Category 1: Actions and Commenting – how do you engage readers properly?

Photo by duncan on Flickr.
Photo by duncan on Flickr.

Commenting has been touted as both an advantage and a disadvantage of the web for news organisations. It can be used to bring readers into a discussion – they can be great for finding stories and building relationships. However they can often descend into madness and require constant attention and guidance if they are to be an asset.

Comments tend to appear at the bottom of every article (unless the news desk were afraid of contempt and turned them off), however it seems silly to us to always ask readers to comment (or turn them off and have no alternative)

Assuming you have a reader’s attention at the end of an article – what do you want to do with it?

What if, instead of commenting you’d rather they shared a particular article, or made it easy for them to write to their MP, what if you want them to rate somewhere you have reviewed or answer a polling question? Or upload a picture of their own experiences?

If you’re thinking of tackling this category at Build The News, you need to think about:

  • When you have an engaged reader, what do you do with their time and energy?
  • How do you make it easy for journalists to engage with readers further?
  • How do you improve quality, how do help readers find comments that interest them?
  • Can you tell if your readership agree with a columnist?


If you haven’t got your ticket for Build The News yet, you can sign up your team here.

This category is supported by Livefyre



Build The News event update

On the weekend of Feb 22/23 The Times and Sunday Times Digital Team ran its first coding event.

Named Build The News, we invited 10 student teams and our two titles to compete in four categories over two days to see who could produce the most disruptive / useful / innovative new way to find information or tell stories digitally.


After almost 14 hours of idea generation, sense checking, designing and coding our attendees had to present back and show us what they had made and why.

We wanted the students to think very carefully about solving a particular problem – whether this was for journalists in the newsroom or for readers on digital platforms.

The teams rose to the challenge in spectacular fashion, some bit off more than they could chew and had to pivot to narrower solutions, others faced technical challenges that ate up precious time, two lost their developers at short notice.

Yet they were all still standing at the end to pitch their ideas to our judging panel.

The four categories we asked teams to focus on were:


Think about long form journalism on the web across multiple devices. How do you make sure the experience is immersive, readable and doesn’t distract from the story?


The power of the crowd is growing with the internet – can you develop a tool or platform that allows newsrooms to campaign effectively on issues that matter to their readers?


The Sunday tradition of sharing sections of the paper, the magazine and supplements around the kitchen table is evolving – can you think of an idea that enhances the reading/sharing experience?


It’s easier than ever to find out what readers / citizens / protesters think and feel – how do you make it easier for newsrooms to find the details and people that matter around big events and moments?


There was an fantastic atmosphere in the room all weekend with groups working incredibly hard to keep their ideas on track, often realising that they could simplify solutions further both technically and for their proposed users.

On the Saturday night we took everyone out for dinner and drinks so the teams could properly socialise with each other –  the first day had been very intense and we wanted to make sure people were relaxed before day two began.

The ideas

12 teams presented back to the group as a whole on Sunday afternoon; 10 student teams and two title ones. The title teams were only competing for bragging rights and it was closely fought, with The Sunday Times winning with their concept.

We then had a judges prize for best presentation which went to Winchester with

Category winners were:

Crowd – Birmingham City University/HS2

Stretch – Kingston/Slide

Noise – Goldsmiths/Be There

Digest – University of Birmingham/Digest

Event winner – City, Imperial/Low Pass


Overall we were impressed with the ideas all the teams pursued, they had really taken to heart our advice to focus on solving a problem, rather than features for the sake of it – a good lesson for any newsroom.

We’ll be blogging in more detail about each of the ideas shortly as well as publishing a social roundup.


Thanks to everyone that helped make the weekend a success:

Main venue: BL-NK

Food: Speck Mobile

Prizes: Spotify

T-shirts: Action Advertising

Evening venue: Corney and Barrow


Build the News: Day one update


As we draw to a close on our first day of Build The News everyone’s projects are starting to take shape.

A few good project names are appearing

  • Be there
  • Digest
  • Pension time bomb myth or reality
  • Low pass
  • Slide
  • Sunday Times
  • Syria: The road from Damascus to hell
  • Source
  • HS2 campaign

and you can learn more about what they mean on our Hack Dash

Earlier in the day the teams heard from Alan Hunter (Head of Digital, TNL) Nicola Ryan, Head of Digital Design for The Times, Matt Taylor & Joseph Stashko from TNL and Ben Fogarty, CEO of Shorthand. They then had two hours to work on ideas, decide which category they wanted to tackle and get a 3 minute pitch together for an after lunch ‘sense check’.

This afternoon everyone has had a massive 4.5 hour building/designing/researching/coding session before we head off to the pub for some down time and chance for teams to meet each other properly.

See you all tomorrow for day two, another massive building session and then final presentations and judging.

Announcing Build The News – a two day coding event

We’re really excited to announce an event held by The Times, Sunday Times and the Sun for student journalists and programmers – Build The News.

Build The News will be a chance for web developers to team up with student journalists to compete with others in order to produce the best digital journalism project.

It’ll be on the last weekend of February next year, in East London, and we’re looking for teams of 3 to 5 from universities around the UK. Each team should contain at least one web developer who is proficient in using HTML, CSS and Javascript, or server-side frameworks such as Python, PHP, Java etc.

The aim is to see how student journalists and developers can work together to create innovative forms of storytelling, with a choice of topic and prizes awarded for the best in each category.

Throughout the two day event, teams will benefit from the expertise of Times, Sunday Times and Sun staff, as well as companies (to be announced) with interesting APIs and tool kits to give feedback and assistance with your projects.

To learn more about the event and book your ticket, take a look at the event page here.

If you’ve got any questions, feel free to tweet us at @TimesDevelops or me at @JosephStash