Journalism School Hackathon at UNC

Weekend Hackathon Puts Focus on Finding Business Solutions

USA, UNC, Carroll Hall

Can journalism and communications schools help shape the next generation of media entrepreneurs? Many schools have created special “labs” and innovation centers and are running courses aimed at building startups — and a startup mentality. But how can they share knowledge, improve skills and have fun doing it? MediaShift is producing our first Journalism School Hackathon on the May 30/June 1, 2014 weekend, co-produced and hosted by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. We’re convening a group of top students, faculty and professionals for the weekend Hackathon, with a real-world mission of solving a local media outlet’s problem while learning more about innovation and entrepreneurship. The focus for the Hackathon will be on creating sustainable business models and revenues for news outlets.

Key Speakers





The Hackathon will include both building solutions and key training talks from knowledgeable industry experts. Spotlighted speakers include Mark Briggs, director of digital media at KING5 and author of “Entrepreneurial Journalism” and “Journalism Next,”  Robyn Tomlin, editor of Digital First Media’s Project Thunderdome and David Jones of Bull City Venture Partners.


Challenges for the Hackathon are from McClatchy newspapers, the local non-profit Raleigh Public Record and local TV station WRAL. Here are the challenges:

How might we use high school sports to create tighter bonds within a community?
How might we increase awareness of outside influence on local elections?

Raleigh Public Record
How can we provide greater transparency into local government planning decisions and actions?

How It Works

From the students, faculty and pros assembled, we’ll create “dream teams” with people from various schools on one team. Each team will have a mix of necessary disciplines — editor/producer, designer, tech person, business-savyy pro or faculty facilitator — who will learn to work together in the crucible of the weekend hackathon. The weekend will be a combination of focused talks and training from innovation leaders and experts, work sessions and final presentations of solutions from each team. Faculty and industry experts will provide expertise to each team and help them rapidly develop their solution. Judges will pick winners, who can potentially work with the local media company on their solution. Judging will be weighted most heavily on teams coming up with viable business solutions.


Host School

The hackathon will be hosted by UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and its Reese News Lab, which is focused on developing and testing new ideas for the media industry. The intention for the hackathon this year is to start the ball rolling, work out the kinks and continue annual Journalism School Hackathons at other participating schools. UNC will have an on-campus housing option at reduced rates or people may stay at local hotels.

Who’s Coming

All journalism and communications schools are invited to attend the Hackathon, as well as journalists, editors, technologists, entrepreneurs and others with an interest in networking, collaboration and innovation. The following schools have expressed an interest in the Hackathon, and we’ll add to the list when others register:

University of North Carolina’s Reese News Lab
Newhouse School of Communication at Syracuse
Scripps College of Communication at Ohio
Knight Lab at Medill/Northwestern
Georgetown University
Northern Arizona University
University of Florida
Duke University
University of West Virginia


Registration costs $109 for faculty and professionals, $59 for students and a 10% discount for groups of 5 or more participants.

Please go to this Eventbrite page to register now!


Travel and housing costs are up to participants, but UNC has on-campus housing — ranging from $123.70 per person for two nights for single occupancy rooms to $71.73 per person for two nights double occupancy. Housing details and registration here!


Saturday, May 31 to Sunday, June 1, 2014

Plan to arrive Friday, May 30, in the evening with an official start early Saturday morning and ending Sunday afternoon at 2 pm with plenty of travel time.


opennews logo

The Hackathon will be sponsored by Mozilla OpenNews. OpenNews connects a global network of developers, journalists, makers and hackers to collaborate on innovative code and new ideas. We believe a community of peers working, learning and solving problems together can create the tools journalism needs to thrive on the open Web. Keep up with that community via our website Source.


The Hackathon is also sponsored by Innovate @ Carolina, an initiative to push innovation and entrepreneurship at UNC Chapel Hill. The Chancellor’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship works to strengthen UNC’s innovation ecosystem to meet the needs of faculty, students, staff, and community members as they translate their novel ideas into practical benefit and change the world.


This is a working outline and subject to change.

Friday May 30:
– Kick-off mixer at 1789 Venture Lab.  Drop in between 5pm and 7pm then head out for dinner on your own.  1789 Venture Lab is located at 173 1/2 East Franklin Street, 27514

Saturday May 31

8:00 – Light breakfast/gathering

  • 8:30 – Kickoff

    • Welcome and explanation of rules and logistics

    • Presentation of challenges (John Conway,; Suzanne Levinson, McClatchy Interactive; Charles Duncan, Raleigh Public Record).

  • 9:30 – Breakout into teams

  • 10:00 – Speaker Session 1 Team Collaboration & Brainstorming (Human Centered Design) — Robyn Tomlin

  • 10:30 – WORK

  • 12:30 – Lunch

    • Speaker Session 2 – Framework for creating a business strategy (business model canvas) – Mark Briggs

  • 1:30 – WORK

  • 6:00 – Dinner

    • Speaker Session 3 – Venture Capitalism and the Media – David Jones, Bull City Venture Partners

  • 7:00 – WORK

  • 10:00 official day end

Sunday June 1:

  • 8:00 – Light breakfast

  • 8:30 – Speaker Session 4 – Pitching

  • 9:00 – WORK

  • 11:30 – Lunch is ready for judges

  • 12:00 – Deadline for project submissions

  • Lunch

  • Pitches, Judging and Next Steps

    Our Judges:
    John Conway,
    Suzanne Levinson, McClatchy Interactive
    Charles Duncan, Raleigh Public Record
    Mark Briggs, KING Broadcasting
    Jan Davis, Triangle Angel Partners and an Executive in Residence for the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network
    Robyn Tomlin, Digital First Media’s Thunderdome
    Betsy Hauser Idilbi, Tech Talent South

Official end of Hackathon: 2 pm


Flying:  The closest airport is Raleigh-Durham International Airport
From there, you have several options for local transportation:
car rental
taxi or car service
Triangle Transit offers a bus from RDU to Chapel Hill with one change at their hub in RTP. This costs $2 and leaves the airport every hour or so. Route 100 to route 800. (Not the most convenient and you might have to wait a bit for them but by far the cheapest option.)

Driving: There are several near and on-campus parking options once you get to Chapel Hill, NC.
Here is a campus map:  Carroll Hall is in area 8F, part of Polk Place.

Top image of UNC’s Carroll Hall for the cover of “Making News,” a book by Tom Bowers, reflecting on the building’s 100 year history. Other images courtesy of UNC.

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