New journ-tech community in Miami + Follow-up to the Code with Me Miami workshop

The February, we sponsored Code With Me's second workshop in Miami. We asked our friend, Miami-based journalist and Code with Me Miami mentor, Rebekah Monson, to give us a follow-up explaining how journalists in the area have since started their own Hacks/Hackers chapter and have been hosting weekly open hack nights with the Code For Miami Brigade at one of the city's co-working spaces called The LAB Miami.

Code With Me Miami aimed to teach 18 local journalists basic HTML, CSS and jQuery so they could make better web stories. Several participants have gone on to do just that in their newsrooms, but that small workshop has paid far bigger dividends than any of us could have anticipated six months ago.

One of the most unique aspects of Code With Me is its community spirit. The workshop was jam-packed with information, but the learning model and activities were made to be social, approachable and, well, fun. By the end of the weekend, participants and mentors had made connections that have since flourished.

HHMIA MySQL Bootcamp with Steph Rosenblatt

While we were still high on our Code With Me buzz, Dan Grech and I started organizing a Hacks/Hackers chapter to help improve online journalism in Miami and to continue the community skill-sharing we experienced in the workshop.

HHMIA/Code For Miami Getting started with GitHub meetup with Jake Smith

In March, we formed Hacks/Hackers Miami (HHMIA), which holds monthly meetups covering a range of topics including MySQL basics, multimedia storytelling tools, how to build a user-generated mapping site, and using Git and GitHub. HHMIA has grown to more than 140 members. The monthly meetups draw between 20 and 40 participants. And, members regularly drop in at a weekly open hack night at The LAB Miami, a co-working space at the heart of Miami’s start-up scene.

While organizing HHMIA, we noticed that other chapters often collaborated with civic hackers, who share similar interests with journalists. But, Miami didn’t have an organized civic hacking community. So we reached out to Ernie Hsiung, a front-end developer and founder of MiamiWiki, and we launched Code for Miami. Our rag-tag group of developers, designers and Miamians of all stripes is now an official Code for America brigade with four completed projects, a few more in development, a weekly hack night and several bigger events and goals on the horizon.

Ernie Hsiung and Rebekah Monson at Hack for Change Miami

HHMIA and Code for Miami also teamed up with civic leaders, officials and representatives from University of Miami and Florida International University to organize a broader National Day of Civic Hacking hackathon in June. More than 200 people ages 8 to 80 participated in Hack for Change Miami, producing 13 prototypes and doubling the number of entries in MiamiWiki. For his hackathon project that localized a state legislation tracker app, HHMIA and Code for Miami member Rob Davis was honored at the White House Champions of Change event last month. And, a group of media outlets with statewide reach is tentatively signed on to host his Florida Bill Tracker app for the next legislative session.

What’s happening in Miami isn’t unique — active, diverse, collaborative tech communities are growing all over the country and the world — but it’s special to us. In 2011, Miami ranked as the least civically engaged city in the country. Obviously, civic disconnect is bad for journalism, it’s bad for government, and it’s bad for Miamians. Now, journalists are working alongside a host of organizations and individuals to repair that rift through improving transparency in government, sharing information more efficiently, and telling our community’s stories in new ways.

We still have a long way to go to make Miami’s networks as vital and extensive as those in New York, D.C. or Chicago, but we’ve made a solid, fast start and momentum is growing. The Code With Me workshop set out to empower a small group of journalists with coding skills to build better stories, but it also empowered some of us to start building a better community.

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