Buzz words mean nothing: Innovation

Everyone is talking about innovation; ‘it is important to innovate’, we are told. Innovation is the only way to find a new business model that will support journalism. Yet the word is now bandied around in a manner that doesn’t really mean anything anymore.

New Media Outlets

What is innovation?

It is widely defined as the introduction of something new; however, that does not necessarily mean original. You can innovate in existing spaces and on top of existing ideas.

Innovation can be as much about re-framing the debate as it can be about adding to the conventionally accepted discourse – it doesn’t have to be original, it just needs to be ‘best’. It is the ability to engage critically with old concepts and add new ideas

It can be small scale or large, but it is no good just telling people that they need to be ‘innovative’. To say that is vague and ambiguous, gives little direction and less structure. Like teaching students to think critically, to assess and evaluate information, you must teach people how to innovate.

Of course, there is inherent risk behind all innovation; you are after all trying something new – there is a pretty good chance it might not work – this is not a good reason not to try an idea, just something to be aware of.

What drives innovation?

Innovation is born of a lack of resource, something journalism is suffering from badly. It is driven by problem solvers, by the people that can see a better way of doing something or a new way. It is driven by select individuals and by business.

Sometimes all it takes is a single person with a good idea and a limitless supply of ‘get up and go’ and sometimes it comes from big business.

For those of you who scoff at the idea that big business, rather than the individual can drive innovation, just think about their motivations; the desire to drive down cost and increase profit is huge and should never be underestimated.

Unfortunately the ‘business’ form of innovation has been taking the journalism industry by storm (there is a chapter of Nick Davies’ book Flat Earth News you need to read about for this point…) but in essence the driving down of costs in journalism has resulted in an unprecedented dip in quality. Truth has become an endangered species, as has fact checking and verification.

However, I think there has been a fundamental shift in journalism that demands new innovation must come from the individual, the business version doesn’t cut it anymore, large profits over quality isn’t what the average journalist is looking for.

What am I getting at?


‘Hyperlocal’ is a big buzz word within journalism at the moment and is generally considered one of the more innovative ventures being undertaken. The idea is that we should be focusing on local and niche news and features, told in new multimedia-rich formats.

Many consider hyper-local projects such as TBD (a TV station and website that delivers local news from and about Washington, USA) to be one way in which the industry is currently innovating. The thing to remember is these projects have lots of people working very hard to see what will work in the future and what won’t.

You can’t just be told that you should be innovating, you can’t just be expected to know how. It is a skill; it needs to be taught and it needs to be taught from a young age. At its core is problem solving, a concept dismally ignored in schools and in life.

Don’t expect to be able to innovate because you are told you need to, innovation is not always a light bulb or lightening strike moment, it often takes lots of hard work and detailed thought and analysis.

Do remember to get stuck in though.


About Nick Petrie
Social Media & Campaigns Editor @TheTimes of London. Co-founder @Wannabehacks. Interested in communities, conversations, storytelling.

5 Responses to Buzz words mean nothing: Innovation

  1. Nice post Nick, maybe you’ve spied my annoyance at buzzwords within media before, because all this is definitely a view that I subscribe to.

    Things like “action”, “innovate” are lazy, catch-all and vague terms. I think we need to cut through the b/s a bit sometimes and point out things the way they really are. Reams upon reams of blog posts are written along the lines of “innovation” without being explicit as to what this involves or how one can be considered to be innovating. The only true innovation in the current climate would be to find a pay model that works. Everything else is secondary, because if you can’t make journalism pay, then none of it really ‘matters’ in the long run.

    • The Intern says:

      Cheers for the comment Jo,

      Buzzwords are so frustrating and pointless, instead of encapsulating a concept, they do worse and say nothing at all.

      You are right that the only true innovation that ‘matters’ is figuring out how to make journalism pay in one way or another, otherwise it well never matter how many new ways we can invent of telling a story and immersing the reader.

      • Reading back my original comment, I sound a bit ruthless, but that’s the reality! I think it’s great that we can communicate these stories in all these different ways. But to continue to do that, journalism needs to pay. If not from the journalism itself, through other means like events, conferences, other companies etc. If journalism becomes a hobby rather than a profession then only those who are well off enough to pursue it will be able to take part, which would be a crying shame.

  2. A very good point you make about innovation.

    Good ideas (often) don’t just appear, they need to be worked at and helped by asking the question properly in the first place. In the Future of News bootcamp sessions I organised this summer, I posed very specific and targeted questions to each group to get them to think about the question differently.

    And you’re doubly right on education. In this country at least, we’re not taught to think differently, just to conform.

    • The Intern says:

      Thanks for your comment Adam, I couldn’t agree more. I know I only alluded to the problems in our education system (enough of them for for an entire blog to) but I think there is something inherently wrong with the way we push information at young people.

      There is little to no serendipitous discovery of information and how and why different subjects and ideas relate to each other.

      I wish I had been thought how to think critically at school, I also wish I had been taught that it’s not just OK to fail, but that if you ever want to do anything outside of the status quo then you probably should fail at points.

      We shouldn’t have this fear of failure that exists amongst our youth, it’s not healthy and it doesn’t encourage ‘innovation’ in any way.

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