From hackathon hobbyist to Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Fellow

byJessica Weiss
Oct 25, 2013 in Miscellaneous

Argentine biomedical engineer and human rights activist Marcos Vanetta never expected to work in journalism.

But in 2011, the part-time coder came across a tweet announcing a “hacking for human rights” event in Buenos Aires. There he met members of the nascent Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires chapter, which was beginning to work on a data journalism project called Mapa 76, to visualize what happened to thousands of people who disappeared during the violent rule of Argentina's military dictatorship.

The topic resonated with Vanetta, so he began to code for the project in his free time. Eventually, he became lead developer. He has immersed himself in the Hacks/Hackers community, attending hackathons and other data journalism events and contributing to a growing data journalism movement in Argentina.

Now, Vanetta will bring his skills to the Texas Tribune, in Austin, as a 2014 Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Fellow. He’ll be embedded in the newsroom for 10 months, working to develop open-source projects that contribute to the future of news.

“I've been writing code for more than four years, and now I'm turning a hobby into a real thing," Vanetta says. "I'm so excited to work in a nonprofit newsroom whose vision and research I really appreciate."

Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires founder Mariano Blejman, an ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellow, says Vanetta embodies the spirit of blending community and journalism.

“When we build communities and projects at the same time,” Blejman says, “we can connect people on the ground with major media outlets and solve (or try to solve) real problems in the process of engagement.”

Vanetta joins four other 2014 Fellows, who are headed to The New York Times, ProPublica, Ushahidi/Internews Kenya and La Nación. Together, they are “activists, academics, hackers, and makers,” according to a statement on the Mozilla OpenNews website.

Each day, OpenNews Fellows experience the newsroom environment. But their work is inherently “open,” meaning it is shared with the world outside the newsroom. Fellows blog about their experiences, share code in open repositories, take part in bi-monthly OpenNews community calls and work with other developers.

The 2014 OpenNews Fellows:

  • Harlo Holmes (The New York Times): media scholar, software programmer and activist; currently a research fellow with The Guardian Project.
  • Brian Jacobs (ProPublica): designer and interactive developer; works in commercial and academic settings.
  • Aurelia Moser (Ushahidi/Internews Kenya): has a background in library metadata and lab work; builder of visualizations and narratives around data.
  • Gabriela Rodriguez (La Nación): activist, hacker and software developer; co-founder of the Uruguayan nonprofit DATA that works with open data and transparency in South America.
  • Marcos Vanetta (the Texas Tribune): biomedical engineer, web developer and open source enthusiast; active member of the Hacks/Hackers community in Buenos Aires.

Image courtesy of Marcos Vanetta.

Jessica Weiss is a Buenos Aires-based freelancer.