Can Digital Support Tools help newsroom journalists compete creatively and productively with digital media?
More and more, people are seeking news solely through digital media, and the digitalisation of news production and consumption has shown that many traditional news businesses struggle to compete.
Falling newspaper sales and the failure of news businesses to improve their competitiveness has resulted in fewer journalists in employment. As a consequence, journalists often have less time to research and write articles. To compensate, they often use subsets of familiar information sources to create articles. A consequence of these subsets is reduced number, diversity, and creativity of angles used to communicate information.
Could digital support tools offer a solution to the problems newsroom journalists now face?
Digital support tools have been successfully implemented in creative industries such as music, film and television. Different forms of digital tool have also been developed to assist journalists, although they are few in number. Some aim to support journalist creativity. Others were developed to support productivity, through automating parts of the reporting process or by analysing increasing amounts of open and big data.
However, these tools were not adopted in newsrooms. Instead, news businesses chose to set up in-house media labs and created start-up incubators and accelerators to connect with new technologies.
The research paper Evaluating the Use of Digital Creativity Support by Journalists in Newsrooms reports the evaluation of a more direct form of digital creativity support for journalists. The digital support tool INJECT was designed to integrate into journalists’ existing work tools and processes, and to help them quickly discover dissimilar ideas in different search spaces.
To investigate whether this more direct support would be effective in newsrooms, an evaluation of the support tool’s use in 3 local newsrooms was undertaken. The evaluation looked at whether the tool’s use was associated with the development of more novel and useful articles.
However, newsrooms are difficult environments in which to introduce digital innovation. The culture is often closed to innovation. Consequently, the research also investigated whether this factor influenced the adoption and use of the tool.
INJECT is a tool designed to support journalists discover creative angles on new news articles, and assist productivity more than existing tools do.
To support the search for new angles, INJECT automatically retrieved news information with creative strategies that codified the expertise of experienced journalists. To increase a journalist’s creativity capabilities, INJECT presented the retrieved information with interactive creative guidance. The aim was to enable articles that were more creative, and generated more quickly, which in turn would hopefully improve productivity.
The INJECT tool was deployed in the newsrooms of 3 newspapers in Norway. The study looks at a 2 month period of use by 12 journalists. The evaluation of this deployment provided first-hand data about the benefits and constraints associated with use of the tool.
The effect of INJECT use on article creativity was investigated. Analysis of the articles written with and without its support revealed that:
- INJECT use was associated with an increase in the novelty of articles, albeit from low average ratings that indicated most non-INJECT articles were rated as not very novel. Greater novelty was more often seen in feature articles rather than news articles.
- There was no significant difference in the ratings of the value of articles written with and without INJECT. This result was perhaps unsurprising, given that all of the articles had passed through the newspapers’ editorial process and been published, indicating value.
- The results revealed little evidence of increase in productivity of journalists. Indeed, some respondents reported that use of the tool was a chore.
Responses revealed that greater newsroom autonomy, a work culture more open to innovation, and the presence of innovative journalists were associated with greater INJECT use. Journalists who were more open to technologies and changes in working practices made greater use of INJECT.
Other journalists, particularly experienced ones, were reluctant to change their well-established work practices and adopt a tool that automated elements of their work.
Management support to train journalists and set up conditions for success was reported to be lacking at all 3 newspapers.
Content analysis found that journalists used INJECT to discover ideas that were similar to an existing article, and also to find ones that were dissimilar to their original topics (to discover new angles for an article yet to write). While discovering dissimilar ideas is often associated with less productive idea generation, the exploration of possible similar ideas related to the original topic with the INJECT tool also did not appear to be more productive. In fact, use of the INJECT tool sometimes decreased journalist productivity. Increase in article novelty necessitated more time from journalists to write articles. Therefore, further INJECT development appears needed to reduce the tool’s burden on journalists.
INJECT’s lack of support for hard news reporting demonstrated that in its current form, it is insufficient to help overcome the crisis in journalism brought about by digitalisation.
Yet use of INJECT to discover new angles was achieved without any explicit creativity training, which demonstrates the tool’s potential.
The evaluation results were used to inform changes to the digital creativity support tool. Future versions will incorporate new tool features, greater interactivity, and will be repositioned as a one-stop shop for news information.
The paper Evaluating the Use of Digital Creativity Support by Journalists in Newsrooms is a collaboration between researchers from City, University of London, University of Bergen, Interlink Academy, University of Groningen, and Institute Communication and Computer Systems. It is available for download at the link below.
For more information about the project visit the INJECT website.