How we’re trying to create a more fulfilling journalism build day

Putting stories, and not tech, at the heart of Build The News will mean a more interesting and enjoyable event for everyone

Matthew TK Taylor
Jan 18, 2016 · 4 min read

Over the last two years, in the course of hosting three Build The News events, we’ve challenged dozens of bright, digitally-savvy students to solve some of the challenges that the media industry is facing.

They’ve risen to the occasion and we’ve seen some awesome ideas and impressive prototypes, from ways of fixing reader interaction with writers, to finding ways to improve the safety of journalists overseas. There have been tools to save lawyer’s headaches, and means by which to inspire heated debate between readers in the comment section under articles. From Exeter to St Andrews, we’ve had dozens of different ideas from universities from all around the country, each with potential to be taken further.

But, in the course of organising our next event in March, it became clear that we weren’t solving problems, just having fun around them.

As with lots of hack days, even when we have a great idea, it’s been hard to turn it into something real that can be used back in the real world. Students tell us they fall foul of of a lack of time (who knew studying for a degree took so long), a shortage of technical expertise (student newspapers don’t always have developers or designers to hand), or even a shortfall of funds or motivation. Even staff who attend and whose job it is to innovate in the newsroom fail to do so when the realities of day-to-day priorities, technical restrictions and project deadlines hit.

We also found that the weekend was unbalanced, even unproductive at points, with only the first few hours of ideas generation at all collaborative. After that, we saw it was often left to to the designer/developer to cobble together something to demo while the rest of the team (those who don’t code or design) are tasked with fashioning together a script or presentation. That didn’t feel right.

We want to make a better event.

So this year’s Build The News will have a different focus. We want to get back to basics, steer a little away from a heavy tech focus, and start again with journalism.

So, this year there will be only one category: storytelling.

Teams will be expected to come with a story and the raw materials they need to tell it best. Whether it’s a team of student newspaper journalists that have a mountain of data, or magazine students with a long interview and photos, or multimedia students with video and audio from a trip they took, they’ll have to show up with all the materials they expect to use.

Why do it this way? Well, because it’s more realistic to tell one story than to craft a piece of working software that works across lots of stories.

By tackling something manageable, each team should be in position to finish something rather than start something they never have time to come back to.

It’s worth mentioning we’re not looking for 12 different ‘Snowfalls’ either. We want participants to tell the story in the way that’s most appropriate, enjoyable and original. The judges, who we’ll confirm closer to the event, will be looking for a strong idea, the treatment it’s been given and the means of production used.

Please. No more!

So, if you’re attending the event, start thinking of your story and putting this content together now. The next couple of months will fly by and booking an interview or doing an FOI always takes longer than you think. If you’ve not got a ticket yet, for whatever reason, you can sign up here. It’s just £15 for the whole weekend (and we guarantee you’ll consume at least that value in free snacks).

Feel free to go off-piste and try something new too. You can use your own and external tools like Peek, Meerkat, or SoundCloud to try new things with Snapchat, live streaming, audio, or anything else you want. We’ll have experienced developers and digital journalists on hand to help you use the best tools to build your masterpiece. Start now talking about your ideas with #buildthenews on Twitter, we’d love to hear what you have in mind.

And the best thing about it is, at the end of the weekend, you’ll have something to press ‘Publish’ with.

So get thinking!

Digital Times

Stories from the digital team at The Times and Sunday Times

Matthew TK Taylor

Written by

Digital Development and Strategy at @thetimes

Digital Times

Stories from the digital team at The Times and Sunday Times

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