An outsider’s perspective

Sep 24 2013

As I made my way to class one day last semester, my eyes were drawn to an ad for a lead developer position at the Reese News Lab.

Intrigued by the words “lead developer,” I snagged it off the wall and took a closer look at it: “During the project, you will work in a small team of other developers, journalists, and business student to dream up an idea, formulate a business plan and develop two working prototypes.” This sounded like a great opportunity to work with fellow students and develop something meaningful and tangible at UNC, in addition to being a valuable experience for my resume. I immediately sent off a copy of my resume and stated my keen interest in being a part of this organization.

In a new environment

Months later I find myself, an information science and communication studies double major, working in the journalism school. I’m tasked with brainstorming an idea and working with other students to eventually bring it to fruition.

It is an interesting experience working with those who are passionate about the different aspects of the journalism, as I do not regularly consume news and have not studied it in great detail.

However, I am becoming accustomed to this foreign world that I have been invited to and am enjoying tackling the entrepreneurship challenges that come with working in the news industry. For example, we are given almost complete control over what we create and how we create it.

On my first day in the lab, we were tasked with making an imaginary product out of a variety of items; we ended up merging a clothing hook, a caulk container, a length of red swim noodle and yellow duct tape to create “Metchup.” This original product would dispense mustard, ketchup, or a combination of both condiments and illustrates the kind of ingenuity one must have when working in the lab.

The lab is also a sight to behold. The walls are plastered with large sheets of paper that have been filled to the brim with brainstorming ideas; it would take some time to read and comprehend the concepts that have been recorded on these canvases. There is also a variety of office furniture suited for group conferences and a collection of televisions on the wall, emphasizing the news ambience of the room.

Looking for news incentives

This semester, I am working with a group tasked with designing an incentives news program. We are looking at designing a business model that attracts customers through a subscription incentive service that also includes a news component. This news component is used as a delivery method for world/local affairs but is also used as a platform for advertisers. Designing this model is proving quite difficult, as we are encountering issues such as product pricing, conversion of currency to points (to be spent on incentives), and creating the news.

Before we develop this idea further, we must also test three vital questions: is this feasible, desirable, and viable? If our product idea does not meet these criteria, then pursuing its development is futile. We are currently testing our product by developing a prototype and having potential users test it and give us feedback.

Translating learning to the real world

This opportunity is allowing me to practice the variety of skills that I have acquired at this school before inevitably entering the “real world.”

It is a pleasure to be working with such gifted staff and talented students, and I learned much from them. For example, I now have a greater understanding and appreciation of the news industry and am receiving hands-on experience with the skills required to be an entrepreneur (pitching, brainstorming, prototyping, user-testing, etc.). Hopefully, by the end of the semester I will have mastered these skills and used them to create a desirable product that Reese News Lab is proud to put its name on.


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