On Deadline: What's revolutionary about 'InJo'? Plenty, good and bad | May 27, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - May 27, 2011

On Deadline: What's revolutionary about 'InJo'? Plenty, good and bad

by Jay Thorwaldson

The vision of a new world of technology-assisted journalism — one that raises the quality of political decision-making and may even help achieve peace in war-ravaged areas of the world — was outlined in explicit detail this week in a three-day conference on "innovation journalism" at Stanford's Tresidder Memorial Union.

The topic even has a shorthand nickname: InJo.

But there could be unintended negative consequences, such as a shallower level of abbreviated discourse and a loss of professional standards and training found in traditional newsrooms, one speaker cautioned.

Yet the tsunami of change is impacting traditional forms of print and electronic journalism around the world. And the economic and technological trends seem to be irreversible, most panelists and speakers adopted as a premise.

The primary example this year is the "social networking" trigger of the pro-democracy Arab uprisings in the Middle East. Several speakers discussed how news was being gathered in Pakistan, India and areas of conflict throughout the Middle East, where cell-phone images become part of mainstream news coverage.

Yet the impacts of innovation are being felt in virtually every town, city and state in America, as print-based media struggles to adapt to the economic realities of shrinking revenues and rapidly changing world of iPhones, Androids, iPads, laptops and the exploding software that drives them and, increasingly, is melding them into one big technological melting pot.

The moderate-sized audience of more than 60 persons — perhaps 50 if speakers and support staff are not counted — was heavily weighted with journalists, some from traditional media and some self-identified from their blogging and online reporting projects.

A core theme of the 8th Conference on Innovation Journalism is that "journalism is no longer a gatekeeper of mass communication and knowledge dissemination. As the impact of print and broadcast diminishes, gatekeeping is evaporating, and the business of journalism has joined the innovation economy."

The scope of the change is global: There are more than 5 billion cell phones in use — more than 100 million smartphones were sold in the final quarter of 2010. As of last January, there were 600 million Facebook users and a billion Google search queries per day as of March.

David Norfors, the founder and executive director of the Stanford Center for Innovation and Communication, which sponsored the conference, said the awareness of the wave of innovation surfaced in the 1990s — when it was primarily focused on new technologies. Nordfors coined the term Innovation Journalism and set up the first Innovation Journalism initiatives in Sweden and at Stanford. He is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on the Future of Journalism.

He and a range of other speakers noted there were significant technological changes underway in the 1970s and 1980s, but most were below the radar of most people, including journalists. Change also was much slower, with years to bring new technologies to market. Yet being a "gadget journalist" was not a flashy beat and the techno devices were left mostly to special-interest magazines.

"Today when there's a release of a new cell phone it's on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. It's not only a gadget anymore."

In the past decade the economic impacts of the changes have been felt big time on traditional print and electronic journalism. The change now encompasses both business and technology as news organizations desperately struggle to respond to plummeting revenues and plunging numbers of readers and viewers.

But the revolution is not complete, Nordfors warned in kickoff comments Tuesday morning.

"I think the next era of innovation is going to be focused on 'story,'" he said.

By "story" he means the broader perspective of recognizing the change as being part of an "attention economy and an engagement economy" in which individuals are drawn into direct involvement with the news in a two-way flow between devices.

"Your attention and engagement is the commodity," he said. "We become part of that story."

The challenge, Nordfors believes, is that as a society we need to develop the story, or language and terms, to describe what is happening.

"Every innovation, everything, needs to have a name so we can relate to it. If it doesn't have a name we can't talk about it," he said.

Yet journalists for years failed to recognize or report cohesively on the early emergence of technology or its implications, Nordfors and other speakers noted. Many journalists simply didn't recognize the scope of what was occurring, and many newspapers thought it was sufficient to put up websites and just post their printed content.

Some now are pushing further, into opening up to submitted photos and videos and promotion of "citizen journalists" to augment the efforts of shrinking ranks of editorial-department staff members, chiefly at larger papers. Some are implementing ways to transmit and receive news by way of mobile devices, including photos and video clips, based on where someone is.

It may be the lack of "a new shared language that is the bottleneck" to breaking through to a full realization of what is happening, Nordfors said. That bottleneck is also restricting realization of the expanded potential for using networked devices to address local, national and international problems — a way to "raise our collective intelligence."

Yet there may be a dark side to the brave new world of omnipresent technology, Stanford communications professor Theodore "Ted" Glasser warned on one panel. Glasser, who has focused for years on press responsibility and accountability and whose extensive academic and writing career is recognized internationally, said there are numerous unknowns and some real dangers "as we try to figure out who we are and where we fit in."

Journalism education has evolved from teaching both writing and production techniques to a multi-media journalism program, that includes even Web design, he said.

But that takes away from larger questions and "takes its toll" on the more intellectual substance of the educational program.

"We ought to be asking about unintended consequences," he said.

With lower barriers to entry into journalism the academic world needs to address questions such as, "What does professionalism mean? What does accountability mean?"

He asked about the "unintended consequences of living in a society where you are constantly tethered to others" in terms of an individual's ability to develop as a problem-solver.

One big thing will be "the loss of the institution of journalism," he said. Newsrooms rapidly disappearing will take a toll on the training and "socialization of journalists" — the passing on of techniques, writing skills, ethics and what it means to be a journalist.

The full program is online at http://ij8.innovationjournalism.org/p/program.html .

Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at jthorwaldson@paweekly.com.


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