Sunday Times' Quirky News Game

Wins Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1st Newsroom Hackathon

08 September 2013

A cheeky dating game app designed to help South Africans find the political party that best matches their interests won 1st prize at sub-Saharan Africa’s first Editors Lab newsroom hackdays at the weekend.

The Party Match app was designed by an all woman team from the Sunday Times during a 48-hour brainstorming session hosted by Africa’s largest digital largest digital news publisher 24.com, and organised by the Global Editors Network, the African Media Initiative and Google.

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Team members pictured above - Loni Prinsloo, journalist; Fiona Krisch, designer; and Carla Goldstein, developer - won a R20,000 cash prize, plus an all expense paid trip to the GEN Summit 2014 in Barcelona, in June 2014. While in Spain, the South Africans will compete with Editors’ Lab winners from 18 other countries during a Global News Hackathon.

Although not the most technically accomplished project, Party Match won because it demonstrated the local potential for news games and the importance of humour in building audience engagement around ‘boring’ issues such as politics,” said jury member and AMI chief digital strategist, Justin Arenstein. “The creative execution on Party Match was also heads above the other 13 contestants.”

The prototype app is designed for tablets, with smartphone and desktop versions planned. Newsrooms will be able to analyse data from the app, to help track opinion trends amongst users.

“The Editors’ Lab was a revelation for us. None of our team members had ever worked together or gone to a hackathon before, nor had any of us worked on a news app before. We were initially terrified, but then decided to keep it simple. We focused on just one issue: how do you get South Africa’s apathetic young to engage with politics? How do you get them to think about what each party has to offer, and how this impacts on their lives? Party Match is our solution,” said Krisch. “The fact that we could pull together a working prototype in less than two days will rock our newsroom.”

City Press clinched 2nd place, securing technical support from Code for Africa for their cross-media app designed to help the estimated 3,600 people raped every day in South Africa. LifeCoach tries to guide rape survivors through the process of reporting and prosecuting their attackers, while also linking them with their nearest counsellors and support networks. LifeCoach intends expanding to include other tutorials, to help South Africa's emergent middle class navigate an increasingly complex world.

“This hackathon is without a doubt one of the most impressive we’ve organised anywhere in the world. The 13 teams that competed produced more working prototypes than at any other Editors’ Lab, except the one at the New York Times. The South African winners produced an excellent app, with a great idea and clever implementation at very high editorial and technical standards,” said Editors’ Labs manager, Antoine Laurent. “South Africa boasts a really accomplished digital innovation community.”

The jury, consisting of Memeburn editor Michelle Atagana, Laurent and Arenstein, awarded two special commendations:

  • The Media24 Digital News team, for BuyLine, a light-weight paywall platform that fences individual articles, with payment via USSD using airtime credits from users’ mobile accounts.  The micropayment system is perfect for users who don’t have credit cards, and is intended to be used by independent journalists and / or content creators. The team’s presentation can be viewed here.
  • Jason Norwood-Young, for his Strike Season interactive infographic CMS, that helps newsrooms quickly and clearly explain complicated union demands and employer counter offers during South Africa’s fiercely contested strikes. Jason was commended for not only building his prototype despite all his other teammates from Daily Maverick dropping out at the last minute, but also for assisting almost half the other teams with technical advice.“Jason was a one-man army. And, the only reason that BuyLine didn’t win is because it didn’t speak to the ‘Active Citizenry’ theme of the hackathon. The same goes for other strong contenders, such as Eyewitness News’ NewSense API project. Even though they didn’t win, we fully expect to see them go public, because they’re such important innovations,” said Memeburn editor, Michelle Atagana."

Other projects that won technical support from Code for Africa include: 

  • Story Check, an Android app that gives citizen reporters step-by-step editorial guidelines and checklists for reporting news from the field, by West Cape News.
  • Rolodex, an Android app that gives journalists, activists, and other media professionals access to the massive contact directory and daily news diaries at the continent’s largest wire agency, the South African Press Association (Sapa).
  • #GreenAlerts, a cross-platform app that alerts South African citizens to local Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) applications and other development notices in their neighbourhoods, allowing them to comment or register as interested parties. The app will be deployed by the Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Reporting.

The 14 teams competing were: BDFM (publishers of the Business Day and Financial Mail), Cape Times, City Press, Daily Maverick, Eyewitness News, Hacks/Hackers Johannesburg, SABC Digital News, South African Press Association (SAPA), the Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Reporting, Media24 Digital News, Media24 Magazines Digital Division, News24, Sunday Times, and West Cape News.

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