Stop chasing shiny things and get back to basics, says Posetti

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Journalists should stop their relentless pursuit of 'bright, shiny things' and concentrate on core concepts, according to a new report by Australian Julie Posetti.

The Facebook-funded report published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford - where Posetti is senior research fellow - also says much innovation has been "too focused on distribution challenges" at the expense of content and business development, and risks leaving publishers dependent on platforms.

Other findings are that:

-industry must foster sustainable innovation by developing longer-term strategies;

-most global legacy outlets acknowledge need to 'slow down' and think more strategically, however smaller digital-born news publishers in the study are dependent upon innovation;

-narrow pursuit of technology can lead to unintended negative outcomes; and

-there is a lack of clarity over what innovation means within journalism.

The report, 'Time to step away from the bright shiny things? Towards a sustainable model of journalism innovation in an era of perpetual change', draws on interviews with 39 leading journalism innovators from 29 publishers, across 17 countries, including Australia, India, the US, UK and Germany.

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

The report examines the challenges and hurdles of journalism innovation faced by legacy news brands and digital-born news outlets, and aims to develop guidelines and frameworks for sustainable innovation practices.

Research participants argued that innovation was distracting journalism from its core objectives.

Director of breaking news audience and innovation at the US-based Arizona Republic Kim Bui said 'Shiny Things Syndrome' took away from storytelling, "and we risk forgetting who we are," while Francesca Donner, New York Times gender initiative director urged slowing down and making "very conscious choices".

Another participant, Maria Ressa, chief executive and executive editor of 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," she said. "How do we redefine it so the platforms don't eat us alive."

Posetti says the 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 report also highlights the ingenuity borne of necessity in developing countries, "which is novel for this type of project".

Featured research is based on roundtable conversations involving 39 international editors, chief executives, product managers, practitioners, academic experts and digital media consultants from 17 countries. Many occupy senior roles within news organisations that range from start-ups (such as The Quint, Rappler, Civil, Kinzen) to established global news brands (such as the New York Times, Reuters News, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Süddeutsche Zeitung, and the Washington Post). 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 WAN-Ifra's World News Publishing Congress) held in Portugal in May and June this year.

Julie Posetti leads the Journalism Innovation Project at the Reuters Institute, and is the author of Protecting Journalism Sources in the Digital Age and co-author of Journalism, F*ke News and Disinformation. She was previously worked as head of digital editorial capability at Fairfax Media and occupied senior reporting roles with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Posetti recently completed a PhD on the intersecting issues of media freedom, international public policy and advocacy in digital contexts.

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