20 Oct 2014

Build the News - take two

So there we have it: another Build the News event is over. Journalists and coders have once again got together to set their brains to the task of innovating the way digital news is consumed.

This time the theme was mobile, and we were tasked to find new and innovative solutions within three categories: Actions and Commenting, Longform and Campaigns

The concepts that were formed within these areas were diverse and interesting, and I feel that we all left with some good ideas about tackling some digital issues.

The event was kicked off by some great speeches, including one from the Times' Data Journalism Editor, Megan Lucero. 'Data-gate' happened, where #buildthenews was set alight by Megan's claim that data journalism had almost become "too sexy". The horror!

Then there came the tools. Teams from Livefyre and Shorthand showcased their amazing products, which each focus on one of the event's categories: Livefyre on Commenting, and Shorthand on Longform. 
As part of the event, we had a private beta login to Shorthand, something that many teams rightly took advantage of.


Whilst I'd been to the first Build the News, this was the first hackathon that most of the Interhacktives had been to. Expectations were high, and the event didn’t disappoint, even if there was more free stuff at the first one. We were all keen to get on with developing concepts to help improve readers' mobile experiences.

Our idea was Hotspot - a way of integrating comments into articles by curating them into concise, specific threads based on each paragraph. The 'hotter' (ie. loads of people are engaging with it) a paragraph, the hotspot will show red, telling readers that this paragraph is generated some interesting debate - they're then invited to 'join in!' the thread. We made regular updates on our blog to keep others up to speed with what we were doing.

We didn't win. Our lack of a developer held us back when it came to the production of Hotspot, and there were also some issues with conceptualising. But we had "the core of a good idea", as we were told in Sense Checking (a pitch to figure out the feasibility of our idea). 
We'll hold onto that small victory. 

The build

Then came the building. After polishing up the plans after the Sense Check, the intense experience of getting a product together began. We focused on the front-end development of our prototype, using HTML, CSS and a bit of Javascript, whilst Photoshop and Keynote were used to create a really cool (I hope) presentation. 

This was an incredibly rewarding experience, and one where the team worked together to play to individual strengths to get over the fact that we didn't have a developer.

The presentations had improved on the first Build the News event, with more teams creating 
neater interactive presentations and allowing others to test out their prototypes. We were limited to a mere three minutes to present our idea, so being concise was essential. 

The winners were Interpol with their great Crowd Tip idea. This is based around the idea of empowering readers within the editorial process. The call to action says 'shape our coverage', and it asks readers to simply vote on what extra content they'd like to see relating to an article.

Great for journalists and developers alike

Build the News is great for journalists and developers alike, as it focuses on something which is a necessity in the newsroom: convergence. We need to learn to work together, as savvy digital journalists, to create the best digital solutions. 

The event emphasises this, showing how useful it is to understand working with people who bring different skills to the table. Projects incorporate many diverse skillets and its the ability to understand and utilise such diversity which creates the best project. 

It seems that the guys at the Times and Sunday Times learnt from the first event and improved the things that didn't work as well last time. It was great to have a huge variety of expertise from several different publications, like the Sun and the Wall Street Journal. These guys were more approachable and helpful this time round, which proved useful for bouncing around ideas.

Here I am being papped during our presentation by Matt Taylor.

All in all, it was another great weekend. We met loads of cool people and bounced ideas around on some great projects. Would I recommend the next Build the News? Definitely. It exposes you to all sorts of experts in the field who are all passionate about 'building the news', and you'll leave full of creative ideas to tackle digital issues in the future. 


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