Let Hacks/Hackers.com Help You Raise Your Digitial IQ

By Kathlin Sickel

Hands typing on a keyboardHow is your digital IQ? Do you know the alphabet of techno-acronyms from APIs through XML?  Are you current on technology products like Android, Drupal, Flash, and Tumblr? Do you know the difference between Blogger—one of the first mass blogging services, and Posterous—a newer blogging platform users can publish on via email; and do you understand technology concepts like geotagging, data visualization, mashup, and wiki?

Keeping up with the ever-changing, always expanding digital world that is now journalism, can represent a hurdle to most anyone. Just when you begin to feel confident about your Search Engine Optimization skills, along comes the idea of the Semantic Web to demand your attention. Fortunately, the job of keeping up has gotten  easier with an online, always accessible Survival Glossary posted at a relatively new website, Hacks/Hackers.com, (and re-posted as the Digital Journalist Survival Guide at Poynter.org).

The hacks and the hackers of the website are an informal partnership of journalists and computer programmers.  The organizers of this venture chose their tongue-in-cheek name to represent both groups, describing themselves this way: ‘hacks’ – someone who can churn out words in any situation, and ‘hackers’ – someone who seemingly performs computer programming miracles with “the digital equivalent of duct tape.”

These folk believe the two groups (journalists and geeks) hold the future of media and journalism in their hands. Poynter’s Steve Myers adds this:  “The days are over when a journalist could ignore those geeks in the corner who typed lines of code, worked on the website and spoke in… acronyms. Any journalist’s story now may be distributed with an API . . . . used in a mashup or shared via Scribd.” It’s time to learn the terms, says Myers, and this glossary will help.

Online only a few months, Hacks/Hackers.com already has gained more than 600 members worldwide who subscribe to its email list. Originally, it was the collaboration of three “techy” journalists who found themselves, and each other “at the intersection of journalism and technology.”

The founders are:

Rich Gordon,  who is an associate professor, and director of digital innovation at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern.  As a reporter and editor at the Miami Herald, he was among the first generation of journalists to lead online publishing efforts at newspapers.

Aron Pilhofer, who is the editor of Interactive News Technologies at the New York Times, and a co-founder of DocumentCloud, a Knight Foundation-funded organization designed to make original source documents easy to find, share, read, and collaborate on.

Burt Herman, a former Associated Press foreign correspondent and bureau chief.  After more than a dozen years with the AP,  Herman won a Knight journalism fellowship to Stanford where, among other projects, he studied strategic management and entrepreneurship, and worked on mobile application development and human-computer interaction design.

Recognizing that “Technologists are doing more and more things that are journalistic; journalists are doing things that are more and more technological,”  two of the founders (Gordon and Pilhofer) made in a pitch that resulted in a Knight Foundation award, to set up a network for the two groups to share information and learn from each other.

Interestingly, Gordon and Pilhofer got their idea, and the Knight funding, at a conference at MIT in June 2009, while Herman, unaware of their effort, had just completed his year-long Knight fellowship at Stanford, and was organizing a similar project, using the same name, on the west coast. He tells that story, and how the three discovered each other through Twitter postings, at the Summer 2010 issue of Nieman Reports (which has, coincidentally, a great collection of articles about journalism’s new digital landscape).

Hacks/Hackers Survival Glossary was released June 22, 2010 under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License. It has definitions for more than 100 terms, and you are invited to both distribute it and contribute. Instructions are included.

Kathlin Sickel is a freelance writer living in Green Bay, currently writing online at Suite101.com, and is WisReader on Twitter.  She graduated from Marquette’s College of Journalism and worked for newspapers in Ohio before the digital age.

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