NEWS published on 31 Mar 2016

EBU-RTS Hackathon explores new ways to tell the stories behind the refugee crisis

Journalists, social media experts and developers came together last week to try and find new ways to report on the refugee crisis using digital storytelling.

The EBU-RTS Hackathon – held at RTS’ Headquarters in Geneva as part of the EBU’s Big Data Week – challenged participants to come up with fresh ideas for covering refugees’ stories by harnessing big data.

The CEO of RTS, Gilles Marchand, welcomed around 50 participants to the two-day event. He stressed the importance of public service media innovating together to serve digital audiences with relevant content.  

Michael De Lucia, the Head of Digital Innovation, said RTS was thrilled to host a hackathon on the theme of refugees and migrants. He described it as a perfect opportunity to learn, share, network and come up with a  concrete product.

Mike Mullane, EBU Media’s head of online and mobile, told participants that they faced three challenges: comparison, clarification and proximity. It was essential, he said, to find ways of comparing different data sources, to clarify objectives and to bring audiences closer to the refugees and their stories.  

Sixty million people in the world are currently displaced by conflict – more than at any time since World War II. Christopher Reardon from the UNHCR challenged participants to find ways to contextualise the stories behind the statistics and Jenny Quigley-Jones who has worked in refugee camps worldwide urged them to “tell the stories and tell them better”.

Data-driven journalist Mirko Lorenz showed participants how data can be used to deliver deeper insights: “Big data must connect to the small data of all of us. It must be relevant!”.  While Frédéric Vergaz from RTS, Isabelle Sonnenfeld from Google News Labs and Mina Rantama from ZEF shared some of the online tools available to help journalists sort through the vast quantities of data available to them.

Five teams took on the challenge of devising a new approach to data journalism. Ideas included a platform for refugees to tell and share their stories; an app to help teenagers identify with the plight of similar young refugees; an online resource to help refugees plan their journey and a way of visualising the individual stories behind the vast refugee encampments.

Team Mosaic, the overall winner of the Hackathon, devised Refugo - an app to help refugees heading to Europe, providing relevant information tailored to individual’s needs. Refugo will now be submitted to the EBU’s Online & Media Steering Committee for future development.

With digital audiences no longer watching so much traditional television, the EBU is keen to find new ways of reaching them and it is hoped this event can be the springboard for future collaborations and innovations.