Journalists and Developers Create a Dozen-plus Projects at "Hack Jersey," NJ's First-ever Hackathon at Montclair State

Analysis on the most-dangerous stretches of major NJ roadways among the winners in five categories for the 24-hour competition

Participants at "Hack NJ," New Jersey's first-ever journalist-tech hackathon held January 26 at Montclair State University.

Montclair State University hosted New Jersey’s first ever journalist-tech hackathon this weekend, titled “Hack Jersey.” The sold-out event – sponsored and hosted by the NJ News Commons at Montclair State, in partnership with Knight-Mozilla Open News – was a 24-hour competition, allowing groups of journalists and software coders to team together to create original projects that could transform the way New Jersey residents use data and experience news.

Each project was presented to an all-star panel of five judges from the news and technology industries and graded based on specific criteria. At the end of the competition, awards were given to the top projects in five categories:

•    Best Overall Project – Crash Data NJ, a tool that analyzes car accident data along New Jersey’s major highways and determines which areas are the "most dangerous"
•    Best Design – Cost of Radiology in NJ, a website that looks at the cost of different medical procedures by county
•    Best Story – The Feed, an app for LGBT communities in New Jersey to report bias and harassment
•    People’s Choice – Because of Us, a website that examines gun violence data and gun laws for local areas in New Jersey and enables the user to tweet at their local legislators
•    Best Project Relating to Superstorm Sandy – Hack Sandy NJ, a program that analyzed average property values, taxes and population of towns hit by Superstorm Sandy

The panel of judges for the competition was comprised of Chris Ackermann of Facebook, Aaron Price of NJ Tech Meetup, Jim Schachter of WNYC, Emily Bell of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and Jonathan Soo of New Agora and NJ Spotlight. The event was bookended with keynote addresses given by Matt Ericson of The New York Times and Stephen Engelberg and Jeff Larson of ProPublica.

Co-created by Debbie Galant, director of the NJ News Commons, and Tom Meagher, data editor at Digital First Media, Hack Jersey was originated to produce groundbreaking news products and data-visualization applications and to encourage government entities to use technology to provide the public with more data.

“The economics of the news industry are tough these days, but the digital tools have created a whole new dimension for the practice of journalism,” said Galant. “The web has created fabulous opportunities for non-linear storytelling.”

Soon after the idea for Hack Jersey was originated, dozens of volunteers from news organizations, nonprofits and tech start-up companies across the state helped organize the event and obtain sponsorships. In addition to major sponsorship from the NJ News Commons and Knight-Mozilla OpenNews, Hack Jersey secured sponsorships from the Star-Ledger, The Record, CartoDB and O’Reilly Media. An additional 10 organizations were instrumental in the planning of Hack Jersey: Digital First Media, The Amplification Project, NJ Spotlight, Echolocation, Broadstreet Ads, Planet Princeton, New Jersey Institute of Technology, The Citizens Campaign, TechLaunch and the Hoboken MakerBar.

The NJ News Commons is an initiative of the Center for Cooperative Media. The Center, based at Montclair State University's School of Communication and Media, is designed to support and expand news and information in the state. The Center for Cooperative Media also offers University students unique opportunities to cover the region and provides hands-on access to local bureaus of some of the area’s major news organizations.

The NJ News Commons was created to foster collaboration between NJ news organizations and help strengthen the voice of New Jersey. In October, the Commons drew multiple sources of news and social media into a live Hurricane Sandy blog, which ran on sites throughout the state. In November, it led an initiative to see how storm damage was affecting voting. The Commons has also created a platform that allows news sites to distribute each other’s stories, and produces a daily newsletter curating the best stories that appear online each day.

For more information on the event, including photos, videos and the live blog, visit www.hackjersey.com. Read an article about the event in The Record here.

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