The man behind the journalism hackathon at MIT Media Lab

Jun 04, 2014
The man behind the journalism hackathon at MIT Media Lab

A major journalism event is happening this weekend in Boston. Hacking Journalism, a hackathon "to rethink how we create, disseminate, and consume media," will descend upon the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge. Inspired by a similar event he attended in Germany, founder Kawandeep Virdee, an engineer at Embedly has secured interest from Twitter, Bloomberg and more to come together to "imagine the tools, products, and possibilities for news on mobile devices." We interviewed Virdee about his inspiration for starting this event and what he hopes everyone participating will come together to accomplish.

Muck Rack: Why did you start the hackathon, where did the idea come from?
Kawandeep Virdee: Over the last several months my work at Embedly has led me into newsrooms talking to journalists, editors, and developers.  Embedly is building products on top of the embedding API to make it easier for bloggers and writers to use, so I'd get feedback about what we were working on.  Really the most exciting part from these conversations was hearing the ideas, problems, and opportunities in news media for the future. I came to realize the tech wasn't the hard part- it was understanding the problem by opening up a dialogue with journalists. I went to a hackathon in Berlin ( and it was very successful- inspiring projects and great people.  I wanted this to happen in Boston.

MR: What's your background?
Virdee: My degree is in physics and applied mathematics.  I researched community formation and sharing patterns of news media at the New England Complex Systems Institute. I joined Embedly as a data scientist building features like trending and related articles and soon began focusing on the product side of the company.  Over the last few years I've participated in the local DIY/maker scene in Boston, learning more about coding and hardware. More recently I have been helping facilitate Boston Creative Coders- a local group that explores coding to make art.  That intersection of making and community to learn and grow ideas is very important to me. 

MR: Who else is involved?
Virdee: Matt Carroll has been a strong force in moving the hackathon forward. He is starting the Future of News project at the Media Lab, which is exploring new tools that help newsrooms connect better with readers and viewers, that help reporters and editors do their jobs better, or that make money. Also on the team is Lindsey Wagner, Zachary Davis, and Ariel Zirulnick.  It was important to me to have representation from journalism, programming, and design among the team.  We've got quite a few organizations and companies partnering for the event, notably Twitter and Bloomberg. 

MR: What's the goal for the weekend?
Virdee: The main goal is to bring together programmers, designers, and journalists interested in opportunities in news media, get to know each other, and have fun. Just the process of ideating, designing, and making together can be powerful to form collaborations. While having great projects as the outcome is exciting, it certainly isn't the focus of the event. The focus is the community, and moving this conversation forward. In the beginning there will be lightning talks and in the end project presentations, which will be open to an audience beyond participants. 

A team from Muck Rack will be joining the hackathon as well. Let us know if you're going!

About the author

COO, @MuckRack & @ShortyAwards; Executive Editor @FoundRemote. Watcher of every TV show.

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