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Northwestern San Francisco

Journalism, engineering students team up to create products

It's a pretty unusual class...It brings together the strengths of two disciplines.”

Rich Gordon
Medill professor

Seven teams of students from Medill and the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science collaborated to create innovative products that combine technology and journalism and presented their prototypes.

The teams in the fall 2014 Collaboration in Journalism and Technology unveiled their projects and showed how they can be used to aid journalists, publishers and media consumers in better reading and evaluating information.

The class is jointly taught by Medill Professor Rich Gordon and McCormick Professor Larry Birnbaum. Now in its fifth year, the class allows students in different Northwestern schools to share their expertise with one another to produce great ideas.

“It’s a pretty unusual class,” Gordon said. “It brings together the strengths of two disciplines: the journalist strength in terms of editorial judgment, understanding narrative and thinking about audiences and computer scientist strength in assessing the feasibility, designing and implementing the system and writing the code.”

The projects the students created:

  • NewsTube helps consumers find news videos by organizing results by media outlet, type of video and time period. Instead of slogging through large numbers of results, videos can be parsed by specific topics and from different geographic areas.
  • persoNews aggregates news through Twitter to create personalized recommendations. All a user has to do is enter their Twitter handle and persoNews provides results.
  • MyNPR gives podcast listeners the ability to personalize their National Public Radio podcast queue. Preferences are saved and feedback fine tunes results for future listening.
  • Info+ gathers the opinions of pundits, Tweets and Reddit posts to give different viewpoints on news stories. The wide range of opinions allows readers to dive deeper into a story to get a range of thoughts.
  • Slice facilitates an "information diet" that helps users streamline the amount of content they consume online. By giving people details on how they spend their time online, the app allows people to decide if they’re using their time wisely.
  • LocalPulse finds news and information based on location and compares the activity to national preferences. The most buzzed about stories in different cities can be identified by analyzing Twitter streams around the country.
  • Funnelist helps journalists manage their Twitter lists.

Using their own experiences as media consumers, the students identified issues and found ways to solve them. For instance, Summer Delaney (BSJ15), who was on the team that created NewsTube, said her team wanted to make news videos easier to find.

“When you’re online and wants to find news video, it’s pretty hard to navigate,” she said. “The news gets lost in all the entertainment and other videos.”

Her team’s algorithm cuts through the clutter and streamlines the media consumption experience.

While all of the products are useful for consumers, some have features that work to the advantage of media creators.

“Nowadays, publishers are really interested in creating content for target markets and specific audiences,” said Priyanka Mody (BSJ16), who was on the LocalPulse team. “With our app, they can create content that better suits their own local audience. Our tool is really an application for media consumers and for publishers.”

See Tweets about the presentation at #NUJTech.

Originally published in December 2014