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How Do Journalists Cover Journalism Innovation?

I missed the first paper of the following ECREA 2016 session (sorry, Helle Sjøvaag), so I'll resume liveblogging with a paper by Colin Porlezza. He notes that change is the only constant in journalism history, but this has become worse recently: many news organisations have gone out of business, and innovation has become a crucial asset for surviving organisations. A variety of small journalistic startups have also emerged to exploit gaps in the market.

This is also linked to entrepreneurship: entrepreneurial journalism has become increasingly important, too. Overall, innovation in journalism is the process of taking new approaches to media processes and forms while maintaining a commitment to quality and ethics; media innovation occurs through mutations in a number of areas of the journalistic process. Much of this is related to digital and social media technologies, the relation between journalists and audiences, and the reconfiguration of professional culture.

How are journalists themselves reporting on journalism innovation, then? What is the tone of their discourse, and what implications does this have for the future of media transformation? Colin gathered data from a number of major papers in the U.K. (Guardian), Italy (Corriere della Sera), Switzerland (Neue Zürcher Zeitung), and Germany (Süddeutsche Zeitung), as well as born-digital sites Vox and Mashable, from which he identified relevant articles during the 2010-16 period.

Of these, The Guardian is by far the most active paper covering these issues, followed by the Corriere della Sera (which regularly covers a major journalism conference), while the German-language papers are least active. Articles in The Guardian have notably increased during 2014 and 2015.

Major news operations mentioned as innovative in such articles include the New York Times, The Guardian, and the Washington Post. Largely, such articles are about technology and cultural aspects of innovation, with culture moving considerably ahead in the 2013-15 timeframe. There are few discussions of audience aspects throughout the period.

But journalism innovation is generally poorly defined in these articles; it is used as a buzzword and a term of hope, but without sufficient specificity. This is also a discursive strategy: the vagueness of the term means that it can be applied to a wide range of topics and issues. Rarely is innovation talked about in purely positive terms; mostly, it is also seen as a challenge to established business models that has yet to be resolved.

Most articles aim to take a positive tone, though; fewer take a balanced and neutral view of the issue; only a small handful are strongly negative in tone, and these are almost always contributions authored by Evgeny Morozov. Key discourses address entrepreneurial journalism, failure, and experimentation; several articles link to issues of open data, data protection, security, and privacy; a number of them deal with algorithms and bots; and many highlight the problems with innovating from within established organisational structures and business models.

All of this points to continuities as well as discontinuities with regard to journalistic self-reflections on innovation. Progressive and innovative news organisations like The Guardian are much more active in this environment.