At Reese News Lab, Students Start Off Thinking Big

    by Samantha Harrington
    September 3, 2014
    Lab interns finalize ideas.

    It’s been about two years since my first Reese News Lab orientation day. It’s difficult to remember what it was like to walk into the Lab new. But at orientation this week I watched the classic mix of excitement and confusion dance across the new interns’ faces and I realized that being old isn’t quite so different from being new.


    "A critical rule for the brainstorming process is to never criticize an idea. You shout it out, write it down, and move on to the next idea."

    For an introduction activity, interns were split into groups of three and handed a marshmallow, dry spaghetti noodles and masking tape. These items came with simple instructions: Build the tallest, free-standing structure you can, and put the marshmallow on top.


    “EASY!” we thought.

    But less than two minutes after I proclaimed to my group that we needed to build with triangles, things were falling apart. In the final moments, we decided to just stick some noodles into the marshmallow. Our final product looked something like a sad porcupine. It was pretty short.

    lessons learned: limits don’t exist

    We all came back together to reflect on the tower-building and were given an important lesson: Kindergartners are great at this activity because they start improvising with their materials right away.

    Interns new and old brainstorm ideas.

    Interns new and old brainstorm ideas.

    This led into a Reese News Lab speech that I know by heart, but that never gets old. This is how it goes: We’ll talk about kids, we’ll talk about how they play like limits don’t exist, and we’ll talk about the importance of holding onto creativity and fun even when things look impossible.

    By lunchtime on orientation day, people were starting to get tired. The Lab is a high-octane environment and it can wear you out. After refueling with pizza, interns new and old were back at the brainstorming board.

    We always start out big. Everyone is together in the lab and everyone is throwing out ideas. A critical rule for the brainstorming process is to never criticize an idea. You shout it out, write it down, and move on to the next idea.

    This continues for the next week and culminates in a pitch night where only three ideas will survive.

    Though I’ve gone through this process before, I’m not weary of it yet. There are always new people and new problems to learn with. And, though it’s helpful to draw from past experiences to tackle the problems of the present, I’m constantly reminded of the value new minds bring to the table.

    We’ve had a lot of great ideas come out of the Lab in the last year and, judging by the last couple of days, more greatness is ahead.

    Samantha Harrington is a journalism and Arabic major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is reporter at Reese News Lab with STEMwire.org and can talk forever about global politics and digital media.

    This story originally appeared on Reese News Lab.

    reese2Reese News Lab is an experimental news and research project based at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The lab was established in 2010 with a gift from the estate of journalism school alum Reese Felts. The Lab develops and tests new ideas for the media industry in the form of a “pre-startup.” Teams of students research ideas for media products by answering three questions: Can it be done? Does anyone actually need this? Could it sustain itself financially? To answer these questions, students create prototypes, interview and survey potential customers, and develop business strategies for their products. Students document their recommendations on whether they believe a product will work and then present their ideas to the public.

    Tagged: education reese news lab school of journalism unc

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