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Team MindFlow claims RJI Student Competition crown

Team MindFlow poses in dress attire in front of an RJI sign.

Team MindFlow captured first place in the 10th annual RJI Student Competition. Members are, from right to left: Chris Mitchell, Humera Lodhi, Evan Teters. Photos courtesy of Nate Brown/Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Two sophomores living in the same apartment complex, both computer science majors, decided to get together and give the Reynolds Journalism Institute Student Competition a shot. After partnering with a journalism student who happened to turn around and introduce herself at the event’s outset, they developed a mobile application good enough to win the whole thing.

Chris Mitchell and Evan Teters partnered with journalism major Humera Lodhi to form Team MindFlow, and their app, Informator, beat out three other finalists in the 10th annual RJI Student Competition in late April. As victors, Team MindFlow will get the opportunity to share their work and tour various technology and media companies in San Francisco in late May.

Their eventual partnership on the victorious team seemed almost serendipitous.

Mitchell appears shocked to have won the competition, staring wide-eyed at Teters.

That moment in time when you learn you’ve won: Computer science major Chris Mitchell (in dark blue tie) reacts to hearing that he and his Team MindFlow colleagues won the 10th RJI Student Competition at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Facing away from the camera, to his right, are teammates Humera Lodhi, convergence journalism, and Evan Teters, computer science. To Mitchell’s left is fellow computer science classmate Lydia Snyder.

“Evan and I knew each other at the beginning of the competition. He’s the one that basically pulled me into RJI,” Mitchell said. “I was like, ‘Hey, I’m interested in doing that.’ … And our journalism major, Humera, at the first RJI meeting when everyone was supposed to talk to people in the room and form teams, she was sitting in front of us and turned around and said, ‘Hey, guys.’”

The goal of the annual event is to bring journalists and engineers together to create a mobile application to help improve the working lives of journalists. Informator started out as a mind mapping tool before eventually evolving into a cutting-edge mobile search tool that teases out new relationships between words and phrases in previous reporting, allowing journalists to find novel angles for critical stories.

The app was initially built to work with IBM’s Alchemy Data News service, but the service was discontinued during Team MindFlow’s work. The app ended up working with the application program interface Aylien News, a news aggregator which indexes sources and analyzes them based on search terms and several parameters to help reporters better understand content and extract meaning from it.

“Essentially, the way we use it is we give it a search term, it can take a few different inputs, and it will return a list of articles based on that term and the criteria we provided for the query,” Teters said. “And then within the articles, it gives us a lot of information — title, images, links, social shares, Alexa rank.”

Informator takes things a step further, tracking concepts with high correlation to the search terms and pulling up relevant stories, many with underreported angles. This allows reporters to avoid taking a frequently-used approach and instead try to find angles that aren’t as widely reported.

“We didn’t want to show them too many things they’d already seen,” Teters said.

Both Mitchell and Teters lauded the competition and the opportunities it provides students, citing access to faculty mentors, the chance to work on a potential real-world mobile app, the exposure to working collaboratively with journalism students, and more. They were over the moon to win the competition as sophomores despite facing stiff competition from more seasoned students.

“It’s such an amazing opportunity for students. At any level, you can be a part of the competition. We’re sophomores. We entered it, and we still managed to win it,” Mitchell said. “And every time we made it past one of the cutoffs, we were like, ‘Oh, guess we’re going to keep going then.’ And here we are, still feeling that way to a certain extent.”