Does Journalism Suffer From A “Shiny New Things” Syndrome?

November 29, 2018 • Recent, Research • by

newsroom innovation

Journalism has become too obsessed with technology-led innovation, and must refocus on strategic approaches to audience engagement, storytelling, and business development, according to a new report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

The report is the first research from the Journalism Innovation Project – a 12-month study by the Reuters Institute – and based on the analysis of discussions with 39 leading journalism innovators, representing 27 news publishers, across 17 countries.

The Challenges And Hurdles of Journalism Innovation

The report, authored by RISJ research fellow Julie Posetti, examines the challenges and hurdles of journalism innovation faced by legacy news brands and digital-born news outlets. Among its key findings include the insight that journalism should stop relentlessly pursuing “bright, shiny things” at the expense of core concepts such as content, business development and audiences.

The report further argues that too much innovation has been too focused on distribution challenges at the expense of content and business development, and risks leaving publishers dependent on platforms such as Facebook. Consequently, the industry should foster more sustainable innovation by developing longer-term strategies.

Posetti’s report also finds that most global legacy outlets acknowledge a need to ‘slow down’ and think more strategically, something that is, however, difficult for smaller digital-born news publishers as they are often dependent upon innovation.

The research is based on roundtable conversations involving 39 international editors, CEOs, product managers, practitioners, academic experts and digital media consultants from 17 countries. Many of them occupy senior roles within news organisations that range from start-ups (e.g. The Quint, Rappler, Civil, Kinzen) to established global news brands (e.g. the New York Times, Reuters News, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Süddeutsche Zeitung, and the Washington Post). The field research took the form of two separate research roundtable discussions staged in connection with two major international journalism conferences (the Global Editors’ Network Summit and the World News Publishing Congress) held in Lisbon, Portugal, in May and June 2018.

According to the report, participants argued that innovation is distracting journalism from its core objectives: “Shiny Things Syndrome takes away from storytelling and we risk forgetting who we are. That’s the biggest challenge,” said Kim Bui, Director of Breaking News Audience and Innovation at the Arizona Republic, in the US. Francesca Donner, the director of the New York Times Gender Initiative  agreed. “We need to slow down and make very conscious choices.”

Another participant, Maria Ressa, CEO and Executive Editor of the Philippines start-up Rappler.com, warned against over-dependence upon platforms: “The reason the oxygen has been sucked out of our businesses is because it’s all gone to distribution without any going to content. How do we redefine it so the platforms don’t eat us alive?” she said.

Julie Posetti, author of the report, commented on the findings: “This report demonstrates an awakening by some of the industry’s prominent digital leaders to the ‘unintended consequences’ of tech-led journalism innovation.” These include “online harassment targeting women journalists, viral disinformation and the safety risks posed to journalists and their sources by privacy breaches involving digital technologies.”

The Journalism Innovation Project is a new project at the Reuters Institute and aims to develop a research-informed definition of journalism innovation, collate and share case studies focused on innovative journalism good practice and develop a framework to support sustainable and measurable journalism innovation in a range of environments.

The full study is published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and can be found here.

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