BBC City Hack = Data+Journalism+UXDesign

On the weekend of the 27th/28th of February, BBC News Labs joined teams from City University to challenge Journalism and Data Science Students to innovate together.

A weekend of innovation in News at City University, London

As part of our University Challenge initiative, we held a Hack Event with City University over a weekend. One of the challenges facing the future of journalism is the need for so many different kinds of knowledge to successfully produce exciting and challenging journalism in a mobile-first world. So we brought together City’s Masters students from the Journalism, Data Science and Human-Centered Systems courses to be news-innovators for two days.

Neil Maiden, Professor for Digital Creativity, was the bridge between Data Science, Human Interaction Design and Journalism. He allowed us to bring together talented people with complementary skillsets: editorial experience, good story-telling, creative thinking, visual flair, clear objective setting and the ability to build quick prototypes which meet the user-requirements.

We wanted the students to work effectively together in cross-discipline teams solving a challenge based on The Juicer, a news aggregation engine we are working on at BBC News Labs. We think the Juicer has the potential for many users and use-cases, so we asked the three teams that emerged between the participants to devise their own use-case. Design and develop a front-end for the Juicer, that serves this use-case, surfacing different aspects of the data.

“The challenge we set is not a task we made up for the students, it is a genuine question we face at BBC News Labs.”, says Robert McKenzie, News Lab’s Editor.

The City University Challenge, which became a small scale hack, was an experiment. All participants agreed, it was a successful one! Neil Maiden thinks this should be the starting point for more collaboration between between MA courses in the future:

“One of the most important outcomes was to knock down the walls between the students - between Computer Science and Journalism - to understand each other’s problems, skills, needs and values, and to understand the huge scope for collaboration for mutual benefit. The students will remain in touch and, I hope, continue to work together on new, exciting projects in the space of computational journalism.”

Three great ideas from two intense days

During two days, walls were filled with ideas and we learned a lot from the different perspectives of journalists, UX designers and developers. We were impressed with the focus of ideas, and the creative presentations!

To our slight surprise, all three teams chose to build on the Juicer with the aim of providing a tool that would help journalists in their job.

Full listing and short description of the Hackathon participants from City University.

Neutron - Help ‘neutral reporting’ in Science Journalism

Team Neutron wanted to address the challenge of objectivity and balance in journalism - they focussed on science journalism, matching the expertise of their editorial team members.

“Journalists often have too little time – or too little knowledge of the topic – to look for new angles and opinions that are different from how the story has been covered elsewhere.”, they said.

Team Neutron aimed to facilitate the process of bringing a new viewpoint to a story, to save journalists time and encourage them to explore different angles. The tool tracks a science news story over time and displays information about the connections between the authors of the scientific publication and the experts cited in the various news articles. In order for users to find related coverage, the team proposed using the lead quote of the story as the unique identifier.

The tool will visualise science news stories, along with publication date and time and the news source source. The team also proposed a network representation of the scientists and other contributors involved in the story, plus an overview of how often each of them was cited.

Neutron was the winning team, for the judges thought this was the most feasible project of all. One team member, Science Journalism student Kata Karáth wrote about the experience of her first Hackathon on BBC Academy.

Hack-Athenas - Find your source

Hack-Athenas aimed to tackle the daily challenge for journalists of finding relevant sources around news stories: who to call for expert input, who to quote?

According to the journalist in this team “… finding somebody who is willing to spend his time talking with you can be complicated. Because so many different interests lay in between, reporters struggle for a good and reliable source.”

The team made use of the Juicer’s annotation of ‘People’ in news stories to display all public figures that come up around a certain topic. Their idea was to to make connection to these sources easier through a network of your existing contacts.

“Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus could work together with Wikipedia exploring the unexpected link between us and the people we are writing about and investigating.”

Team Trendsetter proposed a tool which would allow journalists to discover how a story or wider topic has been covered over time, focussing on a narrow time range - what happened over the last days or hours? If a news journalist had all the published material around the next news story at his fingertips, finding out what has been covered already would be a lot quicker. The team also drew up an ambitious vision for their project: if we can follow the development of a news story over the past, may it be possible to suggest topics, that maybe worthwhile covering in the future?