April 24, 2017

The Dallas Morning News has made a lot of changes in the last few years. They launched a new site. They built a custom content management system. They built an app. And they shook up how they do basically everything else.

But all of that change and milestone projects have also meant that a pile of bug fixes, and upgrades got bigger and bigger.

So they decided to hold a two-week hackathon to figure them out.

“It’s a little bit of Silicon Valley coming to a 130-year-old media institution,” said Nicki Purcell, chief digital officer and senior vice president of consumer sales.

The hackathon, which ended Friday, included a team of internal developers and people from Lifeblue Creative and Digital Technology, a Dallas-based firm that has worked with the Morning News since it began its digital transformation. In all, about 30 people participated.

They filled up conference rooms and meeting spaces at the Morning News, embedded themselves throughout the newsroom and started working through the list of fixes and to-dos.

And they had a list of about 65 things to get through. Those things include:

– Adding advertising units to generate more revenue
– Improving newsroom workflow
– Building out author pages
– Creating a new user-generated navigation
– Trying out 25 different strategies for generating subscriptions

Fixing, building and cleaning things up was the primary goal. The secondary goal, Purcell said, was making a cultural leap.

“I can say this about the hackathon because it wasn’t my idea,” said Editor Mike Wilson. “It strikes me as a really forward-thinking move for a legacy news organization that’s trying to stay ahead of the tech curve.”

But the success can’t just be cultural, Purcell said.

“It should also be in the revenue generated back to the company because we’re successful at implementing these features,” she said.

Is this something that other newsrooms could duplicate? She said it was but emphasized that it wasn’t simply a two-week project. About six weeks of planning went into the hackathon before it began.

The hackathon also brought the coders closer to the mission of the Dallas Morning News, Purcell said. The people who don’t work in journalism were steeped in the newsroom for two weeks. They saw that they weren’t just writing lines of code. They were also doing work that supports democracy in North Texas.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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