Montclair State Hosts NJ’s First Ever Journalist-Tech Hackathon

Journalists and developers create more than a dozen projects during 24-hour competition

Photo: Steve Johnson

Participants in "Hack Jersey" concentrate on thier work.

Montclair State University hosted “Hack Jersey,” New Jersey’s first ever journalist-tech hackathon, over the weekend of January 26. The sold-out event—sponsored and hosted by the NJ News Commons at Montclair State University, 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 ProjectCrash Data NJ, a tool that analyzes car accident data along New Jersey’s major highways and determines which areas are the “most dangerous.”
  • Best DesignCost of Radiology in NJ, a website that looks at the cost of different medical procedures by county.
  • Best StoryThe Feed, an app for LGBT communities in New Jersey to report bias and harassment.
  • People’s ChoiceBecause 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.

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 startup 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 ten 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 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.

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Read an article about the event in The Star-Ledger.