Fourteen newsroom teams – comprising a journalist, a designer and a developer – competed in South Africa’s first sub-Saharan Editor’s Lab hackathon this weekend, and top honours were won by an all-woman team from the Sunday Times.
Loni Prinsloo (journalist), Fiona Krisch (designer) and Carla Goldstein (developer) created a cheeky ‘dating game’ app designed to help South Africans find the political party that best matches their interests. The Party Match app was designed by the team during a 48-hour brainstorming session hosted by Africa’s largest digital largest digital news publisher 24.com, and organised by the Global Editors Network, the African Media Initiative and Google.
“Although not the most technically accomplished project, Party Match won because it demonstrated the local potential for news games and the importance of humour in building audience engagement around ‘boring’ issues such as politics,” said jury member and AMI chief digital strategist, Justin Arenstein. “The creative execution on Party Match was also heads above the other 13 contestants.”
City Press won second place, securing technical support from Code for Africa for their cross-media app designed to help the estimated 3 600 people raped every day in South Africa. LifeCoach tries to guide rape survivors through the process of reporting and prosecuting their attackers, while also linking them with their nearest counsellors and support networks. LifeCoach intends expanding to include other tutorials, to help South Africa’s emergent middle class navigate an increasingly complex world.
“This hackathon is without a doubt one of the most impressive we’ve organised anywhere in the world. The 13 teams that competed produced more working prototypes than at any other Editors’ Lab, except the one at the New York Times. The South African winners produced an excellent app, with a great idea and clever implementation at very high editorial and technical standards,” said GEN’s deputy director, and Editors’ Lab manager, Antoine Laurent. “South Africa boasts a really accomplished digital innovation community.”
The Sunday Times’ Krisch said the Editors’ Lab was a “revelation” for the team. “None of our team members had ever worked together or gone to a hackathon before, nor had any of us worked on a news app before. We were initially terrified, but then decided to keep it simple. We focused on just one issue: how do you get South Africa’s apathetic young to engage with politics? How do you get them to think about what each party has to offer, and how this impacts on their lives? Party Match is our solution,” said Krisch. “The fact that we could pull together a working prototype in less than two days will rock our newsroom.”
The team scored a R20 000 cash prize, plus an all expense paid trip to the GEN Summit and Global Data Journalism Awards Ceremony in Barcelona, Spain, in June 2014. While in Spain, the South Africans will compete with Editors’ Lab winners from 18 other countries during a Global News Hackathon.
The prototype app is designed for tablets, with smartphone and desktop versions planned. Newsrooms will be able to analyse data from the app, to help track opinion trends amongst users.
The jury, consisting of Memeburn editor Michelle Atagana, Laurent and Arenstein, awarded two special commendations:
- The Media24 Digital News team, for BuyLine, a lightweight paywall platform that fences individual articles, with payment via USSD using airtime credits from users’ mobile accounts. The micropayment system is perfect for users who don’t have credit cards, and is intended to be used by independent journalists and / or content creators. The team’s presentation can be viewed here.
- Jason Norwood-Young, for his Strike Season interactive infographic CMS, that helps newsrooms quickly and clearly explain complicated union demands and employer counter offers during South Africa’s fiercely contested strikes. Jason was commended for not only building his prototype despite all his other teammates from Daily Maverick dropping out at the last minute, but also for assisting almost half the other teams with technical advice.
“Jason was a one-man army. And, the only reason that BuyLine didn’t win is because it didn’t speak to the ‘Active Citizenry’ theme of the hackathon. The same goes for other strong contenders, such as Eyewitness News’ NewSense API project. Even though they didn’t win, we fully expect to see them go public, because they’re such important innovations,” said Atagana.
Other projects that won technical support from Code for Africa include:
- Story Check, an Android app that gives citizen reporters step-by-step editorial guidelines and checklists for reporting news from the field, by West Cape News.
- Rolodex, an Android app that gives journalists, activists, and other media professionals access to the massive contact directory and daily news diaries at the continent’s largest wire agency, the South African Press Association (Sapa).
- #GreenAlerts, a cross-platform app that alerts South African citizens to local Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) applications and other development notices in their neighbourhoods, allowing them to comment or register as interested parties. The app will be deployed by the Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Reporting.
The other projects submitted by the 14 competing teams can be viewed online at GEN’s Editors Lab page and Hacks/Hackers Africa. The 14 teams were: BDFM (publishers of the Business Day and Financial Mail), Cape Times, City Press, Daily Maverick, Eyewitness News, Hacks/Hackers Johannesburg, SABC Digital News, South African Press Association (SAPA), the Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Reporting, Media24 Digital News, Media24 Magazines Digital Division, News24, Sunday Times and West Cape News.