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World-Herald to host programming competition Hack Omaha in April

Ben Vankat of the Omaha World-Herald has been involved with the publication’s past data projects.

Over the past year, the Omaha World-Herald has released a number of noteworthy projects that make use of public data. Now, staff members of the state’s most-read daily newspaper and website are inviting the public into their newsroom to hack on that data with them.

The inaugural Hack Omaha, a weekend programming competition during which participants will be challenged to turn a local dataset of public government information into something useful, will take place April 13-15 at the World-Herald’s downtown office.

“Part of what the news does is make government accessible,” Matt Wynn (left), a reporter at the World-Herald and lead organizer of Hack Omaha, says on the event’s website.

“For a long time, that’s meant newspaper stuff: stories, graphics, charts. Now, it’s different,” Wynn says. “News applications take data – lots of it – and turn it into telling features about school test scores, property taxes, elections or whatever else needs explaining.”

For example, the World-Herald surprised some in Omaha in 2010 when it put the nearly 29,000 valid signatures on the Mayor Jim Suttle recall petitions online and made them searchable. In 2011, the World-Herald rolled out Curbwise, an app making Omaha real estate information easy to read and search, and monetized it, charging $19.95 for a custom report. (The complete directory of World-Herald data projects can be found at dataomaha.com.)

DataOmaha.com (above) showcases the past data projects of the Omaha World-Herald, such as a map showing locations of each homicide in Omaha, details about the crime and information about each victim.

Similar to a Startup Weekend, Hack Omaha will kick off on a Friday evening and conclude with judging on a Sunday night. The World-Herald is charging $10 per person – there’s a cap of 75 attendees – and is providing meals throughout the weekend. Up for grabs is a $1,000 top prize and two runner-up prizes of $250. Any team that places will be guaranteed coverage in the World-Herald following the event, the Hack Omaha website states.

“We think Omaha has all the pieces it needs to be a major force in the open government movement,” Wynn says, “and we’re putting out money where our mouth is. Come join us in April to figure out what the future looks like.”

Find more information about Hack Omaha on hackomaha.com, and stay tuned to Silicon Prairie News for a closer look at the event.


The World-Herald’s data work quickly caught our attention at Silicon Prairie News, and it wasn’t long before we conducted an interview with Wynn about the World-Herald’s work. We also began to speak about collaborating, asking, “How can a 125-year-old newspaper and a three-year-old blog work together?” Silicon Prairie News has had a syndication agreement with the World-Herald since 2010, but we were searching for something that involved the community.

When Wynn conceived of Hack Omaha last fall, we came on board as a media sponsor, agreeing to provide planning support, promotion and coverage. Dusty Davidson will also be involved as a speaker and judge, and I will be a mentor throughout the weekend.


Disclosure: Silicon Prairie News is a media sponsor of Hack Omaha and has provided planning support.

Credits: Photo of Ben Vankat from hackomaha.com. Photo of Matt Wynn courtesy of Wynn.

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