Want to win $10,000 for the DI?

Saturday is the deadline for entering this year’s Student Innovation Competition, sponsored by the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Perhaps we should take this week to think about ways to increase audience engagement for a special class of extremely challenged news organizations — student media. If we can collaborate to come up with some interesting ideas, perhaps we could write up a plan we could submit by Saturday in hope of becoming a finalist and earning a grant to help implement the plan at the IMC.

Below is the official announcement of the contest. Before class Friday, see what inventive ideas you might have to offer to include in a proposal to the contest judges. Post your ideas and comment on others’ ideas in the Responses:Engagement category.

Reynolds Journalism Institute’s 2021 Student Innovation Competition

News organizations are struggling nationwide for many reasons. Whether it’s that subscriptions have dropped, trust is low or corporations are buying them and chopping them down to their bones – no one problem is the cause of current struggles, nor will one solution be the saving grace. One unfortunate result of the challenging environment: newsrooms are finding it harder to stay connected to their audiences and communities. We want to help news organizations find new methods of engaging with their readers and viewers. Research regularly shows that news organizations are critical to the vitality of the communities they serve and critical to all aspects of democracy. So, this year’s challenge is a two parter:


Research a local news organization and come up with a new way for them to engage with their community. The outlet can be any type – TV, radio, newspaper, non-profit, weekly, online only, monthly, etc. And your engagement idea can be anything! Be creative and think outside the usual avenues for that outlet, brainstorm with them to see what they’d be interested in trying with you.

Create a plan on how you would work with them to implement your idea over a three-month period. You will need to detail the necessary steps, milestones and how you plan to measure success at the end of your three months. Submit this idea below by October 31, 2020.

If you need help finding a news organization to pair with please email Director of Innovation, Kat Duncan Duncank@rjionline.org  before September 10th and she will help you reach out to possible partners. 

Our selection committee will pick finalists from the submissions based on the strength of planning, potential for success and creative out of the box thinking. Those ideas will then move to the next phase.


If selected as a finalist, you will have 3 months to implement your idea with the news outlet before creating a google presentation detailing the idea, the implementation and results. Your team will present on Zoom in front of a panel of judges and the public on February 26th, 2021.  


First place: $10,000

Second place: $2,500

Third place: $1,000


Part 1 ideas must be submitted through the form below by October 31, 2020 to be considered. Late ideas will not be considered, no matter how amazing they are.

If your team is chosen as a finalist you will be notified by November 13, 2020 giving you ample time to implement your idea before presenting. 


  • A team can be an individual or up to 4 people. 
  • At least one person on each team must be a journalism or communication student. 
  • Presentations must be in English. 
  • The competition is open to all U.S. undergraduate and graduate college students. All team members will need to verify their enrollment status if chosen as a finalist. 
  • If you are here on a student visa, please note that your winnings will probably have to be distributed as a scholarship. We will require you to plan ahead and make the necessary arrangements with your university or college for us to transfer your potential winnings. 


Projects will be judged on four main criteria:

  1. Idea: Did the team look at the history, audience and abilities of the news organization they partnered with to create a new, innovative idea to help them connect with their community? 
  2. Implementation: Was the pilot implementation successfully launched? What was learned from the results? What would next steps be for the idea?
  3. Engagement: Did the project actually help the news organization engage with people in their community and how well? 
  4. Reach: Is this idea something that could be implemented at other news organizations and be successful in aiding them too? 

This year’s judges

Julia Chan

Adriana Lacy

Forrest Milburn
Miami Herald

Hannah Wise
NY Times

Training New Staff

  • Think Visually
    • Sometimes stories can be developed greatly with the use of photos. Be thinking about them early and often
    • Communicate more with photographers from the beginning of stories. Instead of filling out a form and hoping the picture is taken, have a conversation with the photographer
    • In what ways could an infographic add to your story? How can you best display the information compared to a graphic
    • Develop relationships with people in visuals. Learn what they think about the stories you are writing and vice versa to get a better grasp on how you each want the final product to turn out
  • Separate Daytime and Weekly Stories
    • These two responsibilities should not be worked on in the same way. They should be written differently as well
    • We need more communication between editors here and reporters on shift. Maybe more assignment based than letting them get to pick what they work on
    • Daytime is communal, and must be talked about between reporters for the best stories. Interview times must be shared with the whole group
    • Don’t worry about writing very short pieces. The goal here is to get the information out in a timely manner, and not add unnecessary detail. If it is necessary, we can add it later in a full story
  • Time for edits
    • Deadlines might need to be shorter for certain stories to allow editors to make real changes in the work of the reporter. Allows editors to ask for extra interviews and information, rather than checking mostly for grammar
    • I’d like a closer relationship between editor and reporter when working on a story. Editor should be more involved with the day to day of stories

Print vs Online vs Social Media


  • We need to use engaging pictures. If we do not have an interesting photo for an article that will draw readers’ attention, then we should forego the use of a picture for that article.
  • Make more use of infographics. Encourage reporters to get interviews and information early so that designers have a chance to create interesting and appealing infographics.
  • Don’t rely on standard news stories that feel more like obligations to write dominate the front page. Use whatever might be the most appealing to a reader, not just a Covid test site update.


  • This is where much of the breaking news should happen. Updates and very short news should be encouraged here.
  • Illustrations could play a much bigger part here than in print. If there are no photos for a story in print, including an illustration at the top of an article online could add some life.
  • This could be a place for stories in progress because they can be continually updated. Instead of sitting on stories that might take weeks to write, they could be published here in installments or as updates to a story.
  • Online is a great place for interaction. I really like the idea of using sound from interviews, and it is totally feasible as we record all of our interviews anyway.
  • Other ways to engage readers could be through interactive diagrams. Might not be realistic to create an interactive infographic for weekly stories, but stories that take longer to write could be benefitted by this.

Social Media

  • A lot here is the same as online, but might work even better with breaking news.
  • Make use of extremely small window that users look at our posts while scrolling. Very short news updates are great here.
  • This is the worst possible place for a boring photo. Illustrations and infographics should be used here liberally if there is not an interesting photo
  • Could use this as a platform to get people interested in the DI by acting more energetic. A lot of our posts come off to me as a little boring and trying hard to be hyper-professional

New Staff Training

  • Show don’t tell
    • Let the new reporter show you what kind of experience they have: give them a story idea or let them take one of their own and have them go interview sources for the story. Before writing, go through their interview together and provide constructive criticism
    • Then, have them try writing the story with no help. Do the same process, sit down and edit with them and have them rewrite or fix things then submit it for the final edit to be published 
    • Have them sit in on one of your interviews and discuss why you asked the questions you did after the interview
    • Share with them your process of writing a lede/coming up with interview questions/submitting photo or graphic requests
  • Edits, edits, edits
    • Sit down and edit each of their stories with them for the first few weeks/months if needed. 
    • I learned the most freshman year when my editor sat me down and helped me realize what was good and what could’ve used improvement
      • Don’t just tell them what they did wrong, try and guide them into figuring it out themselves
    • Go through alternative ledes or angles to the story: how would you have written the story?
  • Assign them other articles to read from publications like Washington Post, NYT, Sports Illustrated to better understand journalistic structure/different forms of ledes/story structures – visual learning is key 
  • Develop friendships/connections
    • Make them feel comfortable at the DI
    • Host virtual (for now) hangouts/happy hours/game nights (whatever is fun)
    • Talk to them about their lives/school not just edits and stories all the time

Print v. Online v. Social media


  • We need more attention-grabbing photos that ACTUALLY help tell a story, especially on the front page. Or we need to be more comfortable with having no photo/graphic attached to a story.
  • More infographics, especially in sports, that enhance a story or replace a story to tell it in a better way
  • Better-reported stories: Stop rushing stories that aren’t fully done! Obviously, we have to fill space and stories fall through, but rushing what could be a really interesting, new story to fill space is not the answer!
  • Variation in layout design that grabs the reader’s attention: good balance of text and art


  • Updated versions of stories AND breaking news that is published right away. 
  • “Casual” types of art like memes (Spongebob meme) – more relatable student content
  • Photo galleries or photo essays to better tell a story (protests)
    • Or just photo galleries from a newspaper story where we couldn’t add more than one or two photos to
  • Video + audio – provides readers a unique way to consume news through a newspaper – could lead to better page viewership/following

Social media

  • Reader interaction: Twitter/Facebook polls, Instagram stories – let people share their opinion(even if you don’t agree)
  • BREAKING NEWS!!! (cannot stress this enough) 
    • Tweet about the breaking while getting brief up – sometimes it takes a while for breaking news briefs to get published so tweeting it lets your following know you’re on the story
  • Gifs, short videos, memes, interview audio – the younger generations don’t want to read a lot – give them something visual 
  • Infographics (might have to format differently than infographics in the paper)

Training new staff

  • I like the idea of showing trainees what to do, deleting the progress, then having them give it a go
    • I feel like I know my way around Indesign/Illustrator pretty well, so I honestly love answering questions whenever people have them, so while people are trying their hand at these things, they can ask me questions along the way.
  • Files of instructions about what to do in certain circumstances like for example:
    • Sometimes text wrapping is weird on the computers in the office, they’re always marked to be ignored in text options. This could be a tip that’s included in said file.
  • I feel like we haven’t had a true style guide for the layout in a while, it’s all sort of been passed down from design editor to design editor. I think something like this could be really helpful for new hires, especially for when me or my design editor aren’t in the office to help with something. It would be nice for them to have something to consult.
  • I start the new hires out with simpler pages like A2 or A4/A5, as they usually don’t have too many stories. Then I have them work their way up to pages like B1/B2 or even A1/A3. It takes time for them to feel confident putting together those puzzles, but it’s so rewarding once they do.
  • Keep in contact with new hires and keep the momentum up. I have quite a few new designers (many of whom are off campus and are just doing graphics for the time being) who are eager to help, which is really nice. I have 2 new ones coming into the office to train this upcoming Sunday (wooo!!!), so I think we can really foster a good learning environment for them.
  • I could create little cheat sheets to hang up around the office with tips for the layout.
  • Figure out some fun ways to become a team, especially when things are pretty hectic
    • Zoom hangouts
    • Design challenges with small prizes

Print vs. Online vs. Social Media

  • Print
    • Enticing layouts, especially for pages like Features. This could also potentially expand to other sections. A1/A3 can probably use a bit of re-vamp as well, considering the repetitive content
    • Better art overall.
      • More of our own photos, I realize the paper can become quite boring when it’s just a bunch of submitted photos. It’s so exciting to get great photos of our own (which I know should be the norm)
    • Simpler, easier to understand, more useful infographics/breakout boxes
    • Don’t fear white space, utilize it!
      • I’d like to explore different ways of going about this
    • Don’t be afraid to not use art, or not have a story attached to art. Let art stand alone, let the story stand alone. Break away from what we know.
  • Online
    • This could also be a good spot for memes, especially when the online articles are shared on socials
    • Good variety of text, photos, and combinations of the two
    • Constantly update these rather than just specific times of the week\
    • Interactive photos/articles
      • The early voting map could have been interactive, but I’m honestly unsure of how to approach this
  • Social Media
    • More interactive content
    • Polls that allow people to give their input
      • People mostly feel like their opinions are important and might want to vote on polls or give feedback when asked
    • Like we discussed in class, memes can be used for social
      • Considering the demographic of Gen Z, this could up our engagement a lot.
    • Photos or graphics specifically formatted for social
      • Get a person who is aware of how this works and who could export or reformat things to fit the square format of Instagram or the rectangular formats of Twitter or Facebook