Today is the Digital Team’s first day in the new building.
The move was a great opportunity to change the way we work in The Times and Sunday Times newsrooms.
The floor plates of the new building mean we can fit entire titles on a single floor instead of splitting them across two. In Wapping the digital team was off the main newsroom floor.
Serving two titles means we have a unique challenge - to be present and a part of conversations and decision making in two places at once.
In the new building we have desk space near the backbench on both The Times and The Sunday Times. Everyone that didn’t have a laptop has been issued one - we can work anywhere in the building, with any team that suits what we are up to at that moment.
It’s also an important statement about our digital future - no longer are we tucked away - just as we have become deeply embedded within the newsroom we expect digital thinking, commissioning and decision making to as well.
With a distributed team and a growing number of projects, tools that we use for communicating and planning like Slack and Trello will become indispensable.
As The Times gets up to full speed over the next ten days and The Sunday Times follows a few weeks later we’ll try and let you know how it’s going.
Yup, the rumours are true. We’re running a second Build The News event this coming October.
We have loads of information on the Build The News website and you can see all the projects from the last event here:
What happened after the last event?
The Winners, Ferret (previously named Low Pass) have been in to the office twice to work on their idea with support from the Digital Team.
We hired Chris Hutchinson, a developer from one of the teams that competed.
We also made sure projects were taken on in the newsroom - our Syria piece came off the back of work started that weekend.
“Hackathons aren’t all about winning”, I said, clutching our giant trophy in one hand and a jubilant glass of cava in the other.
On Friday night, Aendrew Rininsland, Eoin Tunstead and I were at the closing cocktail party of the Global Editors Network Summit 2014, after scooping first prize in the Global Editors Network international hackathon. I was trying hard not to be unbearably smug.
Alas, I did not succeed, and I soon dispensed with the glass and used the silver cup instead.
Debauchery aside, It was a truly world class competition. Listening to and discussing ideas with top teams from around the globe was privilege enough, and without exception their hackathon projects were fantastic.
Although it was a competition, there was a real open-source ethos and several teams are now joining together to realise some of their ideas.
One of the best came from La Nación’s team - an idea to flag and tag parts of videos using .srt files, creating a crowd-sourced, fully searchable and machine-readable video database. We’re excited to be working with them to get this off the ground.
The key, for our project, was to solve a specific and limited problem. Mission creep is a real danger in a hackathon when you have less than two days to create something that actually works.
Our idea is called Moments. Essentially, it chops into short clips the hulking videos that squat at the top of articles and places these clips at relevant points inline in the copy.
In the CMS interface we built, a journalist highlights the point in the article where they want to insert a video moment. They set the start point and the end point of the video. They add a description, and they publish.
There’s still a long video at the top of the page. But now, small play buttons are inserted inline in the article copy. Clicking them opens a video player at that point on the page, which shows a relevant 6-10 second snippet from the video at the top - a moment. When it’s done, it neatly packs away and you can carry on reading.
This way, a journalist can create a tailored but seamless multimedia experience in a couple of minutes.
A couple of teams came up with awesome ideas that use copy, images and data visualisations to augment video. But news organisations like our own mainly deal in the written word. We don’t have the resources to make a lot of videos every day. So really, video’s role for us is to augment copy.
Using this business-headed approach gave us a creative constraint. We gave ourselves direction by using another immutable hackathon rule: build from the front backwards.
The two days of hacking led up to four minutes of presentation, so it was important to make it at least look like it worked for those four minutes.
Building from the front backwards makes you think about the user journey first, and so narrows down what features you actually need to build, and what ones you can throw out.
In the end, we didn’t really have a back end to our project, because it didn’t need it. That meant we could spend more time sharpening up the front end. We still aimed to be innovative, creating our own custom HTML element (moment-video), and making it responsively snazzy with famo.us. But we kept it light, because we had to build the damned thing in considerably less than 48 hours.
One of our key aims was to build something we would use. It’s all too easy to come up with a fabulous pie-in-the-sky idea that never leaves the hackathon. But with Moments, we decided to focus on a particular problem that we have at The Times (although it is common to many other newsrooms).
So Aendrew took some time to make the project compatible with pretty much any CMS, and to build it modularly to make it extensible and flexible. And now we’re back, we’re actually going to use it.
Last week, to mark the launch of the Times Sport Instagram account, we were invited to Wimbledon for a behind-the-scenes tour of facilities in SW19.
Come and join people like this as they pick up silver things
Since The Times and The Sunday Times Digital Development team was formed at the start of last year we’ve steadily grown in number, taking on new team members all of the time.
Now we’re hiring again.
We’re looking for a talented and dedicated senior Front End Developer to come and work with us on the editorial floors of two of the world’s greatest news organisations.
You’ll be passionate about user interaction and storytelling and keen to help shape the future of The Times and The Sunday Times’ digital content strategy.
We’re an award-winning multidisciplinary team of journalists, developers, designers and data people. We get excited about building things: you can find out more about our work on this blog. We’re also nice.
You can read more details about the job and apply on the News UK Careers site here now.
If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me directly on Twitter.
Head of News Development, The Times and The Sunday Times
We’re approaching the end of the first day at the GEN Hackathon in sunny Barcelona, and things are looking good.
Our brief for this international two-day competition is Making the Most of Video, and we’re told that:
“From live streaming to video aggregation, short news clips to documentary storytelling… the options for digital news videos are rapidly growing as are the opportunities.”
Initially we were unimpressed. Making the most of Video? That’s so two thousand and late. But hackathons are all about solving a specific problem, and with this topic, there is a clear problem to solve.
Video is very time and resource intensive. Newsrooms across the world are cash-strapped and time poor. So you have to make the most of every video you make.
On a mainly text-based news website, a common layout for video is to plonk it at the top of an article, with the text flowing underneath it.
This creates an awkward user experience, where your attention is split - you end up watching some of the video and scanning the article, scrolling up and down the page and getting the most out of neither medium. That’s a problem.
Our project, moments, solves this problem. Small play buttons are inserted inline in the article copy. Clicking them opens a video player at that point on the page, which shows a relevant 6-10 second clip from the video - a moment. When it’s done, it neatly packs away and you can carry on reading.
The reader gets a seamless and truly multimedia experience. You only have to watch the bits that interest you, but you’ll end up spending more time on the page, because the video snippets draw you through the article.
Moments literally puts video in its place. Video must work to supplement and enhance written content, because most news organisations don’t have the resources for video to be their primary content type. Placing relevant inline moments achieves this simply and elegantly.
And if you’re one of the few who like things just the way they are, don’t worry: the full video still appears at the top of the article.
So how do we generate these clips? A simple tagging system in the CMS. The video is set alongside the article. The journalist highlights a section of text, and then a short snippet from the video. They click ‘add moment’, and they’re done.
The journalist can also provide a quick description of the snippet - all of twenty seconds’ work, that provides an accessible alternative for visually disabled readers. It also creates opportunities for future use of these moments, by machine-reading the video descriptions.
Stay tuned - we’ll continue fleshing it out tomorrow.
In January, we started asking our social media followers to show us how they enjoyed reading The Sunday Times. What began as a fun little experiment soon has become a wonderful weekly celebration of our readers with snaps being sent in from around the globe. With pet pics, beach shots and general merriment set alongside the app, tablet or paper editions, here are a few of our favourites so far.
As if The Sunday Times wasn’t value for money enough, one mum decided to get creative with her paper and fashion it into a sun hat for her wee babby. Adorable!
We liked this Seattle snow-scape sent in from tablet-toting Alex.
— Alex (@Alex_syntax)February 9, 2014
Like much of the internet, we have a soft spot for dogs. Especially dogs reading The Sunday Times. I think you can guess what comes next…
— Luke Jones (@Lukejones03)March 16, 2014
What could be a more relaxing way to enjoy your Sunday paper than to have a leisurely nestle in the heart of your very own lemon grove? This guy looks like he’s got a zest for life, right!
— Driving Over Lemons (@WhenInSpain)March 9, 2014
See what we did there? Please don’t cancel your subscription as a result of this caption.
ST reader Kate interspersed her afternoon at Melbourne’s One Day International with a spot of browsing on her phone during the recent Ashes series.
— Kate (@katescarrott)January 12, 2014
Much as we enjoy tweeting about #meandmyST from the office in London, it doesn’t have quite the appeal of this glorious looking beach, where one reader was perusing the iPad edition. The sun! In February! Just imagine! Oh wait, we can’t.
— Eva Grosman (@evagrosman)February 23, 2014
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this snap is so brilliant. Perhaps it’s the peering eyes. Or the carefully balanced tablet. Either way, we love it.
— CJ (@csjohal)February 2, 2014
This one, sent in by reader Antonia, was the cause of must jealousy, we must admit…
— antonia filmer (@tweetingtonia)February 2, 2014
If there’s one way to celebrate David Hockney making the cover of Culture, it’s by creating the artiest shot imaginable for #meandmyST. The man who can make baked beans look like something worthy of the Tate is a clever man indeed.
— Matthew Oxley (@matthewoxley)February 2, 2014
The mug never lies.
— Hazel Farrell (@hazellfarrell)January 26, 2014
Send us your snaps with your copy of The Sunday Times via Twitter and Instagram - just use the hashtag #meandmyST. We’ll retweet and like the best ones.
Back in February, The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun co-hosted Build The News - a hackathon for journalists and developers within the student community. The weekend was a great success with 10 teams taking part, and some really interesting ideas emerging.
The overall winning team came up with ‘Low Pass’ - a tool intended to allow journalists covering a breaking news story to find the signal among the noise on Twitter. We invited the team in for the week to continue developing the tool - and this is their account of the week.
Building the News
At the end of the hackathon we had a tool that worked - just. (Details of our experience at the original Build The News event can be found in this blogpost from team member Jeshua.)
Low Pass returned a graphical representation of the number of results for a given search term, and allowed user to grab tweets from a selected time period.
A serious amount of work was needed to turn it into a reliable tool, though - and we also needed time together to think more about how the tool would work in practice, and what it would offer users.
[Caption:] It wasn’t supposed to look like this
To this end, we got facetime with a huge range of people across the News UK titles: The Times’s community team; The Sun’s social media team; Nick Petrie and the rest of The Times/Sunday Times digital news team; several reporters from The Times and The Sunday Times; Joel Wade, a designer on The Times; various executives including Craig Tregurtha, group managing editor, The Times and The Sunday Times.
(We’d love to list everyone by name, but, space :) ).
What did we get out of this? Our main take-aways were:
that being able to find good pictures of a breaking news event is crucial. This is something that came back from both social/community teams - but also from some of the reporters we spoke to. Increasingly, in an age of social media, reporters themselves will be assisting picture desks in finding photos of breaking news events
that the tool will work best for things that happens in the public realm, where there are witnesses. So, the killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, as opposed to Peaches Geldof’s death. We were assuming this was the case, and our time in the building only served to firm this up
there might be uses for the tool that we hadn’t initially realised. Charities monitoring the takeoff of a campaign, marketers wanting to see who early adopters of a hashtag are - there are lots of people who might be interested in a tool that allowed them to easily track early engagement on Twitter
One example that really caught our imagination was mentioned by Robin Henry. In November 2012 The Sunday Times scored an exclusive with the news that comedian Alan Davies could face prosecution for a potentially libellous tweet relating to the Lord McAlpine - when reporting that week had focussed almost exclusively on the Sally Bercow’s own misguided tweeting.
According to Henry, the ST got the story simply by trawling - lots of trawling - through tweets that had been sent about the case, most of which referred to Sally Bercow’s case.
To us, this seemed like the perfect example of where Low Pass can have value - cutting through the noise, and the mass of retweets, to find messages that contained original material. We hope it will allow a reporting team to find a similar story more quickly and with less work in future.
We got good ideas on other use cases, thoughts on design and UX, and - because we’re not operating in a vacuum - thoughts on the limitations of other existing Twitter search services (e.g. Topsy).
We also demoed the tool to a number of executives and got (really encouraging) feedback from them.
A lot of time was obviously also spent on developing the tool from where it was previously. This involved:
improving and testing the core function;
working on a neater user interface;
adding *some* additional functionality
What doesn’t the tool do?
The tool certainly doesn’t do everything a user might want it to - and it might never.
There are two main things which it doesn’t even try to get involved with: knowing what search term a user should try in the first place, and trying to do anything on the reliability of tweeted information.
We have a few ideas in these areas - but ultimately, there are probably limits in terms of what an application can do here. There are some things which humans - reporters, community teams, picture desk editors - will always be better at.
We also decided that were definitely going to change the name of the tool, from ‘Low Pass’ to something a bit more positive.
So we bounced several ideas around.
And went with some for a while.
Then couldn’t decide what we liked best, so went back to Low Pass (for now).
Taking it further
What happens next is something of an open question for now. All members of the development team have other commitments (*ahem* Finals *ahem*) that will be taking up a certain amount of our time. And there are also important decisions to be made on, for example, whether any further development stays on an open source basis.
There are a number of additional features we’d like to add, ranging from things we see as being core functionality (more filtering options; options to zoom and scroll on the search results graph; basic flagging of tweets that look unreliable) to more advanced features that might be a little further off.
In the meantime, we’d love to hear thoughts on the tool - can you see the value of the tool? How do you think you’d use it? And what additional features would be useful?
If you’ve got any thoughts, or just want to say hey, then feel free to get in touch with any of us via Twitter.
Philip Nye (@philipnye)
With thanks to all those at The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun who contributed their time and ideas this week.