How to run a News Hack event - #newsHACK


We’ve been asked a number of times about how we run the #newsHACK events (News Hack, not New Shack), and what makes them successful. Here’s a quick summary of the important ingredients of our particular News industry Hack Events.

Firstly: You may be planning a News Hack Event. Are you sure that’s what you want?

Don’t rush into it - consider other formats for your innovation requirements before committing. This useful article by Laurenellen McCann is helpful: So You Think You Want to Run a Hackathon? Think Again.

… and if you decide to proceed, here are some of the elements we feel have worked well.

We have been privileged to have the support of Connected Studio, who are BBC R&D’s innovation event production experts

Plan your Event date

  • Be really mindful of school holidays - this has a massive effect - maybe not on your target participants, but at least on the business around them
  • Choose a date that’s clear of any other large events (hack or other) in the diary - check thoroughly online
  • “Hack Fatigue” is a real issue - there are lots of hack events in all industries; avoid unnecessarily competing with any of these, and ensure your event has a clear & simple purpose so that potential participants don’t immediately think, “Oh no, not another hack event!”

Name and Frame your Event

You are inviting professionals, with little spare time, to travel and spend 2 days at your event. You have good reason for this, but be sure to articulate it well.

Give your Event a focus

  1. A short, snappy Event Title
  2. A strapline that sets the Challenge
  3. If you want to set out competition categories, keep them high level and flexible

To help you form your Challenge

  • Choose a rallying call that unites the industry area/discipline you are inviting
  • That embodies a common “problem space”
  • Something that will excite the participants - a real mission
  • Something that leaves room for brave and risky ideas
  • Keep it simple
  • Keep it high-level

An example: our most recent #newsHACK Challenge:

  1. Event Title: The 2015 News Industry Accelerator
  2. Challenge: What might we create together, to improve the NEWS industry for UK & global publishers?
  3. Categories: Connecting The News, Together; Using And Sharing Live Video; Video In Explanatory Journalism; Journalism In A Social Age; Surprise Us

Inviting The Participants

  • Set out a clear criteria for sign-up: which industry, what type of organisation, and also be clear about who the event is not open to, if applicable
  • Be aware of the risk of “squatters” - those who will take up valuable space at your event only to promote their product/interest, with little regard for the challenge you set out
  • You should limit the event to 25 teams or less, or your pitching sessions will become endless. Seriously, 25 is about the limit for your judges’ and participants’ concentration

Recommendations for “Team makeup”

  • Invite people to register as a team - avoid planning to “form teams” at the event
  • We have found that teams of 3-5 people work well
  • Be sure to specify “Multi-discipline teams” - you want teams that include a mix of skills: coding, editorial/product, design, pitching etc

Timeline for promotion and registration

  • T Minus 3 months: Get your “Save the date” out to key participants, with the high level “Challenge”
  • T Minus 8 weeks: Open your ticket booking system
  • Then, go over the list each week, and get in touch directly with those you want to come
  • Do not panic, but maintain a constant pressure on those who say “yes” but don’t show up in the booking system
  • We’ve always found that we have a landslide of bookings in the last 10 days, then a host of people queuing up for spares
  • So, don’t panic, but keep the promotion & chasing going

Selecting your Hack Event Venue

Look for:

  • Easily accessible, popular part of town
  • Extremely good wifi. Estimate 3 devices per participant. Fat pipe required.
  • Hacking format: you need plenty of space for large round tables for each team, or up to 2 teams per table
  • Power points available at all hacking tables
  • Natural light - plenty of windows
  • Accessible for wheelchair users


  • Hard-to-reach locations
  • Hotel function rooms
  • fusty office meeting rooms
  • “Yeah - we have wifi. Not sure about the details, but it works mostly.”

Make some cool tools and content available to use!

  • We’ve provided a set of R&D structured data & content tools available at our #newsHACK events
  • It’s a great idea to have something new to add to the excitement
  • Be sure though, whatever you provide, to setup good documentation, and instructional videos, before the event
  • Also - have a “roaming expert” available to help with any tools, at the event

Prizes to give at the event

  • If you have an exciting mission, real problems to solve, and keen participants, you do not need to worry about massive prizes
  • In our experience, T-shirts have been warmly received
  • The reward is in the collaboration, solving problems, and networking

Prize Categories

  • In all of your comms and promotional materials, keep your prize categories flexible; you do not know what the hacks will be about, so don’t paint yourself into a corner
  • The Judges will decide the award categories.

Usual categories

  1. Best in Show (the overall winner)
  2. [Some Cagegories] decided by the Judges based on the Hacks they saw in the Pitch Sessions
  3. Surprise Us - the flexible and always enjoyable category

Essential staff for your Hack Event

Your MC (Master of Ceremonies)

  • Choose someone with experience of MC-ing
  • They must have good get-up-and-go, and not be at all shy/bumbling
  • Positive humour and massive energy are key characteristics
  • This can make all the difference, and is important. Choose wisely

Your Event Producer

  • This person is invaluable throughout the process
  • It’s not something anyone can do; sure, anyone can plan an event, but if you want it to run well, and be a joy for the participants, select a bloody good events producer

Other people that make things work seamlessly

  • Videographer / Photographer / Media Producer - you will need at least 1 talented AV person to capture the best aspects of the event; do short interviews, capture some B-roll etc
  • Roaming experts - a few experts to assist participants in the “doubtful moments” - those will happen -
  • AV Tech - a very good Sound Technician and audio-visual specialist, with good kit, is ESSENTIAL. Otherwise your pitch sessions are doomed.
  • Venue Management - single point of contact for the venue; things will go wrong, so you need a capable event contact

The Schedule


(NB - ensure you have tea, coffee & water on hand and accessible all day long)

  • 09:30 Registration opens - provide light breakfast for those who are hungry
  • 10:00 Welcome! - quick hello, intro, wifi details, “toilets and fire exits”, health & safety, and *run through today’s schedule
  • 10:10 “The Reason Why We are All Here” - plus overview of the challenge(s) by someone impressive (a celeb in your field, ideally)
  • 10:20 LET THE HACKING BEGIN! - everyone gets started, and we refrain from interrupting them any further
  • (During the morning you may want to run “Tech Talks” from those who are bringing ideas to the event, and from your sponsors. MAKE THESE OPTIONAL - e.g. “Speaker’s Corner”. Do not force people to sit through them - they just want to get on and to HACK)
  • 13:00 Lunch is provided
  • 15:00-17:15 Audience Feedback sessions - provide a service to test your participants’ prototypes with target audience
  • 18:00 Team progress report - quick “around the room” standup; each team shares a quick summary of what they are doing, and the MC asks them if there’s anything they need
  • 19:00 The Venue closes for the night
  • (you may want to select a pub/bar where participants can socialise, grab some food etc, if they want to)


(Again - ensure you have tea, coffee & water on hand and accessible all day long)

  • 08:00 Registration - reopen for participants on Day Two
  • 10:00 Participants register their “hacks” and sign up for a pitching slot
  • 11:00 How to make your Pitch - the pitching slots are short, and “this is your only chance to influence the judges”
  • 13:00 Lunch is provided
  • 13:45 Hacking Ends - get people off their tables, and into the seating for the demos at 14:00
  • 14:00 PITCH SESSIONS – all teams will have 2-3 mins to present their hacks to the judging panel and other teams
  • (We invite press and key people from participating organisations to attend the pitch sessions. Be sure to manage numbers here)
  • 16:00 The judges retire - drinks are provided for the participants
  • 16:30 Prizegiving & quick “Thank You” speech
  • 17:00 Close - you may want to select a pub/bar where participants can socialise, grab some food etc, if they want to

Why not an overnight hackathon?

As you can see from the schedule above, we close the venue at the end of “Day One”, and we don’t “hack through the night”. Why?

  • The first #newsHACK in London included an overnight - i.e. participants could stay in the venue and work through the night
  • While this is a common feature for Hack events past and present, we didn’t feel it was worth the extra expense for additional security, catering and staff
  • In the case of #newsHACK ONE only 20 people out of the 150 opted to work through the night in the venue (from BBC, Mirror and Newcastle University, plus a few)
  • Most of our industry & university colleagues opted instead for a hearty meal, some hearty socialising, and a good sleep before the frantic morning of Day 2
  • This is not to say “we do not believe the overnight hack is worthwhile”; more that in our case it doesn’t represent value

Pitch Sessions - 1 per team at the end of the 2 day event

The Times at #newsHACK 2015

Photo shows The Times team at #newsHACK 2015, who went on to win the BBC “first prize” for their Journalist Toolbox concept

  • Keep them to 2-3 mins max - this focusses the pitch, and any longer will become boring
  • This is one of the main times your MC will earn their pay - it’s relentless
  • Ensure you have every team signed up into a “slot”
  • Get the first team ready early, then have someone prepare the next team to make changeovers smooth


  1. 2-3 Minute Pitch
  2. BUZZER ends the slot
  3. Audience applauds
  4. Judges as a couple of questions
  5. Applause, and NEXT TEAM PLEASE!

Selecting your Judges

  • Select well-respected, eloquent members of your community/industryw
  • from a balanced set of organisations - they must end up with impartial decisions
  • Select no more than 5 judges
  • Be sure to AVOID people who talk too much; they must be clever, humourous, and economic with their words

Partnership with GEN

Get in touch with us about newsHACK

If you have questions or points to add, send us a tweet @bbc_news_labs