News Labs wins at Al Jazeera hackathon

We are extremely pleased to announce that three News Labs and R&D staff won three awards at Al Jazeera’s Canvas Media in Context hackathon.

Thomas Parisot and Basile Simon won the ‘Greatest Impact and Disruption’ and ‘Best diffusion’ awards for tinyfm, and Melanie Moeller won the ‘Best Editorial Context’ for Narrata.

Putting the web on air with tinyfm

tinyfm logo

In short, we hacked a new technology, a Raspberry Pi, to give another go to an old technology, the radio. The radio emits an FM signal in a limited range, people listen to it with their regular FM receivers and FM-enabled mobile phones (like some Android and FirefoxOS ones). Then they can bounce and add up some more content based on their very own local experience.

The tech behind it is rather complex but oddly elegant: it associates two back-end solutions to power both a local radio transmitter and a mobile web-app to enable the users to interact with the content, as they would do with a jukebox in a bar.

Ideally, these little cheap transmitters would be in a lot of places. You could walk down the street with your smartphone in radio mode and literally listen to people’s tastes. Hopefully, the news and journalism diffusion dimensions of this project, as well as its inexpensive nature, will make innovative news publishers such as Al Jazeera think about these hyper-local and people-centric solutions for punctual reporting.

We scaled small and cheap but with openness and creativity in mind:

  • An affordable and commodity device: the Raspberry Pi;
  • A simple metallic wire turns the Pi into an FM transmitter;
  • A reusable toolkit;
  • For ocal experience only;
  • A mobile Webapp hosted by the Pi;
  • Can work offline and thus, can be carried with you wherever you go

Here is the link to our submission.

Proposing a new journalism format with ‘Narrata’ for data-driven storytelling

narrata logo

In fast-paced, deadline-driven newsrooms, it’s not always an option to create a custom, bespoke interactive data visualisation for every story that needs one.

So, our team built ‘Narrata’, a customisable visualisation tool for building stories around data. The tool enables journalists to upload a data set and to input story snippets linked to specific data points. Hence, the story is being told along curated data subsets, which ‘Narrata’ dynamically generates.

Our hack proposes data-driven storytelling, a journalism format, which is a new approach to narrating the news - The data set tells the story and short text snippets provide additional insight.

Narrata consists of two parts:

The Uploader:

Can be found at mediaincontext.parseapp.com/ and allows journalists to upload their data set and to enter and edit their story snippets. Narrata doesn’t require more than uploading two spreadsheets. No coding skills required!

The Data Visualisation - User Interface:

The data visualisation changes as the reader scrolls through the article, which essentially transform the reading experience. Interactive bar charts beneath the map allow to explore multiple stories within the story. As a journalist uploads their data, a unique URL is being generated, which can either be shared straight away or published in an iframe. (Here is an example we put together, portraiting protests in South Africa prior to the May 2014 elections.

Who is ‘Narrata’ for?

  • Journalists: Are able to easily generate interactive data visualisations without having to rely on developers.
  • Developers: Gives developers a template to create interactive ‘data storylines’ quickly.
  • Newsreader: Provides a focused, immersive and concise reading experience to the user.

The Technology behind ‘Narrata’

The technology behind it is simple but effective. We built an uploader that uses Parse, a JavaScript SDK based on the Backbone.js framework. The uploader stores the data and parses them to a JavaScript front end. The dynamic visualisation was generated with D3.js.

If you would like to use ‘Narrata’ and have any questions, do not hesitate to get in touch with Mel at melanie.moeller@bbc.co.uk or @mel_moeller.

The submission can be found here.

About the staff

Our three folks were invited by Al Jazeera to participate in this extraordinarily international event. Thomas Parisot is a French senior Javascript engineer at BBC R&D ; Basile Simon is (another) French hacker journalist at News Labs ; and Mel Moeller is our German second-year graduate on FM Digital Media Graduate Scheme, currently working with Visual Journalism and the News Labs.

More about the event

The Canvas hackathon brought to Doha more than 90 hackers, developers, designers, and journalists, gathered in 19 teams. Flying from 37 different countries, the participants were all taken care of by Al Jazeera.

All the submissions to the event can be found here.

We would like to thank the Canvas team for putting together a mind-blowing event, supported by a rock-solid organisation team. It was a privilege to come hacking with you - and feel free to invite us again in the Gulf, Thomas, Basile, and Mel miss the sun and warmth already.

“Best hackathon ever.”


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