Prove it with prototyping: How to test your ideas and focus your innovation


Newsrooms that are looking to remain solvent sometimes don’t think about what their audiences want or need. Instead, they think about creating innovations that are quickly produced, in the hopes that the paper can stand out among competitors.

However, there might be a better way with prototypes. Prototypes can create ideas into tangible products that users can experience, and they allow newsrooms to gather feedback and the time to create a better product.

For example, sportswriters often have a difficult time writing a story about unpredictable games. In a time crunch, if a certain team is predicted to win, it helps to write the story before the game, but this proves to be challenge when opponents are evenly matched and the winner of the game is not apparent until the last buzzer.

The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) out of the University of Missouri built a prototype to answer this question. It used a digital tool that rearranged text depending on the winner of the game. Instead of trying to impress readers, the goal was to make a product that was user-friendly and would gather honest feedback. RJI then showed the product to sportswriters to get feedback.

After receiving insight from the sportswriters, the next step was to incorporate that feedback into the prototype. RJI learned that many sportswriters tweet live updates of games, and often re-purpose the tweets to create a comprehensive story. It decided to create a broader product that could help all journalists covering live events and any story that required live updates on Twitter and re-purposing them for a story after.

The organization took its prototype in a new direction and is now calling it TweetstoText. But the process is ongoing because it relies on constant user feedback. RJI suggests newsrooms use this method to test innovations in a real environment and increase customer satisfaction.

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