How Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University teaches students to transform newsrooms

Getting prototyping skills into journalism curriculum.


  • Students bring fresh perspectives to news models because they aren’t tied down by stereotypes of the industry
  • “There are really no shortcuts when it comes to user research”
  • Partnerships can help add new life to projects

The context

Jessica Tan, a journalism lecturer at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, is teaching students how to use design thinking in newsrooms. “We see the news media lab very much like an innovation lab,” she explained.


Innovating newsrooms

Over 13 weeks, students embarked on a design thinking process that involves user research, working with mentors across the industry including Google, Red Hat, and Splice, and building prototypes that are tested and iterated off actual users. Students end with a demo day, where they are judged on their prototypes. Prototypes are then placed on GitHub.

Tan explains that NTU’s News Media Lab curriculum has three aspects — people, process, and partnerships. Her insights:

  • People: Students bring fresh perspectives because they are not tied down by stereotypes of the industry and are free to experiment and fail — graduating students take this mindset to the newsrooms they work at 
  • It’s important to ask users what they want and to conduct extensive user research before coming up with prototypes. “There are really no shortcuts when it comes to user research,” Tan said
  • Process: Extensive pre-research might mean that you’re flooded with ideas and creative tension once you’re in the ideation stage. Filters have helped add clarity — Tan urges students to remember what they’re solving for
  • They’ve narrowed down the curriculum to singular, focused themes. One 13-week course, for example, was on reader engagement through innovative storytelling tools
  • Partnerships: All projects end up on GitHub afterwards. Tan explains that they’re looking for new partnerships to help bring these projects to life in newsrooms
  • Additionally, partnerships keep ideas fresh. News Media Lab is also looking for mentors, visiting programmers, and general partnerships that will help them with research and collaboration

Meghna is a writer in New York. Previously, she helped launch and was the managing editor of New York-based The Juggernaut, worked as a researcher at CB Insights, and reported on tech out of Bangalore for Tech in Asia. Follow Meghna Rao on Twitter.

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