When we talk about innovation in journalism, we shouldn’t think of it as inventing the wheel, but rather as changing the tire.
It was back in the mid-nineties, in a post-socialist small industrial town, when I was first introduced to journalism. I used a typewriter, a classical phone, paper and pen.
The most important advice I ever got from my older colleagues was to go out with my eyes and ears open.
Editors sent us to factories, local playgrounds, schools, and even to local pubs to talk to people, listen and make notes about their problems and everyday life. To create stories that matter to the local community.
Technological development in the past twenty years has changed the way we work, communicate and think. Changes happened so fast that some industries failed to adjust properly.
Journalism is no exception. Some people have turned into progressive digital innovators and were lucky enough to find support and financial resources to experiment. Unfortunately, there are also still many sceptics who struggle in fear of change and have been left behind by this process.
But it doesn’t mean they don’t want to move in the same direction.
I know how it feels — because I have been there
A few months ago I joined the News Impact team. I admit I got confused with some of the buzzwords being used around innovation in journalism. Engagement, design, prototyping, transformation, hyperlocal… do we still talk about journalism here?
It took me a while to realise it’s actually all about using the same old tools of storytelling; just in a different way, adjusted to the new digital era.
It still comes down to the simple, yet powerful principle: keep your eyes and ears open and listen to what people have to say. In modern words: “engage with your community”.
We are all in the same boat
During the past News Impact months, I’ve talked to journalists from different generations, with various backgrounds, profiles, and skill sets.
Fear of change, lack of knowledge and understanding about the potential of new methods and technologies, disconnection between different departments — these are the common challenges they experienced when initiating changes in their newsrooms.
Similar frustrations have their origin in years of practising the same newsroom structures, cultures and dynamics.
But the most amazing thing I’ve realised during these six months is that most people want to really move on. None of them has a final answer to the challenges that journalism is facing, but they were fully aware nothing will change for the better if they don’t try.
I’ve heard a lot of great ideas, but there are two simple but positive approaches that apply to everyone.
We know the problems, let’s move to solutions
The discussion has been on for years now, and we’ve probably defined most of the problems in the industry: disconnection with the audience, distracted by dominant technology platforms; lack of trust; unsustainable business models, and as a result, poor investments in personal and professional growth of journalists.
The good news is: small steps can lead to big changes — if they are supported by examples of good practice and new ideas that can actually be implemented into real journalistic work.
From new ways of thinking to the presentation of various digital tools and case studies from all over the world, projects like News Impact offer journalists new opportunities and give them hope.
Sébastien Bossi Croci, Head of Editorial Projects at UXO, nicely expressed after speaking at our event in Paris:
“For me, News Impact Summit was a needed occasion to keep faith in journalism, and to meet amazing journalists doing their best to produce meaningful stories, while trying to innovate, but for the sake of facts.”
Rethinking what collaboration actually means
Unfortunate managerial decisions, ineffective task division and competition instead of support are leading to a disconnection in media organisations. Positive change is difficult in this environment.
However, I realised that we should not assume that rigid structures hindering innovation in the newsrooms have something to do with people’s age or background.
We might not all work at the same speed and with the same tools, but there is still so much that we can learn from each other. We are different, but exactly this diversity can bring collaboration towards innovation.
“The greatest benefit of the News Impact Academy is that it connects people who have parallel thinking. Parallel, not the same. That means, we are not alike, we don’t think the same way, we may not even have exactly the same goals. But we still have a lot in common. And because we now know each other, we can move in the same direction.”
These words by Filip Struhárik, Editor of Denník N, explain in an excellent way what collaboration actually means. It’s a challenge and hard work, but it’s the most important part of moving forward.
So no matter whether your wheel is standing still or just half spinning, make sure you gather enough creative people around it and it becomes much easier to move it in the right direction.
To find out more about other News Impact and EJC initiatives, sign up for one of our newsletters. You might also be interested in:
- Learning how to listen: insights from the News Impact Academy on community engagement
- 6 newsroom lessons for addressing challenges with a design mindset
- Closing the gap between journalists and communities
- What happens when you apply a design mindset in the newsroom
- EJC launches €1.7m Accelerator with support from News Integrity Initiative & Civil
- Innovation needs a network to thrive