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Sex, Lies and the Tools of the Trade

Last night, in the downstairs of a pub on the fringes of the city, two groups of people met. One group builds tools, the other uses them. They came to learn from one another, to swap and ideas and secrets, and to help define the way we see the world…

They came from many different organisations, some of them notionally competitive. Some were old hands at this, meeting regularly over the course of the last year. Others were taking their first steps into a new world. One key organiser works for an organisation that has come under considerable public scrutiny in recent months for its illicit activities. Another, a speaker, in fact, was from the very organisation that has done so much to expose those activities. With a crowd like this, the talk was bound to be of paranoia, of safety and privacy, and of wresting control from the moribund hands of those who fail to understand the reality of today.

Hacks and Hackers London

Who were these shadowy denizens of London? What brought them together?

They are hacks. And they are hackers. And this was Hacks/Hackers London.

Hacks and Coders in a bar

So, yes, it was just a bunch of journos and coders sat together in the downstairs bar of a pub, drinking painfully expensive beer and talking about security and the perpetual digital revolution we’re in right now. But you know what? They all had something in common: a desire to learn, and an excitement about the future. (And slightly lighter wallets by the end of the evening)

The hackers are the real techies. They are the people who play with code and consider it fun. The journalists? They’re just users of tools, not builders of them, looking for new ways of plying their trades with those new tools the hackers are creating. Most people in that room who are working journalists can’t code their way out of a wet paper bag – myself included. But they are the sort of people who want journalism to keep moving forward, to keep pace with the digital revolution and find new ways of expressing itself.

In fact, this gathering was the the antithesis of the kerfuffle about what editors think about web skills that we’ve seen over the last couple of days. Too much of the commentary around that much-discussed report reflected the attitudes of people who are unwilling to move out of their comfort zone, who like things very much they way they are thankyouverymuch, and who are quite willing to denigrate anyone with a more open mind as “techies” or, as the editor of Press Gazette quite memorably tweeted “new media blowhards“.

Thanks, Dominic. Nice to know that our trade title is so respectful of its whole constituency. This was a gathering of people who care enough about their profession to give up their evening to learn new things, and to share with others. I know which group I’d rather be part of. 

Pragmatic optimism

And it wasn’t an exercise in starry-eyed optimism, either. This was not a gathering of true believers, come to hear a familiar sermon and sign familiar hymns. No, the first presentation was exploring the idea that protecting the identities of sources gets ever harder in the digital age. Stick your head in the sand about digital skills, and you run the risk of failing to protect your sources. 

Live tweeting Hacks and Hackers London

Mary Hamilton and Sarah Booker have both already published detailed accounts of the night:

(I’m spotting a theme in the naming… How can I resist following their lead?) There’s much to learn in there, and it won’t even cost you a £4 pint. 😉

And there are plenty of future meetings planned. So, come along, drink over-priced beer and help us find new ways of making the news matter. 

Morning Coffee Reading – 3rd August 2011

coffee percolatingStuff crossing my information superhighway radar this morning:

And this is an interesting watch:

Anil Dash at Gel 2011 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.


On Twitter, Media and a BrandNew Identity


As well as trundling off to Twestival last Thursday, I also stuck my head around the door of the BrandNew launch event, and jolly interesting it was, too. It’s yet another brainchild from the worryingly fecund imagination of Joanna Geary of The Times (pictured above, looking uncomfortable – this is my revenge for her springing a brief speech on me).

Jo, like many of us who have gone from being social media enthusiasts to prominent roles within our employers where our online identity reflects on the emplyer’s brand, has found herself questioning the need to split personal and business identities, how free she is to blog while being seen as a member of The Times staff, and so on. I’ve been through similar battles in the past. I nearly killed my blog stone dead in late 2005/early 2006 when my colleagues began to become aware of it and I set too many limits on what I posted.

brandnewpeps.jpgIt appears plenty of people are interested, as about two dozen people turned up, from organisations as diverse as the Labour Party, and contract publishers. And all are struggling with this clash of the need of social media identities to personal, open and somewhat intimate, as opposed to the managed, staged and often impersonal brand identities of the past. If I had any doubt that companies were about to go through a profound cultural shift as they adapt to this new communications infrastructure, the quality of the questions being asked put that to rest. 

And beyond that, it was nice to catch up with online acquaintances and to meet some new faces (to me, at least). I look forward with some eagerness to the next event. So, when is it, Ms Geary? 🙂