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Finalists build youth-focused mobile apps for America’s biggest public media outlets

A mobile app that introduces young people to public media content and gives them an easy way to help pay for it has won the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute’s annual student developer competition sponsored this year by the Public Media Platform (PMP).

PMP is a project of the five largest producers of public media content in the U.S. — NPR, PBS, American Public Media, Public Radio International and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX). It provides easy digital access to audio and video from all five providers.

“It has been a delight to work with RJI and these two teams of talented students,” says PMP Executive Director Kristin Calhoun. “Watching the teams modeling how people want to consume public media content on mobile platforms has been incredibly informative.”
The winning app is called My 2 Cents Radio. Younger users who are less likely to subscribe to local public radio and TV stations can find and like stories that appeal to them. From within the app, they can also donate two cents or more to the producers of those stories. My 2 Cents Radio gathers data about user behaviors and preferences that allows for increasingly personalized feeds. The app also gives public media outlets analytics they can use to engage more deeply with young adults.

My 2 Cents Radio was produced by in interdisciplinary team of students from the University of Missouri: Georgi Angelov (senior, Computer Science), Connor Hickox (junior, Communications), Jack Howard (sophomore, Convergence Journalism), and Gabriel Riekhof (sophomore, Business and Finance).

A second team of finalists also produced a potentially game-changing app for public media. Called ShortCut, it’s aimed at young professionals seeking business news on their way to and from work.

ShortCut allows users to set their commuting time, then it automatically generates a mix of business stories from providers such as Marketplace, Planet Money and the PBS NewsHour. The app learns from the user’s listening habits to deliver more customized content.

From left to right: Gabriel Riekhof, Connor Hickox, Mike McKean, Kristn Calhoun, Georgi Angelov, Jack Howard and Reuben Stern

The makers of ShortCut are Kristofferson Culmer (doctoral student, Computer Science), Laura Davison (master’s student, Convergence Journalism), Andrew Gibson (senior, Convergence Journalism), Jake Kreinberg (MBA student, Business) and Manav Singhal (doctoral student, Computer Science). KBIA-FM News Director Janet Saidi praised both teams. “In the end, the judges went with the “My 2 Cents” app because of what I’d call the engaging boldness and simplicity of the idea. The app has the potential to be disruptive, and could provide an exciting experiment in fund-raising for public media.”

Shane Guiter, Chief Operating Officer of KCPT and The Bridge in Kansas City and a competition judge, says he was inspired by the work of the teams. “PBS and NPR must play a role in providing news and information to local communities, and the students at the University of Missouri are ensuring that public media news will be relevant to a new generation of users.”

 

Both teams did their initial development on the Android platform. In recognition of their efforts, each of the nine students received a 2014 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet.

The My 2 Cents Radio team also wins the grand prize; an all-expense paid trip to San Francisco to participate in a media-themed hackathon co-sponsored by the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the PMP. Public media innovator KQED will host the event May 31-June 1.

“Throughout the semester, we did our best to not worry about what our competition was working on and focus on making our app great,” says Connor Hickox of the My 2 Cents team. “After our presentation we had no idea what we were up against or what to think about our chances. It certainly added to the excitement and surprise when we found out we won!”

“Both teams did outstanding work,” says Mike McKean, director of the RJI Futures Lab. “The hackathon will give our winners a great chance to extend their work and rub shoulders with some of the Bay Area’s brightest developers.”

A four-member judging panel chose the top team: RJI Executive Director Randy Picht, KCPT’s Shane Guiter, KBIA’s Janet Saidi and IT Program Director Dale Musser from MU’s College of Engineering.

A group of mentors provided the students weekly feedback from late January through the April judging. Leading that group were the PMP’s Calhoun and PRX technology director Andrew Kuklewicz. RJI’s mentors included McKean, deputy Futures Lab director Reuben Stern and lead developer Tyten Teegarden.

“I can’t wait to share the winning app within the public media community,” says Calhoun.

The winners were announced at the beginning of today’s Tech Showcase featuring the work of student innovators from the Missouri School of Journalism as well as the Departments of Computer Science and Architectural Studies. View the presentations online at rjionline.org/live. You can also join the conversation on Twitter at #RJITech14.



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