How J-School Students, Developers Collaborate to Innovate at Medill

    by Rich Gordon
    May 30, 2012

    Here’s a recipe for innovation:

    • Start with an interesting problem in journalism, media or publishing.
    • Catch some journalism students.
    • Mix in some computer science students.
    • Mold into interdisciplinary teams.
    • Stick in the oven for 11 weeks and see what happens.


    i-d87c8686a372fcb2bab9a07fc61990f8-jtech.jpgFor three years now, Northwestern University has offered classes in which journalism and computer science students form teams and try to solve a problem in media, publishing or journalism. What they come up with is almost always interesting — and sometimes, sufficiently promising that the software deserves to be developed further.

    One project from the class led to the creation of a startup company, Narrative Science. Others have fueled the work of the Knight News Innovation Laboratory, a joint program of the journalism and engineering schools at Northwestern.


    Nine teams in the latest class, “Collaborative Innovation in Journalism and Technology,” will be presenting their work in Evanston, Ill., on Wednesday, June 6. If you’re in the Chicago area, you are welcome to attend. (RSVP here or at Chicago Hacks/Hackers.) If you can’t attend, the event will be live-streamed (and archived) at http://bit.ly/Collab-Innovation-Spring2012.


    Here’s a rundown of some of the projects that will be presented on June 6:

    • Local Circle: A lightweight app that makes it easy for groups of websites to share and display related content.
    • CampaignTrac: A tool for tracking and visualizing the language by political candidates, as well as identifying shifts in rhetoric over the course of a campaign.
    • TweetSweep: A utility for publishers that analyzes the content of an article and recommends hashtags that would maximize its audience on Twitter.
    • Untangld: A tool helping investigative reporters save and annotate the results of research on the web (as well as proprietary databases such as Lexis-Nexis).
    • Refine: A visualization system that helps users find and explore the comments they’re interested in within a long stream of comments like what you’d see on a high-traffic news site.
    • PrintF, a WordPress Layout Engine: A WordPress plugin making it easy for a web publisher to change home page layouts based on different mixes of content on a particular day.

    You can read more about the projects at the class blog, Tech Media Street.

    Faculty for the class are me, Associate Prof. Larry Birnbaum (computer science) and Associate Prof. Darnell Little (journalism). Jeremy Gilbert, Zach Wise and John Sullivan of the Medill faculty have helped advise some of the teams.

    From experience with these classes, the best projects will demonstrate “proof of concept” ideas that deserve to be developed further. The faculty and the leadership team of the Knight Lab will decide which of these projects have the greatest potential to be useful to journalists, publishers and/or media consumers. The most promising projects will be developed further by the students themselves, by Knight Lab developers or by a combination of the two.

    Tagged: collaborative innovation journalism knight lab medill school narrative science northwestern university

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