15 simple procedures for building an Innovative Journalism Outfit.

Several outfits start off by attempting to innovate, without a crucial step. What’s the problem to be solved where innovation could play a part?

The popular cue with innovation is how it speeds up delivery or extracts a style of content from events. Yet the legacy issue, often overlooked, is the variability in events that require attention. For instance, the news you see on television is driven in a major way by PR and press campaigns. That’s not a problem per se but it puts corporate news in charge of the agenda. What if a design thinking approach could challenge this, and produce stories that circumvented the corporate push?

This design (systems) thinking approach has been one I’ve used (in part being a Maths/Chemistry grad, an artist, and journalist) and it’s reaped huge rewards such as winning NUS teaching awards set by students and international awards in Innovation.

This isn’t a theoretical approach, I’ve worked on some of the UK’s most respected outfits, such as Newsnight and Channel 4 News, so have deep knowledge of networks.

  1. Map out objectives using diagrams, stickers, posts etc. What is it you’re trying to achieve and set yourself deadlines in creating your objectives and what’s called the workflow? Is it writing good copy and making great videos? Well that’s too generic. What’s your purpose and what is the impact? Who’s going to benefit from it?
  2. In the initial stages leave no idea unturned. Introduce a system of turn taking and people taking on responsibilities, and beware of the brainstorming false syndrome. In Building the Agile Business Through Digital Transformations, authors Neil Perkin and Peter Abraham write that “Multiple studies conducted over a number of decades have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas”. The seemingly absurd ideas can turn out to be the ones that change the world. e.g. Edison trying to introduce electricity to the world when gas and candles were in use and well accepted.
  3. Gamify the approach (see Dr Brian Cugelman on Gamification), by composing diverse teams and letting them co-create and collaborate with each other and with different skills needed for a problem. This has worked effectively in our television module, as it sets up a help culture.
  4. The underlying key to innovative journalism/ storytelling equally involves creating an event, or finding one that becomes your petri dish. A young boy discovers that no one is covering Sunday league football ( soccer) so sets up a platform that brings together parents, players, and outsiders interested in youth soccer. Part of the innovation is the event; next how might you story tell in an innovative way.
  5. Bring in stakeholders to contribute at the early stages. It’s invariably the case you think you’ve invented the wheel, when someone already might have. Experts, professionals will help challenge your ideas. I’ve come to realise nothing is entirely new. Things become a variation of another idea. Einstein’s ground breaking laws were labelled “special” with reference to their relativity, because, Newton three hundred years ago had proposed similar.
  6. Take the view that people are irrational and don’t care what you’ve got, and how you got there. There’s an element of neuroscience here. Innovation can often be difficult, but the outcome for public consumption should be simple. Steve Jobs, with the iPhone and iPod was fond of saying keep it simple.
  7. How do you make your intended audience care? Test it on them! Similarly, how do you give what you’re doing impact? Create a piece of artwork from your approach that grabs passerbys attention. This aids with memory retention. That like button on Facebook was introduced to provide an emotional response. It was just one of many experiments.Today it’s the principle method Facebook uses to harvest data.
  8. Provide a skeletal framework, for which cohorts will provide later detail into the efficiency of the procedure you’re adopting, or otherwise multiple outcomes you’ll adhere too. This strengthens memory. Skeletal frameworks essentially help you drive the process forward by either expecting intended problems, which your experts might uncover too. The point of a framework is to keep the work flow i.e. the way you’re working disciplined but flexible to accommodate changes.
  9. Ensure a safe zone and a process for arbitration in disputes which everyone signs up to. Introduce a reward system. This incentivises cohorts to work naturally to their goals. Let them assess each other — teaches fairness. People should be able to state how they feel. Inside the zone we build in a contingency for failure. It’s at the root of learning, and experimenting. Let cohorts own this state of feeling, and how they might overcome it and build resilience.
  10. Help workers/ reviewers review their own mistakes and how they will overcome them. This helps with self sufficiency and confidence.
  11. Build in repetition cycles. Learning is about repetition, repetition, repetition. And record a daily blog which becomes your DMS (daily memory system). Writing things down in long hand aids memory. Read this .
  12. Shared decision: Change the landscape when you’re familiar with outcomes. That doesn’t mean abandoning what you’ve learned. Let cohorts assess the differences. For instance, material that can be automated could require a more automated response.
  13. Make it fun. Gamify lectures. The release of “happy” hormones increases learning capacity. I use puzzles and patterns myself to intersperse presenting. In fact the whole lecture can be treated as a plot in a film designed towards different emotional states.
  14. Build theory from their practice and compare it to different cultural systems and existing literature reviews. This Remember there is no correct way, but they learn if they want to be unique, they’ll require a historical approach to analysing knowledge.
  15. Help bridge the understanding that innovation in journalism is about storytelling and links engineering, arts, enterprise, science, history, philosophy, literature and humanities. The future is about solving problems, delivering innovative products e.g. reports and equipping students to work in efficient teams. Team players with wide skills and characteristics that enable them to work across systems and cultures.

You can read how this list wraps around innovation in this piece here

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is a Knight Batten winner for innovation in Journalism — the first Brit to win this award. He’s won awards from the National Union of Students for his teaching. He’s been a journalist for thirty years e.g. BBC and Channel 4 News, dotcoms, and has taught for fifteen, setting up multimedia courses and more recently the journalism LAB. He was the Asper Visiting Professor for journalism at UBC, and is a world leader in advanced videojournalism — the subject of his PhD within the education department at University College Dublin. He’s a regular juror for the RTS Awards, publishes Viewmagazine.tv