Inspiration

Scrolling through a Facebook feed, you find countless articles written by big-name papers and third party sources that feed readers fake or biased news. The goal of this project was to counteract that by getting rid of the big names all together. The Root is a platform where users can get real-time news articles from local news sources only. If something happens in a region, readers can stay informed by reading the papers of that region; no third party commentary, no big-name news. And all while giving struggling local newspapers a larger platform.

What it does

The Root is an interactive map with markers for various cities across America. When you click on a city's marker, you get access to that city's local news feed. You can read about how New Yorkers feel about their President's latest announcement and then hop over to the other side of the country to read the perspective of an Arizonian.

How we built it

We used Flask as our main webapp framework and coded in python. To generate the images of the maps, pointers, and popups, we used an API called Mapbox, and we used JavaScript, HTML, and CSS for that. Our JavaScript file places all of the pointers on certain regions and retrieves information from news rss feeds to display and update local news. We used an rss widget creator to generate the popups. Our CSS file adds some of the display features, and our HTML file links the JavaScript file to our main python file.

Challenges we ran into

We didn't have much experience before coming to this hackathon so every step was a challenge for us. The biggest challenge was probably starting our project and trying to head in the right direction--we had plenty of ideas in mind, but didn't know how we could implement any of it. We knew enough to know what we were looking for, but not enough to actually implement it. Talking to other hackers and mentors, researching, and testing out all of our possible solutions was time consuming but rewarding.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

As we previously mentioned, none of us had been to hackathon or built a website/app before, so everything we learned this weekend was completely new to us. We are most proud of how much we were able to learn in a short amount of time and being able to collaborate on a project that resulted in something real and useful.

What we learned

In terms of technical skills, we learned a lot. None of us came in with knowledge of html, css, or javascript, but we managed to use all three, we learned how to use an api, we learned how to create a web application, and we learned how to put all those pieces together (which is really daunting if you've never done it before!). However, our most valuable lesson wasn't at all a technical skill -- it was the realization that we were able to learn a lot in a short period of time. It's easy to think that you're not qualified for this field, especially given the qualifications of those around you, but we learned this weekend that we know more than we think we do, and we're capable of learning on the job.

What's next for The Root

Because of the nature of the hackathon, we didn't get to make the program as dynamic as we had hoped. As of right now, there are only feeds for a few cities on the east coast and one on the west, but we'd like to expand this so that local news from across the country is presented on the platform, and hopefully we can do this globally with the help of a few translation API's we found. Ideally, we want to be able to filter the news sources so that we get only the most important headlines. We'd also like to add a Trending Now feature that would allow you to see the new articles that are gaining traction in the news currently. We hope this feature could provide more direction to users. We'd like to make some modifications to improve user experience, and all in all we'd like this to be a resource that can be attached to a Facebook page so that people can get access to accurate news sources.

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