; my favourite was Mic Wright and Ari Lakeman’s web tool, Pinsdown, which tracks mobile phone crime in real-time. 

We’ve received all your feedback and taken it on board. There were some interesting observations:

1) Journalists aren’t as comfortable with the lack of structure of hackathons as the coders were and needed a little more guidance in terms of ideas and what they could build. Some drifted naturally to the coders, others were a little unsure of what to do. At our next hackathon, we’re going to pair everyone up in teams: every hack to a hacker!

2) Journalists don’t just want to get coders to do all the work: they want to know how to code too. We’ve been asked about running “coding camps” for hacks, teaching them how to do things like scrape web pages and use tools like Overview. We’re working on making this happen. Keep looking back here for updates or follow us on Twitter

3) I’ve worked with technologists for a long time so I should have known better than to begin a hackathon at 11am. Creatures of the night, I promise to never do that to you again! Our next event will be held in the afternoon (except for the coding camps). 

Thank you so much to everyone who turned up on Saturday. It was an amazing day; I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did (I had a blast). 

Hacking Crime: A Few Potential Data Sources

For those of you coming to our inaugural hackathon, “Hacking Crime”, on Saturday, we’ve put together a list of possible data sources for your hacking pleasure (excuse the terrible pun).

PSNI Lists, Registers and FOI Disclosure Logs: Here, you’ll find some very interesting documents, including a list of gifts and hospitality given to senior PSNI officers and information released under the Freedom of Information Act (dating back to 2008).  

NINIS: A collection of data on crime and justice-related incidents from the Northern Ireland Neighbourhood Information Service (NINIS). You can also check out their interactive maps (not sure about the quality of these though). There are also some interesting leads from the Northern Ireland Office’s website.

The National Crime Council (Republic of Ireland) has a significant amount of data too, although it is slightly out of date (the most recent figures are for 2007). The Central Statistics Office (CSO) has more recently updated figures which can be found here.

Thanks to the kind support from the guys at RepKnight RepKnight, we’ll also have access to the Twitter Firehose. Currently, we’re tracking results across social networks for “PSNI”, @policeserviceni (Twitter only, obviously) and “Gardai”. You’ll be able to export the data to Excel and analyse it.

Alternatively, feel free to BYOD: Bring Your Own Data. If you’ve received information released under the FOI Act or another source, bring it along: we’d love to see it!

HacksHackers Belfast: Launch Event!

So, finally, we’re opening a chapter of HacksHackers in Belfast!

For those of you that don’t know, HacksHackers is a global monthly meet-up for hacks (journalists) and hackers (developers). We come together for talks, demos and hackathons. 

The goal of HacksHackers is to create a “network of journalists and technologists who rethink the future of news and information”. Every month, we’ll be introducing local reporters to developers and helping them find ways of working together. Have an idea for a news startup but don’t know how to code? Want to build a data visualisation of  FOI data but don’t know where to start? Come along and chat to us. There’ll even be free food and drinks! :)

With the future of newspapers uncertain, rethinking journalism and how it works has never been more important. So we’re fully behind the HH mission, doing our bit to contribute to a new global ecosystem for news. We hope that our monthly events lead to new partnerships between hacks and hackers, from R&D collaborations to new products. But the Belfast chapter has a second mission. 

Investigative journalism has been crushed in Northern Ireland. With the exception of The Detail and the BBC, very few news outlets are “digging deep” to expose corruption and the back-door deals happening in government. We believe that by introducing journalists to tools that make investigative reporting easier (such as data-scraping and social network analysis), we can help them publish these stories and increase investigative reporting in Northern Ireland. 

What’s more, we want to encourage developers to consider a career in news. Organizations from NPR and the New York Times are hiring “data ninjas” to work with their reporters and on R&D. If you like working with “big data”, a career in news is for you. Attending HacksHackers Belfast and tapping into HH’s global network could be a first step towards that. 

We’re kicking off with our first event, “Hacking Crime”, a hackathon exploring publicly-available crime data. Hacks and hackers will be working together to a) Build interactive tools using the data and b) Scrape the data to find interesting patterns and trends, leading to news stories and investigations. It’s happening on Saturday 30 June from 11am-5pm in Farset Labs in Belfast. You can grab a ticket here: http://www.eventbrite.com/event/3675367122. As it’s our first event, there may be a few hiccups so in the interest of managing expectations, we beg for your forgiveness in advance!

If you have any questions, feel free to contact myself (@LyraMcKee) or Eoghan Murray (@EoghanMurray). Alternatively, you can email me: lyra at muckraker dot me. 

We hope to see you soon!