PBS MediaShift, in partnership with Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, will host its second annual Journalism School Hackathon later this month, which will focus on solving the problem of media deserts– communities that receive little to no news or information about jobs, economic development or local government.
“It’s a big problem for journalism,” said Mark Glaser, executive editor of PBS MediaShift. “How do you reach an audience that doesn’t have as much media or coverage?”
Most hackathons focus on coding, but Glaser said the Cronkite School wanted to combine entrepreneurship and journalism to solve a problem.
More than 120 newspapers have shut down since 2008, according to a June 2014 report in StreetFightMag.com. Newspapers that have survived continue to cut back coverage and layoff staff as the business model for legacy news organizations implodes. Those impacted most by the information divide include the poor and and less educated, said Dr. Michelle Ferrier, dean for innovation, research/creative activity and graduate studies in the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University.
“… media deserts tend to form primarily in areas without a marketplace for goods and services, with high concentrations of people of low to lower income, who generally don’t have college educations,” Ferrier told StreetFightMag.
Student participants, who will gather on the ASU campus Feb. 27, will break off into teams guided by faculty members. Each team will be charged with creating projects that expand news reach in underserved communities, Glaser said.
Teams will have roughly two days to come up with their approach to solve the problem of news deserts, and pitch the ideas to a panel of judges, Glaser said. Teams will be judged on feasibility, desirability and viability. Projects must also involve an aspect of either data journalism, audience engagement or gaming, he added.
Last year’s hackathon took place at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and attracted 65 participants, including 40 students. About 90 participants – 50 students – are already registered for this year’s event, said Glaser. The Ford Foundation is covering travel for students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.
Organizers also put forth extra effort to ensure a greater mix at this year’s hackathon, Glaser said. “We wanted to have a mix of people– women and people from smaller schools, especially those that don’t have journalism programs,” he said.
The hackathon will take place Feb. 27 through March 1. Mike Alonzo, a founding partner at User10 and Chief Operating Officer at Storybyte, a mobile platform that turns photos on smartphones into web stories, and Retha Hill, executive director of the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, are among scheduled featured speakers.