Driving innovation: pie in the sky

This post forms part of the third Carnival of Journalism – a monthly blog carnival focussing on, well, journalism. It’s my first time taking the plunge to properly join in.

This month, the focus is driving innovation, with detailed prompts looking at either the Knight News Challenge or the Reynolds Fellows programme – both fine endeavours aimed at encouraging journalism innovation. But while I was researching them, I fell to thinking what I might do if I had a vast pot of money and was asked to use it to drive innovation.

These are my pie-in-the-sky idealistic naive ideas. This is what I’d do, if I ruled the world.

Training. Fellowships are great at rewarding the very best and the very brightest – the people who’ve already proven themselves. But there are huge pools of talent further down the ladder, people who are hungry and excited and want chances and learning. I’d offer training opportunities, broker partnerships between educators and news organisations, and champion ongoing education in journalism. And of course it’d run courses, my imaginary magic organisation with infinite funds – it’d help fill in skills gaps for older workers and help hold the NCTJ to account when it came to teaching the skills needed in innovative newsrooms.

Partnerships. It’s easy to see where the links should be sometimes, but incredibly hard to make them happen. Individuals benefit from being round the same table with people from different industries and with different viewpoints, at all levels of business. I’d develop a sort of “skills swap” fellowship, encouraging organisations focussing on news, web development, technology, gaming, data and other relevant areas to essentially trade employees for a while, so that their guys learned new skills and their teams were exposed to new ideas. I’d aim for it to spark innovative ideas within larger organisations, and the swappers would have to create a Journalism Thing – in co-operation with each other and with their organisations – as part of their participation.

Intersections. Like every industry, journalism needs injections of ideas outside its existing sphere in order to avoid disappearing inside its own navel. There are dozens of areas with things to teach journalism, and journalism has a huge amount to teach – so one of my organisational remits would be to run events to bring those worlds together. Traditional conferences, hack days, foo camps; strategy events for managers and making-things days for practitioners. All aimed at sparking ideas, creating connections and, yes, driving innovation.

Startup loans. The Knight News Challenge is a brilliant way of getting people started – but they build a competition which necessarily means hundreds of fantastic ideas lose out. We need that, but I think the startup ecology also needs finance options when they hit hard times, or when they want to expand. And with a dramatic lack of lending going on right now, a startup loan fund aimed at journalism projects could help provide short- or even long-term finance to help build a successful innovation ecology.

Resources. Legal support and training. Business information. Links to the academic community, to the business community, to investors of various types; research fellowships, practical workshops, hotdesking office space, a “library” of tech kit (camcorders, laptops, software, hardware) for innovative projects to lease at a smaller incremental cost than buying it out. My magical organisation would be a nexus of conversation about and resources for innovation in journalism, and a big part of our remit would be to not only build those resources but also get them to where they’re needed.

So that’s me. What would you do?

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Mary Hamilton

I'm a journalist-type tech-ish geek person, working in that interesting ambiguous place where reporting the news meets all sorts of peripheral skills. In my spare time I herd zombies, design games and write stuff.

5 thoughts on “Driving innovation: pie in the sky”

  1. I like the sound of all of what you’ve written above. If I had the power and the money, I’d love to draw some of those things together and fund some labs (for want of a better word) where people from different organisations would be provided with the space and resources to pursue projects and ideas around journalism.

    Maybe it would be a bit like Google’s engineer time (where engineers get a day a week or so to pursue their own projects) but across different companies and disciplines. This would combine elements of your partnerships, intersections and resources ideas. And I would make it long term – a day a week for a year, or maybe a week a month.

    1. That sounds like a fantastic idea. I’d want to set them up so that both people already working at large and traditional media organisations could work alongside students and freelancers to share ideas and make stuff happen – I’d love to get that sort of partnership working going.

      I am intensely envious of Google’s approach to training its employees. It seems like that’s a big area that journalism is, well, not very good at.

      1. I wonder if it is a trust thing. You have to give your employees the time to experiment (and fail as well as succeed) and trust that they use it wisely. And then you have to back up that trust with resources. A big ask maybe, but the rewards could be huge.

What do you think?