Five factors that foster innovation in the online newsroom

I recently heard a newspaper chief editor say something quite shocking. I attended a meeting arranged by the Norwegian consortium New Media Network where the chief editor of the second biggest national tabloid in Norway, Dagbladet, was to give a speech. And believe it or not, chief editor of Dagbladet, Anne Aasheim, said: “I have been a media executive for 20 years now and I must say; it’s more fun today than ever before!”

More fun today than ever before?  Everybody at the meeting knew that Dagbladet has suffered massive losses in recent years – much more than their competitor VG, which is the flagship of Schibsted, one of Europe’s most successful and innovative newspaper publishers, according to The New York Times. Dagbladet is probably the newspaper that has suffered the most in the Norwegian newspaper market in recent years. What could possibly be fun about that? Was Anne Aasheim joking?

Anne Aasheim wasn’t joking. She soon explained what she meant: “When the crisis becomes big enough you no longer just mend things. Your tear everything apart and then you re-construct it. We are now searching for the power to do disruptive innovation. It’s going to be a cut-throat competition to have the greatest power of innovation.”

Then she smiled before exclaiming: “And we are gonna win that competition!”

I thought this was an interesting argument – especially since I have conducted much research in the Dagbladet newsroom during the last four years. Dagbladet is one of those newspapers that always wants to be the first mover. When new technology comes around Dagbladet jumps on it. Dagbladet was the first Norwegian newspaper to launch an online edition, it implemented bloging as the first online newspaper in Scandinavia, etc, etc. Dagbladet’s position in the shadow of the bigger and more successful newspaper VG has forced it to push for innovative initiatives.

The key question for Dagbladet and any other firm that push for successful innovations, is of course: How do you know if a innovative initiative will be a success? I shall not claim that I have the answer to that question (if I did, I would probably be very rich man). However, I have done some research in order to pinpoint the factors that influence processes of innovation in newsrooms. In an article in the current issue of the journal Journalism Studies I argue that there are five factors that affect whether an innovation is diffused successfully or not in an online newsroom:

  1. Newsroom autonomy: are innovative projects initiated and implemented within an autonomous newsroom and with relative autonomy within the online newsroom? (If not, the project is less likely to succeed)
  2. Newsroom work culture: does the online newsroom reproduce editorial gatekeeping or are alternative work cultures explored? (reproduction of “old media” work cultures is likely to prevent innovative initiatives from being successful)
  3. The role of management: is newsroom management able to secure stable routines for innovation?
  4. The relevance of new technology: is new technology perceived as relevant, i.e. efficient and useful? (New technology can be costly and time consuming to utilize)
  5. Innovative individuals: is innovation implemented and understood as part of the practice of journalism?

These factors derive from an ethnographic case study of a process of innovation in dagbladet.no – the online edition of Dagbladet. The findings of this case study are compared to all other research on innovations (or lack of innovations) in online newspapers. This body of research consist of – among many other studies – the research done by Pablo Boczkowsi in his book Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online Newspapers; David Domingo’ Ph.D-thesis Inventing online journalism: Development of the Internet as a news medium in four Catalan newsrooms (which can be downloaded here); Lucy Küng’s When Innovation Fails to Disrupt. A Multi-lens Investigation of Succesfull Incumbment Respons to Technological Disconuity: The Launch of BBC News Online; and Jody Brannon’s quite old, but still very interesting Ph.D.-thesis Maximizing the medium: assessing impediments to performing multimedia journalism at three news web sites (parts of it available on here website).

One last point: Innovation and crisis tend to go hand in hand. Businesses, organisations and nation states alike have always pushed for innovations in times of crisis. There are two reasons for this assumed causal link between recession and innovation, according to an article by Geroski and Walters published in The Economic Journal. First, in times of recession the value of existing rents usually falls, thus making it more attractive for firms to implement new products and processes that hopefully will yield higher returns. Second, to invest in innovations requires a firm to divert resources from activity/production to product development. Such a diversion of resources is more likely to be feasible when the current production is less profitable, e.g. in times of recession.

No wonder why the chief editor of Dagbladet, Anne Aasheim, was so enthusiastic about the opportunities for disruptive innovation…

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8 thoughts on “Five factors that foster innovation in the online newsroom

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  7. focoafrprtng

    I wonder how so many people not working in a regular newsroom hurts them (from not benefiting from that physical working environment). Being more alone and working on online content removes you from a lot of that person-to-person interaction, something obviously very important for reporting journalists. Also, if you work in a place rather than just for it, you will have a much better idea of the angle and aim of that company. The result would be better-suited work.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Cult of Innovation » Blog Archive » How Crisis Begets Innovation In the Newsroom

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