Writing on openDemocracy, Nicola Hughes, who is also known as DataMinerUK, has questioned what the use of the term ‘hack’ and its related synonyms mean for journalists following the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
Hughes explains how journalists scrape data.
The people who are part of this community (I flatter myself to be included) are ‘hackers’ by the best definition of the word. The web allows anyone to publish their code online so these people are citizen hackers. They are the creators of such open civic websites as Schooloscope, Openly Local, Open Corporates, Who’s Lobbying, They Work For You, Fix My Street, Where Does My Money Go? and What Do They Know? This is information in the public interest. This is a new subset of journalism. This is the web enabling civic engagement with public information. This is hacking. But, unlike other fields of citizen journalism, it requires a very particular set of skills.
Hughes goes on to explain how journalists “need to get to grips with data to get the public their answers” and ends with a plea saying the News of the World affair should not define ‘hacking’.
In the Shakespearean sense of “That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet”, we should define journalism not by a word but by what it smells like. Something stank about the initial inquiry into the News of the World. Nick Davies smelled it and followed his nose. And that’s the definition of journalism.