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If life were only like Media Party

That time when Stanford JSK fellows Dan Sinker, Justin Arenstein, Nuno Vargas, Adriano Farano and Burt Herman all got together in Buenos Aires. | Photo Sourcefabric (CC BY 3.0)
That time when Stanford JSK fellows Dan Sinker, Justin Arenstein, Nuno Vargas, Adriano Farano and Burt Herman all got together in Buenos Aires. | Photo Sourcefabric (CC BY 3.0)

I love those moments when life imitates art, or at least good movies. You know that scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen brings Marshall McLuhan into his argument with a Columbia professor? The exact same thing happened to me last week at Hacks/Hackers BA Media Party.

OK, not exactly, but close enough. Here’s what happened: I was leading a workshop on live reporting (basically an extended riff on Steve Buttry’s excellent 20 tips for coverage of live events, drawing from what we’ve learned in building and deploying Live Blog). In the workshop, I mentioned an event the Online News Association put together to reconstruct events around the Boston Marathon bombing.

As it turns out, leading a workshop right next to mine was Jeanne Brooks, an organizer one of the Boston workshop (and now executive director of Hacks/Hackers). I waved Jeanne over and asked her to speak firsthand about the workshop’s findings and what they mean for live reporting.

How often does that happen? At Media Party, all the time, and I think I know why.

For one, Argentina has a big open source community. Even the Argentinian government supports open source and open data initiatives. Data journalism is taking hold there in a significant way; witness La Nación’s GEN Data Journalism Award for its investigation of Argentina's Senate expenses.

For another, Media Party draws visionaries (and I don’t use that term lightly). Take Trei Brundrett’s keynote on the design and culture of newsroom systems, in which he compared developing for the newsrooms at Vox Media to the legendary Muscle Shoals recording studio and how they were able to change styles to fit everyone from Aretha Franklin to Jimmy Cliff because the musicians, engineers and producers understood the artist’s vision.

Saša Vučinić, co-founder of the Media Development Investment Fund and a longtime friend of Sourcefabric, dropped the proverbial mic in his keynote, declaring crowdfunding to be the future of independent media. The only way to change the nature of today’s media, he said, is to change the way it is owned. Boom. He’s doing more than talk: His Indie Voices platform has already enabled crowdfunding for a significant number of independent media projects worldwide.

Dan Sinker, director of Knight-Mozilla OpenNews, reminded us in his keynote that open source is a technical approach as well as a cultural one. News organizations need to shift their cultures to share more of the code they create.

Dan is currently walking that walk through a Knight Foundation partnership with the New York Times and Washington Post. Together they are building an open source online comments management system to build better community engagement. It wasn’t that long ago when open source was the domain of hackers and techno-hippies. Now some of the biggest players news are putting it to work. How cool is that?

Another reason why oh-look-Marshall-McLuhan moments happen in Buenos Aires: Stuff gets done there. This year’s Media Party hosted the largest hackathon ever in the history of Hacks/Hackers. Click over to hackdash.org to see the resulting prototypes.

Any other hackathon might have stopped there, but participants at Media Party were invited to apply for early-stage start-up funding from HacksLabs, the Y Combinator of Latin American journalism. HacksLabs current projects include the fact-checking website Chequeado and SentiLecto, a sentiment analysis and fact extraction application.

Last but not least, Hacks/Hackers BA Media Party has outstanding organizers, like Mariano Blejman, Mariana Berruezo, Guillermo Movia and Gaby Brenes plus dozens of dedicated volunteers.

What’s more, these people have built partnerships with the International Center for Journalists, the Knight Foundation, the Mozilla Foundation and others.

Hacks/Hackers communities everywhere would be wise to follow Buenos Aires’ example and reach out to regional and international organizations for support, as well as become more active in their local open source communities, even if at first they appear tangential. This is a lesson I’m bringing to the H/H communities we belong to in Berlin and Prague.

Otherwise, I’m enjoying working in my own office (and sleeping in my own bed) for a little while before I head off to ONA14 later this month, followed immediately by our annual Sourcecamp. I also have my eye on News Xchange in November, which lucky for me is right here in Prague.

Watch our blog for more updates on these and other events, follow me @dougiegyro, or just send me a good old-fashioned email. I’d love to hear from you.