Journalism and the Internet of Things: The NewsThings project


John Mills, one of our PhD students researching journalism and the Internet of Things (IoT), gave an invited talk on his work at the Guildford Institute recently. The Guildford Institute is a social and educational community hub in the centre of Guildford which has been working for and with the local community for over 170 years. It currently hosts adult education courses and exhibitions, and a regular public lecture series.

We’re delighted to see such substantial engagement with the Guildford community; with so much user-centred research gathering momentum, the relationship between researchers and users is coming increasingly to the forefront of the Digital Economy.

John’s lecture was attended by about 70 local people and gave an introduction to the Internet of Things before describing its application to journalism in some of his own work, and projects he’s collaborated on over the last few years.  These included the use of drones to relay images of the Lake District in order to aid search and rescue exercises, bespoke community kiosks asking simple questions of communities and feeding back the action taken by local authorities, interactive newspapers which play audio recordings of source interviews for selected stories, and a toy penguin designed to glow when school is cancelled on snow days. The talk raised audience questions about the balance between professional and citizen news in an age of social media, the use of private information, and the possibility of a post-screen internet of physical-digital things.

John is currently leading the Google-funded NewsThings project from the Media Innovation Studio at UCLAN John’s work on the project will also form a case study for his PhD at the University of Surrey, supervised by professors David Frohlich of Digital World Research Centre (DWRC) and Alan Brown of the Surrey Centre for the Digital Economy (CODE).

What’s the connection between journalism and the IoT? NewsThings aims to use the IoT as a channel to bring news media and audiences together: it’s taking a user-centred approach to designing new IoT objects capable of conveying news and information, in private homes and public spaces. It’s an innovation powerhouse bringing together UCLan’s Media Innovation Studio, news group Trinity Mirror and Bristol based design agency Thomas Buchanan.

NewsThings is supported by Google’s Digital News Initiative, which is injecting €124m over three years to fire news innovation throughout Europe.

Spanning newsroom tools, personalised printers and a physical-digital radio, the project is attempting to establish what new opportunities IoT may present, and how it could capitalise on them.

Dynamic, interactive and specially-designed research sessions have allowed the NewsThings team to better understand news consumption habits, diving into users’ emotional responses to their engagements with news media, as well as news producers’ pain points and end goals.  A handful of themes stand out, including Well Being, Quality (of news and experience), Context and Routine.

The project is now moving into its second phase – design and deployment.

What could a ‘connected news object’ be? Watch this space to keep up with our evolving ideas!


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About the Author : Kris Henley

Communications and Outreach for Surrey Business School's Centre for the Digital Economy, a newly-founded research centre to explore the implications of the Digital Economy for business, government and society.