A team of undergrads in computer science and journalism took the grand prize in the 10th annual RJI Student Competition with Informator, an intelligent mobile search tool that finds hidden relationships between key words and phrases, generating insights that help journalists find new angles to important stories.
Convergence journalism major Humera Lodhi and computer science majors Chris Mitchell and Evan Teters make up Team MindFlow, the creators of Informator.
Lodhi gives an example of how Informator works. By tracking concepts highly correlated in their database with the word “transgender,” they quickly uncovered an underreported story about transgender diabetes patients and problems they have with health care services, particularly in rural areas. They also surfaced a report that many European countries require transgender residents to be sterilized when they attempt to change their name or gender on a driver’s license.
By teasing out such hidden relationships, Informator helps journalists overcome the problem of too many news organizations taking the same approach on the same small set of stories.
Informator’s custom code sits on top of the Aylien News API, which indexes news content for two months from what it describes as thousands of high-quality and trusted sources worldwide.
One of the final-round judges in the competition, Amanda Klohmann, praised MindFlow’s execution. “It’s a clear concept that they already started to refine, and they thought about it beyond this competition and beyond journalism.” The team envisions researchers, educators, marketers and political advisers as other potential customers for Informator.
Klohmann, a user experience specialist at the online fragrance company PHLUR in Austin, Texas, is one of two former student winners of the RJI Competition who served as judges this year. Her team took the 2011 RJI prize for Media Moguls, a news gaming prototype developed for Hearst Innovation.
Also judging this year’s contest was Tony Brown, Chicago-based vice president for product at Newsy.com. His 2009 team created NearBuy, a suite of real estate tools that were an early success tied to the launch of the iPhone. The team’s efforts led the University of Missouri to change its intellectual property rules to support student inventions. They went on to develop Newsy’s first set of mobile apps.
Klohmann and Brown joined three other business, technology and journalism professionals in choosing this year’s winners: Missouri Technology Corporation Executive Director Bill Anderson, RJI Director of Innovation Ebony Reed (formerly a sales executive with the Boston Business Journal and The Associated Press) and University of Missouri IT program director and engineering professor Dong Xu.
Three other finalist teams took part in this year’s RJI Student Competition, which focused on mobile applications of artificial intelligence to address journalistic problems and opportunities.
Naberfeed is an intelligent tool that finds related concepts within local news stories from across the United States, giving journalists new insights, new angles and additional context for their own stories. Engineering students Thunpisit Amnuaikiatloet, Shashank Avusali, Carlos Martinez Villar and Thitivuth Rattanasriampaipong and journalism student Maria Valero Dosal comprise Team Naberfeed.
Team NewsXplore developed a mobile prototype that lets users highlight claims in a news story and compare them to a database of reviews from top fact-checking organizations to determine whether the claims can be verified. Members of the team are journalism students Erdenetungalag Erdenekhuyag, Haley Reed and Clara Wright and computer science students Bidyut Mukherjee and Alex Yang.
Team MegAPIxel created Crafted, the early version of an app that uses templates and sentiment analysis to help journalists produce first drafts of stories involving state legislative proposals. Members are engineering students Olivia Apperson, Teodor Ivanov and Christopher King, business administration student Elizabeth Sperry and journalism student Haley Hodges.
All four teams gave public presentations of their products at the start of today’s 2017 RJI Tech Showcase, a daylong program that featured the work of nearly 90 students in areas such as virtual reality, mobile app development, user engagement, podcast production and Facebook Live video streaming.
RJI’s Reed looks forward to moving from judge to mentor for next year’s competition. “These students bring an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving that’s just what our profession needs. They’re the front line for keeping up with the challenges and opportunities of new technologies.”
The winning students from Team MindFlow will share their work on Informator as they tour technology and media companies in the San Francisco Bay area the week of May 22.
Each of the 18 student finalists also received an Amazon Tap, a rechargeable Bluetooth speaker that accesses the Alexa voice computing system via public Wi-Fi networks. The gifts were presented by the following team mentors: RJI Associate Director Mike McKean, RJI Lead Developer Shawn Moore, RJI Chief Technology Advisor and Engineering Professor Dale Musser and Deputy Futures Lab Director Reuben Stern.
The MU College of Engineering provided generous financial support for this year’s competition.