Bringing Collaborative Journalism to the Issue of International Migration: An Interview About the 19 Million Hackathon

Anika Gupta

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The journalism industry is in the midst of massive changes. One of these changes has to do with collaboration. Multi-organization and multinational collaboration is no longer an occasional sideline, but rather, an important part of the reporting and production processes for news. Massive data leaks require joint concentrated analytical effort, as happened earlier in 2016 when more than 100 media organizations worked together to analyze the Panama Papers, a trove of more than 11.5 million leaked files that detailed the offshore financial transactions of people in more than 200 countries.[1] Some of the documents are now on Document Cloud,[2] a document publishing and annotation software, allowing viewers to organize and annotate files collaboratively. But collaborative newsgathering and reporting can represent a significant challenge to the workflows of large mainstream American news. News organizations that did not participate in the Panama Papers collaboration found themselves cut out of a major story when the news broke, as happened initially with The New York Times. In fact, it was Times readers who brought the issue into the spotlight when they repeatedly questioned the Times on social media, including Twitter, as to why one of America’s most storied news organizations had not been part of arguably one of the biggest journalistic enterprises of the year. The New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan did a column around the question, for which she approached Marina Walker, deputy director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the group that organized the Panama Papers collaboration.[3] Walker reportedly told Sullivan that ICIJ chose not to approach The New York Times because in the past Times editors had not been interested in ICIJ collaborations. Walker also identified a potential cultural clash, saying that the spirit of ICIJ collaborations involved “the idea of sharing all material, not keeping anything exclusive” and “agreeing to observe embargoes for when material would be published.”[4]

The staff at The New York Times were not the only ones who might have wanted a part of the action. Members of the machine learning subreddit, an interest-based group on the collaborative comment site reddit, debated the pros and cons of wider public participation. Although the Panama Papers documents, which detail the financial transactions of global elites, might prove dangerous to potential readers who dig too deep, one of the redditors asked: “if everyone has the data, we can't all be in danger?”[5] Collaborative journalism today is about partnership between news organizations, but also about partnering with a wider array of non-journalistic stakeholders, including commenters, readers, technologists, designers, and participants on social platforms. These forms of collaboration present powerful amplification for news, but also a significant challenge to existing mainstream journalistic protocol.

The promise and challenge of collaborative journalism are demonstrated in the way news organizations have responded to the upsurge in user-generated content and user-optimized platforms like social media. The emergence of social media as a dominant platform for news distribution is changing not just how news is sourced, but also how it is produced, presented and shared. Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Journalism at Columbia Journalism School and former editor-in-chief of Guardian Unlimited, has spoken frequently about the enormous impact that the rise of platforms has had on journalism: “No other single branded platform in the history of journalism has had the concentration of power and attention that Facebook enjoys.”[6] One of the most visible effects of social media, from the perspective of the mainstream news industry, is the way that social media privileges content and conversations by non-journalists. There has been some debate within journalism over the best ways for news organizations to engage with audiences considering these enhanced avenues for non-journalist participation in media. In a 2006 piece, journalism professor Jay Rosen suggested that incipient modes of widespread media production had brought about a significant shift in the power relationship between news organizations and audiences, which he defined as follows:

The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another— and who today are not in a situation like that at all…A highly centralized media system had connected people “up” to big social agencies and centers of power but not “across” to each other. Now the horizontal flow, citizen-to-citizen, is as real and consequential as the vertical one.[7]
Rosen suggested that conversations among audience members were now as important as conversations with media producers, and this new dynamic had the potential to shift power relationships between traditional publishers and audiences. Despite or perhaps because of this disruptive potential, news organizations did not immediately rush to embrace collaborative media forms. In a 2010 study of user-generated content (UGC) at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Claire Wardle and Andrew Williams found that “while it is true that there are a number of impressive examples of collaborative and participatory journalism that exist throughout the BBC’s UK operations, most news journalists perceive UGC in newsgathering terms first of all” and that “the participatory and democratizing possibilities of UGC are often an afterthought, if they are mentioned at all.”[8]

When user-generated content was incorporated into news, it was often done in a way that continued, rather than eroded, hierarchies of privilege and access among journalists and non-journalists. In a separate study of eight 24-hour news channels and websites, Claire Wardle et al. found that news organizations turned to user-generated almost daily in order to illustrate stories, especially stories from conflict zones like Syria where official sources were difficult to find.[9] But news agencies did not have transparent or consistent policies for how to employ this user-generated content: “all news organizations regularly failed to label or describe content as UGC and crediting was rare. The majority of news organizations, both online and on television, rarely described where the pictures had come from, acknowledged that people unconnected to the organization had filmed them, or gave credit to the uploader.”[10] In a study, journalism and communications professor Lindsay Palmer examined a corporate use of user-generated content: CNN’s iReport website, which invites contributions from non-journalists. Palmer interviewed iReporters who submitted material around the Iranian elections and protests of 2009. Her goal was to understand dynamics of exploitation that operated in the iReport space, where iReporters submitted content to CNN without expecting monetary compensation for their labor. What Palmer found was a complex and nuanced reality, one in which “citizen coverage of global conflict is a story of both exploitation and subversion.”[11] Critically, Palmer framed the stories submitted to iReport within the lens of network culture as defined by Terranova in 2004, a framework in which meaning itself is often multi-layered, “an environment in which ‘media messages’ flow not ‘from sender to receiver, but spread and interact, mix and mutate within a singular (and yet differentiated) informational plane’” (Terranova as quoted in Palmer).[12] Palmer’s evocation of Terranova, and of network culture more broadly, offers both a complication of Rosen’s hypothesis above, as well as a validation of it. In online space, meaning-making is a collaborative enterprise that derives its power partly from conversations that occur horizontally. This is not an informational environment that large journalistic institutions inherently understand, nor were they built for it. The history of multiplayer or horizontal collaborative storytelling within news organizations is still very short.

Nonetheless, today’s networked environment offers plenty of evidence of the value of collaborative media production as well as the value of networked storytelling when it comes to large international stories, and some news organizations are attempting to capture this value. It is worth examining these types of projects on the ground to understand what they illustrate about how journalistic modes of behavior are shifting, and how networked projects challenge journalistic assumptions. In the rest of this paper, I turn my attention to one example: the 19 Million Project, a hackathon held in Rome from November 2-13, 2015. The name for the event came from the number of people who are displaced by war or conflict every year and who live as refugees. Event organizers included multicultural English-language news channel Fusion, its Spanish-language parent channel Univision and the women’s technology cooperative Chicas Poderosas,[13] and aimed, in the organizers’ words, to “deepen our understanding of the crisis and develop innovative ways to tell the story of the refugees that will keep the world’s attention laser focused on this issue.”[14]

An introduction to the 19 Million Project.

Nearly 150 global journalists, coders, designers and humanitarians formed teams, brainstormed, spoke and worked with refugees, and created collaborative media and technology projects devoted to migration, with a focus on the European refugee crisis. I interviewed Federico Tarditi, Innovation and Audience Engagement strategist at the news organization Fusion and one of the organizers of the hackathon.[15] My goal was to discover, through this example, how news organizations frame these collaborative events internally, where they see their value, and how the promises of collaboration are or are not fulfilled.

Interview & Analysis

a. Why a hackathon about the refugee crisis?

The hackathon format is a recent addition to journalism practice, but has origins in the worlds of design, entrepreneurship and engineering. Generally, hackathons are short-term stretches of intensive collaborative work, often focused around a very specific or targeted goal. Designers hold intensive short-term planning events known as charrettes. In a guidebook to organizing charrettes the National Renewable Energy Laboratory defines a charrette as “an intensely focused, multiday session that uses a collaborative approach to create realistic and achievable designs that work.[16] In the world of entrepreneurship, hackathons have been popularized by events like the global chain known as “Startup Weekend.” On their website, Startup Weekend advertises the events to potential participants as follows: “In just 54 hours, you will experience the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup. As you learn how to create a real company, you'll meet the very best mentors, investors, cofounders, and sponsors who are ready to help you get started.”[17] Hackathons have been embraced by tech companies, including Facebook. The Facebook page for Facebook Engineering describes the internal hackathons the company holds as follows: “Hackathons are a chance for engineers, and anyone else in the company, to transform the spark of an idea into a working prototype and get other people excited about its potential.”[18] Within the world of journalism, hackathons have also gained traction. The grassroots group Hacks/Hackers, founded in 2009, lists hackathons as one of the events its chapters frequently hold.[19] In mid-2015, the Google News Lab announced that it would fund a series of events in partnership with the organization, known as “Hacks/Hackers Connect,” which would kick off with an event designed to bring together technologists and journalists.[20] The growth of journalism hackathons as well as the Google News Lab/Hacks-Hackers partnership represent an interesting moment of procedural meld, as journalism increasingly becomes a task that requires collaboration between technological, editorial, design and business functions.

The webpage of the 19 Million Project describes why the organizers believe such a multi-national partnership is necessary in the case of refugee crisis, as well as what its goals should be:

We are committed to finding innovative ways to advance the narrative around this human rights crisis–and explore how the latest technology and digital storytelling methods can improve the reporting and drive global action to address this tragedy.[21]
The framing of the 19 Million Project brings together several ideas in emerging collaborative journalism projects: the meld of skill sets, the focus on technology and storytelling, and the awareness of the enormous scale of global issues. When I spoke with Tarditi, he described early discussions within the Fusion office around what would later become the 19 Million Project. These conversations focused on trying to discover the types of events and issue that best lend themselves to collaborative projects from the perspective of the organization. Tarditi said:
What are the sorts of projects that media, NGOs and others should embrace together for a short period of time? Projects that are international, that are way too complex for just a single point of view, that are recurring and evolve, and that don’t have an easy resolution.
Tarditi’s quote frames the hackathon within the larger context of news operation today. He compared the refugee crisis to topics like climate change, which he said also fits the same criteria. Tarditi explained the difficulties that news organizations might face in covering these types of events:
One of the problems when you’re talking about an event like this is how do you expand the life of these important stories? How do you make them longer than the crisis and prevent an attention swing from the audience?
Collaborative frameworks are seen as a solution to the problem of attention swing within the breaking news format, partly because these frameworks have the opportunity to involve members of a community who are already invested in the issue. In the case of the 19 Million Project, this wider array of stakeholders included non-governmental organizations, whom Tarditi said “are invested in these problems longer” than the typical media organization. The scale and persistent nature of international crisis, particularly those that cross borders, are seen as a match for the way that non-governmental organizations work, and collaborative short-term projects like the hackathon then become a way for these mentalities to merge.

Collaborative journalism also slots into ongoing discussions over how meaning is constructed and authority is interpreted within an online atmosphere where information is often available instantaneously to many players. The rise of the Internet as a large-scale and free distributor of what is seen as “facts” or “data” or even raw images has proven to be a massive challenge for news organizations. As Tarditi put it:

The information we’re getting is quickly available to everyone in minutes or days. For example, the picture of this young boy drowning by the shore. That picture went viral immediately. Obviously you – the news organization - are going to have insights that no one else has had, but information is going to be available to everyone. So what do you do once you have an abundance of information, how do you better tell a story or use that to create a longer narrative that doesn’t just become breaking news?
Tarditi’s quote represents an important provocation for journalistic practice in an era of rapid diffusion. For Tarditi, collaborative storytelling is one way to potentially add value, differentiating content from what is immediately available on Facebook or Twitter. Although this new paradigm can also be considered “breaking news,” it defines both news and the idea of the “newsbreak” very differently from traditional journalism. The event itself, in its scheduling and sponsors, brought together a wider array of stakeholders than traditional news organizations. The schedule featured a design sprint and a prototyping session, both of which speaks to the increasing meld of the technical and the editorial in shaping modern journalistic products.

b. Redefining the “refugee”

Above, I quoted Tarditi as describing the issue of migration as “too complex for just a single point of view.” A crucial question for collaborative journalism projects is whose points of view are considered valid within the framework. It turns out that even among news organizations, this can be a complex negotiation. In her paper on iReporters, Palmer writes:

Professional journalism has long drawn on this notion of perspectival space, situating the supposedly “objective” perspective of paid anchors and reporters as the reference point against which all other perspectives are measured—especially when these professional journalists are called to render global events intelligible for their audiences.[22]
What happens to journalists’ perceptions of their own objectivity, as well as their perception of their own views as a “reference point,” when they are thrown into collaborative storytelling settings with journalists whose viewpoints are very different but who are accustomed to having the same authority? Tarditi describes how one of the key challenges at the 19 Million Project was the discovery that participants had different notions of what the term “refugee” meant, and these notions were not easily reconciled:
For some people a refugee includes an economic refugee, not only war or social. But some people separate a war refugee from an economic refugee. That was a point of discussion.
Among journalists from different countries, there is no single version of the definition of the term “refugee.” Because the 19 Million Project deliberately sought out participants from several different countries, these contrasting definitions became a significant challenge for cooperation. These definitions, which might previously have been seen by individual journalists as objective, were revealed by the exercise as deeply personal:
People who were closer to the refugee crisis (those who had experienced it or their country was directly impacted) saw it as a humanitarian crisis. Those from more distant countries saw it as a political and social issue. Some people got hung up on the legal descriptions that a person must meet in order to be recognized under international law as a refugee.
These differences of opinion reflect different attitudes towards international law, as well as different reporting cultures. It illustrates the extent to which a term that seems obvious is actually defined by a complex mix of personal and circumstantial factors. The conflict over the term “refugee” illustrates the extent to which a term regularly used by media can mean vastly different things in different contexts and environments, with big implications for how these stories’ meanings shift as they move among environments. If meaning is subject to such shifts, it calls into question the way that reporters traditionally frame their own authority within their storytelling, especially when working in collaborative environments around a large global issue like migration.

Figure 1. Tarditi stands with Ed White, a senior editor in the London office of the design firm IDEO. Tarditi and White look at notes from an ideation session in which hackathon participants were asked to write down what they believed was the most pressing issue regarding the refugee crises. Ideas included language parries for immigrants, safety concerns for unaccompanied children, and temporary housing. Image credit: Jonathan Seitz.

The hackathon also offered an opportunity to find new terms that captured the real complexity of global migration. Tarditi mentioned that one of the inspirations for the 19 Million summit was the idea that the media’s stories around migration were too “simplistic.” In the early days of the summit, he says, one attendee presented the “Urban Refugees” project, which highlighted that 58 per cent of global refugees now live in cities rather than camps, despite the prevailing media narrative of the refugee camp.[23] Tarditi said that covering this group entailed a new set of challenges: “You cannot go and interview them, they try to be as invisible as possible, maybe they don’t want to be described as refugees.” The debate over the term “refugee” is also a conflict, therefore, over authority. Do media organizations have the right to use the term “refugee” if the people being described would prefer another term? Although the answer may seem obvious, it cuts to the heart of agenda-setting as well as journalistic purpose.

The contention over the term “refugee” continued until the final day of the summit. One team presented a final project called the “One Word Project”. The team described their project in terms of an intervention:

The One Word Project aims to challenge the global media to replace the word “refugee” with “innovator” for a single day—and see how that transforms the tone of news coverage. An “innovator” is simply someone who begins a journey without knowing its outcome. Take this recent sentence from The New York Times: “Thousands of refugees landed in Lampedusa over the last week.” How would the story change if the sentence read “Thousands of innovators landed in Lampedusa over the last week”? Our hope is to designate a single day in 2016 when the global media would experiment with this concept. The campaign would spark a social media campaign, and force people to think about their associations with the word refugee—and the humanity it obscures. Join this worldwide campaign to help us change negative perceptions.[24]
Although it addresses the heart of the problem over both the term “refugee” and its mixed media messaging, the project ultimately replaces one top-down term with another. The problem with the term “refugee” when it comes to the media is not merely linguistic, but also structural: it embodies a partial narrative, as well as a perspective on who gets to define the terms of that narrative.

c. Collaboration with migrants

One of the goals of the 19 Million Project was to facilitate better exchange between journalists and migrants, but this turned out to a complex and difficult goal to achieve. Tarditi describes the group’s initial visit to a refugee camp, which established early on the problems with mainstream journalistic method:

From what I saw, refugees who are in the camps are tired of being treated as a commodity by journalists. One recurring concern is that journalists interview them and leave and it’s a partialized view of the crisis. Journalists don’t spend time there, earn their trust, want to see the bigger picture. And that’s one of the problems in journalistic approaches. Go to the source, capture the information and leave. That has been done. That didn’t play well.
Tarditi described what was required as an “empathy exercise.” The contrast between journalism and empathy is striking, perhaps, but also illustrates the ways in which mainstream media approaches to large crises may, even to some in the media, have yielded to questions over whether there might be better ways to approach traumatic events.

Tarditi also pointed out that journalists and others were not sure what the ideal goals of the collaboration should be:

Is this going to be used for the media to portray our story for an international audience, or is this going to be developed as a tool for NGOs to better understand refugees in a city? We had a mix of both types of projects: trying to gather information with the refugees and creating more compelling and realistic storytelling for an international audience.
Groups differed in terms of whom they viewed as their final audience. These differences in goals also complicated collaborations with migrants and decisions about the ways to involve technology. Journalists who were interested in storytelling were stymied by the difficulties of building authentic relationships with migrants whom they interviewed, especially considering the short timeframe. Some groups also turned to new storytelling approaches like data, but sometimes at the expense of the human element that in-person journalism provides: “We had amazing data journalists, and that was a logical step for them. How do we gather more reliable information and data on this?” The groups that opted to build tools that migrants could use could find themselves pulled towards “working for migrants rather than with them,” Tarditi said.
You can end up imposing what you think they need and should use. The end goal is that they use it. We saw this picture, and it was an institute where people were lining up in order to get Italian lessons. That was what they wanted, to learn the language of this country in order to be independent, get out of the camp, and not be seen as a refugee who is vulnerable or weak.

Figure 2. A photo from the Baobab transit center in Rome, where participants went to speak with migrants. Thousands of migrants – many from countries in Africa – have passed through the center. Photo courtesy of Fusion’s Kent Hernández.

d. Co-created and user-created content

The introduction to this paper mentioned user-generated content, or eyewitness media, as another aspect of collaborative storytelling, although one with a mixed history of adoption by mainstream media. The 19 Million Project offers insights into how collaborative formats can align with user-created material, as well as some of the challenges in this area. Tarditi says he discovered that many of the migrant communities he interacted with created media, but these media were not necessarily created from a journalistic perspective. Even within the seemingly public realm of social media, material was clearly intended to be private or for a very specific audience, and was focused on maintaining relationships:
I saw huge Whatsapp groups or FB groups where people shared messages or pictures. The last thing I would think of is to take a group selfie as I’m leaving a country but I saw that with some people, taking a selfie at a border crossing. More than media itself they’re using communication tools like cell phones, cameras as a way to tell their stories through WhatsApp and Facebook. And they don’t do it as external storytelling, they don’t want the world to see that, they do it as a way of reinforcing their community and storytelling between them.
Here, Tarditi emphasizes differing motivations for media use, framing a distinction between “internal” and “external” storytelling. This classification is well suited to social media, which can be both public in its outward interface and private in its intention. In these cases, the storytelling form is determined by behavior and intended audience. Internal storytelling is marked not just by private behaviors – taking selfies – but also by its goal of reinforcing existing social ties. External storytelling is positioned as an act of communicating outwards and creating meaning among a broader, unconnected community. The products of internal storytelling are not always useful to external storytellers, demonstrating one of the key challenges in adapting user-generated content to journalistic workflows. Tarditi also perceives the journalistic act as “external storytelling,” with an explicit goal besides creating relationships. In doing so, he illustrates not just one of the challenges of migration, but really one of the challenges of journalism in particular when adapting to social media. Despite the prevalence of user-generated content, adapting this material for “external storytelling” will necessarily involve stripping it of its original context, and journalists should be aware of the potential problems of doing so.

There are migrants who have focused their work on “external storytelling.” Tarditi cited the example of Mahmoud Bitar, a Syrian refugee to Sweden who has a popular YouTube channel.[25] In 2016, Bitar was invited to the Cannes Film Festival by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as part of a program focused on encouraging refugees to tell their stories.[26] Tarditi cited Bitar as “one of the examples I can see of someone clearly trying to portray himself as an external voice.”

One of the final projects to emerge from the hackathon was “Moving Voices,” described as “a mentorship program that pairs journalists and storytellers with migrants and refugees to help them share and publish their own stories.”[27] The description on the 19 Million blog explains the project:

Moving Voices aims to have a meaningful impact on Europe’s migration crisis by empowering migrants to tell their own stories in their own voices – direct, unfiltered and real. It is based on the premise that empathy derives from human stories told from first-hand experience. As today’s media environment continues evolving, so do storytelling methods, channels and processes. For this reason, our approach pairs storytelling professionals with those who have some of the most powerful stories of our time: migrants. These storytelling mentors come from a global network of journalists, activists, community organizers and technologists versed in the mechanics and aesthetics of communication, already aligned to strengthen existing relationships with affected migrant communities. Our network then builds on this dynamic so that migrant storytellers themselves eventually mentor newer migrants in modern communication tactics and strategies, creating a self-reinforcing cycle. The result is a modern, sophisticated, self-sustaining knowledge base (Mariana).

Figure 3. The Moving Voices team’s graphic representation of their concept. Courtesy of the 19 Million Project Website.

The “Moving Voices” project was one of the winners of the 19 Million hackathon. The model clearly focuses on working with migrants to develop what Tarditi would have referred to as “external storytelling.” Within news organizations, user-generated content is frequently valued for qualities like emotional authenticity and firsthand experience. Palmer describes how this framing places user-generated content in a double bind: “CNN’s own executives attempted to distinguish between professional correspondents and iReporters by invoking the qualities of emotional authenticity and embodied experience in their description of the iReporters’ labor. Indeed, industry commentators celebrated such qualities, even as they also raised questions about iReporters’ credibility as objective witnesses to traumatic events.”[28] But in the case of iReport, this division might partly have existed because the iReporters’ labor was performed out of the sight of network executives and professional journalists. By pairing storytellers with professional journalists throughout the story production cycle, the “Moving Voices” could potentially be compared with community storytelling startup Hearken. A new community storytelling paradigm (as well as technology), Hearken invites members of a community to submit questions that journalists can answer in the form of articles. Community members whose questions are chosen are sometimes invited into the story production process, including being invited by the reporter to sit in on parts of the reporting process. Hearken’s model separates journalistic and non-journalistic labor, but it emphasizes accountability of journalists to those who consume their stories. This is a potentially powerful model for migrants, and a way to bring together external and internal storytelling in an ongoing collaborative model.


Figure 4. Initial hackathon ideas. Part of the brainstorming process involved deciding which of these ideas should be further developed during the hackathon. The decision depended on which ideas seemed both feasible and impactful, Tarditi said. Image credit: Jonathan Seitz.

As the tools available for media-making become more widely available, and as journalism itself faces technical and financial challenges, an increasing number of news organizations have looked to collaborative storytelling formats as a way to create new material and to add value to widely-available breaking news. Short-term collaborative formats like the hackathon are one way to bring together groups with different skills around common and ambitious goals. In this paper, I interviewed Federico Tarditi about his experiences with the 19 Million Project, a joint hackathon between news organizations, designers, technologists and non-governmental organizations focused on the issue of international migration. The goal of the interview was to discover how news organizations frame these collaborative events, where they see their value, and how the promises of collaboration are or are not fulfilled in different domains. I learned the following:

1. Collaborative formats like hackathons are seen as one way for news organizations to respond to the rapid online diffusion of source material as well as the large scale and multiple viewpoints inherent in international conflicts that do not lend themselves well to breaking news.

2. Because they bring in a wider array of approaches and voices, collaborative frameworks also challenge the idea of traditional journalistic authority, and require that news organizations position themselves within a wider array of opinions and voices, each of which might be equally valid when constructing a complex narrative. For example, the conflict over the term “refugee” revealed the personal judgments inherent in what might have previously seemed like a neutral term.

3. Participants at collaborative events may have very different audiences in mind for their final products. For example, in this case, some participants wanted to focus on building informational tools with migrants, while others wanted to create stories for international audiences.

4. For journalists, accessing user-generated content involves negotiating complex dynamics of production and privacy. Users who generate content do not necessarily see themselves as broadcasters to the public, and even material that appears in seemingly public formats like WhatsApp or Facebook is often meant for private audiences. The idea of internal versus external storytelling is a way to frame the conversations that happen on social media by their intended audience, and presents a challenge for news organizations.

Overall, events like the 19 Million Project illustrate the growing pains as well as the potential of journalism as it adapts to new storytelling tools and mentalities. Although hackathons are presented as technological moments, they are often ideological in nature. Depending on the participants, collaborative storytelling can challenge mainstream journalistic practice, but also offer opportunities for journalists to question their language, their processes, and their assumptions. This questioning can lead to new provocations, new tools and new partnerships, as happened in the case of some of the final projects. (A blog post listing all of the final projects can be found here.)[29] Although it is difficult to generalize from one interview to all hackathons or all collaborative storytelling, this example should provide interesting material for both practitioners and researchers interested in collaborative journalism on a global scale.


[1] Tara Golshan, “The 8 Most Important Things to Read to Understand the Panama Papers Document Leak,” Vox 4, (accessed April 2016).

[2] “Internal Documents from Mossack Fonseca (Panama Papers),” DocumentCloud,

[3] Margaret Sullivan, “Panama Papers: Why no Big Splash or Times Participation?” New York Times, 4 April 2016,

[4] Marina Walker, quoted in Sullivan, “Panama Papers: Why no Big Splash.”

[5] “Panama Papers Dataset,” Reddit, (accessed April 2016).

[6] Emily Bell, “Silicon Valley and Journalism: Make Up or Break Up?” (Reuters Memorial Lecture 2014 at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford, 21 November 2014)

[7] Jay Rosen, “The People Formerly Known as the Audience,’ Pressthink, 27 June 2006,

[8] Claire Wardle and Andrew Williams, “Beyond User-Generated Content: A Production Study Examining the Ways in Which UGC is Used at the BBC,” Media Culture & Society 32, no. 5 (2010): 781-799, 783.

[9] Claire Wardle, Sam Dubberley and Pete Brown, Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User Generated Content in TV and Online-News Output (New York: Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia Journalism School, 2014), 19.

[10] Wardle et al, Amateur Footage, 11.

[11]Lindsey Palmer, “iReporting an Uprising: CNN and Citizen Journalism in Network Culture,” Television and New Media 14, no. 5 (2010): 367-385, 370.

[12]Palmer, “iReporting an Uprising,”369.

[13]Chicas Poderosas,

[14]“About Us,” 19 Million Project, (accessed May 2016).

[15]Federico Tarditi, interview with the author, New York, NY, 18 December 2015.

[16]Gail Lindsey, Joel Ann Todd, Sheila J. Hayter and Peter G. Ellis, “A Handbook for Planning and Conductiv Charrettes for High-Performance Projects,” National Renewable Energy Laboratory, (accessed May 2016).

[17]“Learn, Network, Startup,” Startup Weekend, (accessed May 2016).

[18]Pedram Keyani, “Stay Focused and Keep Hacking,” Facebook Engineering, 23 May 2012,

[19]“About,” Hacks/Hackers, (accessed May 2016).

[20]Kristen Hare, “Hacks/Hackers and the News Lab at Google Team Up,” Poynter, 21 May 2016,

[21]19 Million Project, (accessed May 2016).

[22]Palmer, “iReporting an Uprising,” 370.

[23]Urban Refugees,

[24]Mariana, “19 Million Project Hackathon Launches 13 Innovative Storytelling and Technology Projects to Address the European Migration Crisis,” 19 Million Project, 18 December 2015,


[26]Jacky Rowland, “Cannes Welcomes Syrian Refugee Social Media Star,” Al Jazeera, 19 May 2016,

[27]Mariana, “19 Million Project Hackathon.”

[28]Palmer, “iReporting an Uprising,” 371.

[29]Mariana, “19 Million Project Hackathon.”

Anika Gupta graduated with her Master’s degree in Comparative Media Studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She studies news organizations and collaborative culture. She was a science and technology journalist for seven years and has reported for publications based in the United States, Japan, United Kingdom, and India.

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