Ohio Journalist

Generating Genius

By Emily DuGranrut

(December 1, 2015) — When the challenges for the Scripps Innovation Challenge were announced in December 2013, I never imagined I would be part of a team that developed a business plan or create an app; but on March 17, my teammates and I submitted our idea for judging.

The Innovation Challenge is financed with an endowment from the Scripps Howard Foundation. According to the challenge website, the goal is for “Ohio University students to come up with innovative solutions to challenges posed by media professions … to provide creative ideas that solve actual innovation problems from the media industry.”

“These challenges are challenges because the media companies haven’t figured them out themselves,” said Michelle Ferrier, associate dean of the Scripps College of Communication.

This year’s program, which started in 2012, presented students with seven challenges. Media companies from around the country submitted problems they are experiencing in the industry, from creating loyalty programs to getting more people interested in broadcast news.

Many changes were made to the competition in its second year, according to Ferrier. A special diversity component was added, awarding an extra prize for a team that directly addressed diversity in its pitch.

“We created an additional $5,000 prize because one of the biggest challenges we face as an industry is that our demographic is changing, but we don’t have the mechanisms to penetrate and involve diverse audiences in what we do,” Ferrier said.

According to Ferrier, the teams that advanced were ones that were able to think about diversity broadly and think strategically about how they might reach that audience.

“We really want to stretch our finalists to address the [diversity] problem head on,” Ferrier said.

The college also sponsored several “co-working spaces,” workshops designed to help students develop their ideas. In her introduction to this year’s challenge, Ferrier spoke about “external coaching “ that the college provided.

One of these workshops was hosted by Bethany George, executive in residence at the Ohio University Innovation Center and TechGROWTH Ohio. George warned students to not always assume they know what a customer wants.

“Don’t live in a bubble. You think you know what the customer wants, and that is not always the case,” George said. “You have to get behind why people make the decisions.”

John Bowditch, director of the College Game Research and Immersive Design lab, also spoke to students participating in the challenge. Bowditch’s goal was to “introduce students to the mobile landscape and how an app gets to a phone.”

The challenge also increased its online presence, creating multiple platforms for students to connect with one another and improve the skills of a team.

“We wanted to help people find teammates outside of classes, “ Ferrier said. “Last year, many of the teams were involved in classes, and we wanted to balance it out this year. Five of the finalists weren’t involved in classes this year.” And quality overall was up.

“This was probably one of the most grueling contests to try and rate because all of the ideas that came forward were really good ideas,” Ferrier said. “In terms of the competition, there were so many ideas clumped together that made it really challenging to come up with the winners.”

Hans Meyer, associate professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, required students in his Online News Development class to participate in the challenge.

“Any time you have media professionals presenting these types of opportunities, we need to get students involved,” Meyer said.

My team, which competed as part of Meyer’s class, worked on a challenge put forward by WCPO-TV in Cincinnati: Create a non-traditional 4 p.m. newscast with a significant digital emphasis that allows viewers in a metro market to personalize and customize their news experience.

Devin Ellis, a junior journalism major, Danielle Hale, a senior journalism major, and I submitted our idea for a website that allows the user to put together a playlist of news segments. Our lack of background in business made the challenge difficult, and our submission was not chosen as a finalist in the challenge, but preparing our submission gave us a new appreciation for entrepreneurs.

“I definitely admire entrepreneurs a lot more because of learning all the work that is involved. I also learned that I will never be an entrepreneur,” Hale said.

William Hoffman, a junior journalism major, also competed in the challenge as part of Meyer’s class.

“It was an interesting experience, and definitely something I would not have done on my own,” Hoffman said. “I didn’t make the finals, and honestly I’m kind of happy about that, but I’m glad I got the experience from it that I did.”

Other professors in the school also required students to participate in the challenge. Alex Felser, a senior journalism major and student in Associate Professor Hugh Martin’s News Media Management class, and worked with a team that responded to a challenge put forth by The Columbus Dispatch about monetizing Twitter followers.

“Hugh pushed us hard and helped us a lot. I didn’t really have a lot of experience in the area, but Hugh’s help made the idea of competing a lot more appealing, even if it was required,” Felser said.

Ferrier also acknowledged some difficulties the challenge faced in its second year. Opening up opportunities for students who didn’t make it to the final round and making the process as streamlined as possible for submissions are important to the organizers.

“We’re still tweaking things…. One of the things we’re looking at is opening up the contests so it’s not media companies providing a challenge and students can submit ideas within a general area,” Ferrier said. “One of the other things we’re looking at changing is having the media representatives meet with [students] so that you have some grounding before you move forward with your idea.”

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