Emily Hood delivers a presentation to staff at the Star Tribune

RJI Student Innovation Fellow builds analytics tool for Minnesota’s largest newspaper

Emily Hood, a senior at the Missouri School of Journalism, saw many months of work come to fruition in December, when the Star Tribune — the largest newspaper in Minnesota — launched a Slackbot that streamlines the newsroom’s access to analytics.

The project began during Hood’s Student Innovation Fellowship through the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, serving as part of a larger initiative at the Star Tribune to transition to more digital-focused workflows. But when the 12-week term of her fellowship came to an end, the outlet asked her to stay on a part-time basis to finish the work, allowing Hood to see the vision through to the end.

“Emily did a great job coming in and understanding the newsroom’s needs quickly,” said Frank Bi, director of tools and technology at the Star Tribune and Hood’s boss. “She did several dozen interviews in her first few weeks, talking with folks throughout the company to understand where we were and where we needed to go, and she stayed on to make sure we achieved our ambitions.”

The end result was a Slackbot, known as Striblytics, that unites data like page views, where and how users are accessing content, and the amount of time readers spend on stories, allowing reporters and editors to get all their analytics through the Slack app and easily compare the performance of a story against newsroom averages. Previously, staff would have to gather this information from various different sources, such as Google Analytics and Chartbeat, making it difficult to contextualize the results and compare them across the newsroom.

“A lot of reporters and editors didn’t necessarily know what analytics numbers were typical for our newsroom and our audience,” Hood said. “We wanted to help our very talented people better understand what is working and what isn’t so they can replicate good decisions.”

Emily Hood standing in front of the Star Tribune sign in downtown Minneapolis

Along the way, Hood wrote articles for rjionline.org to help other newsrooms benefit from the insights and strategies she developed with her team at the Star Tribune in the course of building Striblytics.

“Emily did amazing work at the Star Tribune building the Slackbot and diving into product strategy,” said Kat Duncan, director of innovation at RJI. “She really embraced the innovation fellowship, which strives to let students experiment, build and innovate during their time in professional newsrooms. Her work is a great example of what we hope every newsroom gets to experience by working with our RJI Student Innovation Fellows.”

For Bi, it was the emphasis on the internal or ”behind the scenes” work at his publication that he most appreciated about the fellowship program.

“The focus and scope of this fellowship really allows the host newsroom to gain from someone who has one foot in product and one foot in the newsroom, which is something really all news organizations are striving to do,” Bi said. “It’s not reporting, but it brings more of a product mindset into the newsroom. To be able to focus on that — to understand that a lot of the work has to happen behind the scenes — is really valuable.”

Hood, on the other hand, emphasized the support she received from both the Star Tribune and RJI. She noted that the project was a team effort and granted her the flexibility she needed to come away with both a functional work product and an invaluable, on-the-job educational experience.

“I really appreciated getting the freedom to explore and learn a lot that I hadn’t learned before,” Hood said. “I learned a whole new programming language through this project, and there was a team of six or seven people teaching me to code things and helping me work around the newsroom. I’m excited to see where we take it from here.”

Hood said she is still working on a few new features that she hopes to implement by the end of the spring semester, when she will graduate with her bachelor’s degree from the School of Journalism. Currently a student in Professor Damon Kiesow’s news product capstone course, she hopes to find a job that will allow her to continue to benefit from the kind of news product mentorship she has received at the School, at RJI and at the Star Tribune.

With a tool like Striblytics on her resume, the future is looking bright.

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