07 November 2019

Mozfest 2019: Multidisciplinary teams focus on collaboration and audiences

News Labs continued our annual tradition of supporting the Mozfest OpenNews unconference in October.

This year the team organised several interactive sessions. Journalists and developers mingled with product managers and editors from around the world, discussing the latest challenges and emerging trends in journalism tech.

The unconference format means there are no formal talks and an agenda of interactive sessions is built collaboratively by participants at the start of the day.

News Labs facilitated sessions on audience engagement, working in multidisciplinary teams and open source projects in news innovation.

Know your role

Labbers Grant Heinrich and Lei He facilitated a fun session that encouraged attendees to think about how they work with colleagues with specialities different from their own.

A role play format allowed participants to step outside of their day-to-day jobs and embrace the needs and priorities of their colleagues in multidisciplinary teams. The same people then gave their teammates feedback on their perceptions of the tasks and challenges that exist in their respective roles in real life.

Groups discuss a project scenario while individual's work in role different from their own

Teams embrace role play to understand challenges faced by colleagues.

One suggestion that came out of the session was to make more use of data as evidence for design decisions when opposing views within a team exist. Further suggestions focussed on communication skills and reinforcing the need for effective listening at the outset of a project.

Engaging audiences with AI

Journalists Joe Whitwell and Conor Molumby used an appreciative interview format to encourage participants to share audience engagement success stories.

Groups share their success stories in audience engagement

Identifying successful trends in audience engagement. (Photo: Aliya Reich)

One of the key takeaways for participants was not to be overly focused on technology when thinking about audience engagement. As one journalist noted, for her audience engagement still means listeners coming to her radio station to talk about stories.

Other trends were an increased focus on personalisation and making content relatable to the audience including hyper-local stories. Participants discussed paying close attention to the format and presentation of a story because online audiences are becoming increasingly design savvy.

Also repeated throughout the session was how building trust through transparency and using a variety of sources improves engagement.

Open Source

Labber Eimi Okuno facilitated a session on “Open Source Software in the Newsroom”. Software is often developed inside the walls of a company, even though there are many benefits to Open Sourcing software, such as community building and contributing to the industry in the open.

With News Labs aiming to Open Source (or OS for short) as many of our projects as possible, including Digital Paper Edit which Eimi works on, the challenge we face is in recognising the development and support work of our colleagues on these projects. Questions around support from one’s stakeholders - customers, bosses and colleagues - and technical challenges such as Github forking and ownership were raised, as well as potential solutions.

It quickly became apparent that OS is more than just a PR stunt or a collection of licenses. It’s a way for Engineers and stakeholders to collaborate transparently, while drawing on the expertise of others.

Here are some of the takeaways:

  • Make OS your team’s culture
  • OS from the start of your project
  • Good engineering practices, such as documentation, high code readability, and testing helps build the OS community
  • Develop software with a “product mindset”, and most importantly be user centric


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