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Students Present Innovative Software in McCormick-Medill Collaboration Course

You’re rushing into an important meeting and you need to brush up on the latest news about your client. Armed only with five minutes and a smart phone, what do you do? Check her company’s stock quotes? Visit her LinkedIn page? Sift through mountains of hits on Google?

What if you could get all of this and more in one application – a system that syncs with your calendar to automatically give you news and information about the people you’re meeting with today?

Calendar News does just that. The software is one of five projects created this quarter by students in the Collaborative Innovation in Journalism and Technology class, an interdisciplinary offering by the McCormick School of Engineering and the Medill School of Journalism.

Five groups demonstrated their final projects November 30 in a presentation in the McCormick Tribune Center Forum on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. Other projects included:Twitter Debate

·    DriveThru, a system that tailors the top news stories of the moment to two- or 10-minute increments so they can be easily read on the go;

·    Twitter Debate, software that contextualizes tweets from opposing political candidates by providing point-counterpoint statements on a given topic, such as foreign policy or health care;

·    HamTracker, a system that finds, extracts, and presents information about Congressional earmarks, or “pork barrel,” spending;

·    MetroVote, a local election tracker that aggregates and assembles news, social media feeds, and other information about candidates for use by journalists and the public.

The Collaborative Innovation course is designed to give students from both schools the opportunity to learn from one another while solving a problem.

The process was an eye-opening one for Cary Lee, a senior double-majoring in computer science and music and one of the creators of MetroVote. Lee learned that journalists often go through the time- and labor-intensive work of visiting websites and plugging in search fields to collect data, when there’s a much simpler way.

“It’s something that journalists do all the time. It’s a repetitive task, and it’s something that can be done by a computer,” Lee said. “But I didn’t know they needed it. There’s a disconnect there.”

Collaborations between McCormick and Medill are ongoing; the schools have partnered on courses, research, and ongoing projects in the Knight News Innovation Laboratory, a lab space for journalism and media innovation in the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center.

Larry Birnbaum, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and one of the instructors of the Collaborative Innovation course, and Kris Hammond, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, also cofounded Narrative Science, an award-winning company that uses a computer program to automatically generate news stories.