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    Student Journalists, Technologists Collaborate on News Innovations

    by Rich Gordon
    June 8, 2009

    Eight computer science students and 11 journalism master’s students — including the third "programmer-journalist" scholarship winner, whose Medill journalism education was paid through a Knight News Challenge grant — are putting the finishing touches on five innovative new products that combine journalism and technology.

    One product is a tool for working reporters, one is a new way of organizing content for mobile delivery, two leverage the growing power of Twitter and one generates baseball game accounts from box scores. All of the projects demonstrate what’s possible when journalists and technologists collaborate.

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    Details of the new concepts will start rolling out with a final presentation Wednesday to faculty, students and invited media industry guests. We’ll be live-streaming the presentation. If you’re in the Chicago area, come on by: 3:30-5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 10, in the Forum of the McCormick Tribune Center, 1870 Campus Drive.

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    The five projects are the results of the first-ever collaboration between a Medill "innovation project" class, taught by me and my Medill colleague Jeremy Gilbert, and a computer science class run by Kris Hammond and Larry Birnbaum, who run Northwestern’s Intelligent Information Laboratory. Here are descriptions of the projects:

    Tweedia

    Tweedia is a widget that presents tweets relevant to an article and displays those results adjacent to the article. It is positioned as a tool that publishers can use to enhance engagement with their content. In its appearance and functionality, Tweedia bears some resemblance to the short-format comments (or "quips") included in the News Mixer demonstration site created by the fall 2008 innovation project at Medill. But while quips were posted by users on the same page where an article appeared, Tweedia aggregates tweets on a topic automatically.

    EasyWriter

    EasyWriter is a tool for journalists to use while crafting an article using Microsoft Word. As the journalist writes, he or she can highlight text and EasyWriter automatically displays news articles and Web pages related to that topic. The idea is to make it easy for the journalist to check facts or do additional research without leaving Word.

    News Feed

    News Feed is a mobile Web site, optimized for iPhone users, that is designed to help users choose just the right amount of information for the amount of time they have available: 5 minutes, 10 minutes or 20 minutes. This is the project that most directly addresses a consumer need, I think.

    Twitter Publishing

    Another Twitter-based project, this is a tool designed to help publishers distribute their content to people who have demonstrated interest in a topic by tweeting about it. The basic concept is to identify a target audience based on people’s tweeting behavior, then deliver them content they are likely to find relevant by analyzing the content of their tweets.

    Machine-Generated Sports Stories

    This project doesn’t have a clever name (yet), but it is in some ways the most interesting — and could be the most controversial — of the projects. This team, which includes "programmer-journalist" scholarship winner Nick Allen, has built a system that reads the box score and play by play of a baseball game and automatically generates a story about the game. It’s interesting because the team’s software addresses a very real need among a variety of publishers — from ESPN to college sports information directors to high school athletic directors — who would like to produce baseball game stories quickly and inexpensively. It’s potentially controversial because one might argue that this software will make it possible to eliminate journalists’ jobs. I don’t think that’s the case, because most of the articles the team’s software might write would not have been written by a human reporter at all. Furthermore, a tool that auto-generates game stories would free up beat reporters to focus on enterprise coverage rather than game accounts.

    Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll write a bit more about each of the five projects. If you want to know more now, check out the students’ Web site, writeclick.org.

    Tagged: developers journalist-programmer medill technologists
    • Rich, will you please shed some lights on the process of deciding what to build? What’ll be the evaluation criteria for the projects?

    • J. Heasly

      Can you post what each of these projects was written in?

      From reading the student WriteClick posts, it looks like Machine-Generated Sports Stories was done in Django and Tweedia in Python (Django again?) and EasyWriter is a Word plugin. Can you elaborate?

      And what about News Feed and Twitter Publishing?

      Thanks for any info you can provide.

    • Watch this space. More details about each of the projects coming in the next couple of weeks.

      As for Alex’s question, all of the projects are “built” and functional as far as the demo goes. You can watch the demos as part of the students’ presentations at

      http://bit.ly/09MedillMcCormickPresents

      I expect development will continue on some of these projects over the summer …

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