Study: Is it time to stop chasing ‘shiny things’ and move towards sustainable innovation?

Journalism suffers from a “Shiny Things Syndrome,” obsessively pursuing technology without clear and informed strategies, according to a new report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

by Simone Flueckiger | November 30, 2018

This view is based on conversations with 39 leading journalism innovators, who took part in roundtable discussions held in connection with WAN-IFRA’s World News Media Congress and the Global Editors’ Network Summit in Portugal earlier this year.

The report is the first piece of research from the RISJ’s Journalism Innovation Project.

Entitled Time to Step Away from the Bright Shiny Things? Towards a Sustainable Model of Journalism Innovation in an Era of Perpetual Change, it aims to examine the challenges of journalism innovation, as experienced by both legacy news organisations and digital-born outlets.

“The main finding of this research is that relentless, high-speed pursuit of technology-driven innovation could be almost as dangerous as stagnation,” writes the report’s author Julie Posetti, a senior research fellow at the RISJ.

“While ‘random acts of innovation,’ organic experimentation, and willingness to embrace new technology remain valuable features of an innovation culture, there is evidence of an increasingly urgent requirement for the cultivation of sustainable innovation frameworks and clear, longer-term strategies within news organisations.”

The report found that newsrooms’ relentless obsessing over the latest technological tools and trends may cause them to neglect innovation in core areas such as content, business development, and audiences.

Many panelists expressed a clear desire to pull back from the high-speed chase of “shiny things,” wanting instead to “slow down in response to change fatigue and haphazard approaches to innovation,” and refocus on foundational journalism innovation concepts.

“I just want to make sure that in all of the talking about platforms and change and the thousand things that we need to do, that we don’t lose sight of the journalism at the core of it,” said Joanne Lipman, author and former Editor in Chief of USA Today, and Chief Content Officer of Gannett, during a discussion.

It was argued that newsrooms should place users at the core of their innovation strategies, encompassing technological aspects, such as user experience, as well as in their approaches to newsgathering, audience engagement, and storytelling.

“Take a step back, do a little bit of analysis, think about it from the reader perspective,” said Francesca Donner, Gender Initiative Director, The New York Times.

“What do they want? Maybe they don’t want more. Maybe they don’t necessarily want 50 Facebook Lives and podcasts to choose from? Maybe they want us to be selective and whittle down and make choices.”

The report’s key findings also identified a lack of clarity of what innovation means in journalism, and the need for the cultivation of clear sustainable innovation frameworks and long-term strategies.

As Aron Pilhofer, Temple University’s Innovation Chair, observed: “I would just love it if this project would not fall into the trap of talking about the bright and shiny stuff, and instead talk about the foundational things. How do we define innovation? What does it mean? What are the frameworks for innovation that we can apply?”

The full report can be accessed here.

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