Two Students Take on the Journalism Innovation Challenge

Two journalism students — Olivia Nelson and Megan Schellong — share their experiences at the 2017 Journalism Innovation Challenge, hosted by the Hatchery, an on-campus program hosted by the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship that fosters student entrepreneurial initiatives.


By Olivia Nelson

When I first arrived at the Hatchery, the hub for start-up companies on Cal Poly’s campus, I wasn’t sure what the 2nd annual Journalism Innovation Challenge would hold. All I knew was that there would be inventive students eager to pitch their ideas, a panel of judges ready to share their knowledge and experience and, of course, pizza.

I initially attended the event with the intention of reporting on it rather than participating in it, but when an odd number of students arrived, I joined in on the fun to round out a team, which brings me to the rest of my story...

The challenge is a lightning-round pitch competition with teams competing for a $100 prize. The winning team would also have an opportunity to take their idea to the next level, with mentoring and guidance from the Hatchery.

A card game titled “AHA! The Ideation Game for Journalism Innovation,” would serve as the source of inspiration. Each team would select a card from one of three categories — technology,  journalistic goals, consumer needs — and have four minutes to brainstorm ideas for a journalism product or service that combines elements of all three cards, before swapping cards with another team. After multiple rounds, each team would pitch their best idea to the judges.

Card Game AHA!
The card game “AHA! The Ideation Game
for Journalism Innovation” served as
the inspiration for the brainstorming session.
Photo by Olivia Nelson. 

When the challenge began, we huddled into groups of three and gathered around tables, equipped with a journalist’s two favorite tools: a pen and paper. I was grouped with friends from the department, and when the clock began, ideas started to fly.

Our brainstorming resulted in a transcription service called iWrite that would use mobile technology to transcribe a journalist’s interviews in real time in order to promote accuracy and ease of transcription, and subsequently, free more time for the journalist to dedicate toward fact-checking and other duties of the job.

When it came time to pitch iWrite in front of the room, I was feeling nervous. The judges were all media executives with stellar credentials in innovation: Tim Bennett, Oprah's chief operations officer; Doug Klein, managing director at Matchfire;  and Lauren Rabaino, an executive director with Vox Media. I would also be pitching the idea in front of some of the most intelligent, inventive people I know: my peers. Other students’ ideas included virtual reality experiences, fact checking algorithms, and even seals to determine the trustworthiness of news organizations. The creativity in the room was undeniable.

After the judge’s deliberations, my team was awarded runner-up. Though I was disappointed we didn’t win (the student-athlete in me is naturally competitive), I realized the $100 prize paled in comparison to the experience and knowledge I gained during the challenge. And hey, free pizza didn’t hurt either.


By Megan Schellong

AHA! card game faces
Each team was dealt three cards, providing inspiration
for either a technology, consumer need, or journalistic goals.

Before November 3, I didn't have much exposure to the world of innovation. That changed when I walked into the Hatchery for my first Journalism Innovation Challenge, a speed-racing pitch competition in which students collaborate to form an idea for an industry-changing product for journalists.

The students broke into teams of three to brainstorm ideas based on a card game called AHA! The Ideation Game for Journalism Innovation. Each team chose three cards that represented an aspect of a product design:  journalistic goals, consumer needs and technology.

The team who could devise the most innovative storytelling tool would win the $100 grand prize determined by a panel of three judges: Tim Bennett, Oprah’s former chief operations officer;  Doug Klein, managing director at Matchfire; and Lauren Rabaino, an executive director with Vox Media.

As a team, we brought our own unique ideas to the table. Our strongest card combination proved to be a mix of the consumer need of empathy and social community, augmented reality technology and the journalistic goal of serving the public interest. Our idea was an augmented reality app in which users can see computer-generated versions of objects described in a story. The idea was to increase the immersiveness of an online story to get audiences more engaged.

As a student reporter for Mustang News who is used to working independently, I enjoyed the collaborative aspect of the game and the seemingly unlimited possibilities for storytelling innovation in journalism. Now, more than ever, journalists are competing to tell the most compelling, informative and accurate stories — but who will win, and how will they do it? This challenge got us to push the boundaries of journalism and engage the audience.

Journalism Innovation Challenge Winning Team 2017
The winning team, comprised of second year students 
Kelly Hobmann and Ashley Ladin and senior
Andrew Suarez, pitched an idea for
“pick your own adventure” VR news. 
Photo by Megan Schellong.

While my team did not win, I had a chance to sell an idea in front of my peers and gain insight into the start-up world. Everyone in the room was excited to make stories more immersive. They pitched incredible ideas, including a fact-checking app, a robot transcriber and a virtual reality app. I was impressed.

Journalism is buzzing with opportunities to push, expand and change the way reporters and news media organizations are telling stories. This challenge inspired me to start thinking about how to become more adaptable and forward-thinking as a journalist.

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