The situation around news and media right now is a bit ridiculous- what seemed like the future of news was pretty scrolling, and the most engaging content is now clickbait. Yet after seeing brilliant interactive stories, dissemination apps, and publications we’re feeling a sense of optimism and opportunity. If you make something compelling, a lot of people will use it, and you will make money.
We organized a hackathon with Future of News at the Media Lab bringing together developers and journalists to think up new ideas, and prototype those that were promising. Each prototype addresses a pain point with our current news mess. Here’s what we found:
1. Support the reader’s voice and opinions beyond the comment box
You can use thoughtful callouts that take into account previous reading habits and demographics, and poll reader’s for their opinions around stories. A team from the Guardian built just this with Accio. It’s a quick and simple hack that can easily be integrated.
2. No one is figuring out what a healthy news diet is, and it is important
Once you measure something, you can improve it. We need tools to measure what we’re reading so we can be thoughtful about our media diet. Newstrition is a chrome extension to monitor what you’re reading and from where. So when you read too much on politics, maybe throw in some articles from the culture section. News sites themselves can adopt such a tool to help suggest articles and build a more thoughtful relationship with readers.
3. Twitter is not just broadcasting and retweets
There is an opportunity to build longer relationships with a reader beyond retweets and @-replies on Twitter. News Bingo tests out this idea through a Bingo Twitter bot. Newrooms can create bingo cards around stories and events, and invite users to participate.
4. Filter bubbles make things boring
It’s easy to get stuck in a news rut following the same kind of articles and sources. There is a long tail of articles that can be thoughtfully navigated to surface interesting, yet unexpected articles for readers. Atom explores this possibllity through a reader’s twitter feed.
5. There is a ton of open structured data, use it
Articles are more relevant to readers when they take into account reader context. Datacle focused on location- it provides a simple interface to include geotagged data into news articles. For example, in an article regarding a congressional vote, you can immediately see how your state’s congressman voted.
6. Journalists need better tools to organize research
This is especially true as stories are collected on the go. Collater allows writers to collect and organize various media in one location through URLs and annotations. These tools are essential- we can already tell by the popularity of Storify- and we need support for them on mobile.
7. Twitter lists can be powerful news curators
When the leading investigators on a story are on Twitter, their links are the best way to stay up to date on a developing story. They’re Watching Me applies this strategy to keep up to date on unfolding news around the NSA. A news outlet could provide a similar tool to allow readers to curate articles shared on Twitter, rendering them with thoughtful, branded design.
8. Mitigate cheap emotional appeal and the culture of fear
It can be a good idea to read a few lighthearted stories amidst the heavy and negative. Bomb Pop News empowers readers by encouraging them to reflect on how the news is affecting them, and be mindful to balance the kinds of stories they are reading. If there are too many negative stories, clearly that news outlet is missing an important part of the picture.
9. Build conversations within articles
Medium and Rap Genius popularized inline commenting, so why not try that out in news. After reading an article, conversations can grow and develop inline, providing engagement beyond the article text. InLine applies that within a news sharing service, exploring a new way to build conversations around news articles.
The discussion around new technologies and journalism has been going on for a while, and Hacking Journalism sought to support it. Within a weekend we saw a range of ideas from passionate journalists and developers that went from pain points to prototypes. Relationships grew from the hackathon collaborations and these prototypes will hopefully inspire a conversation and experiments within newsrooms and media companies. If you are interested in these projects, you can learn more here, or get in touch.
Embedly threw the hackathon because we’ve seen how it can be used alongside powerful storytelling platforms. Without any Embedly specific prize, six projects used the API (mostly through Cards): They’re Watching Me, Hi Neighbor, inLine, Main Street Journal, Collater, and Source Me. We’re thrilled to support this conversation around new technologies and newsrooms.
Here are a few more writeups of the hackathon:
Hacking journalism: 16 cool ways of reinventing the news biz
Hacking the News
4 Ways ‘Hackers’ are Rethinking Journalism