Research on journalism innovation has become increasingly relevant for science and practice. The literature shows a great variety of innovations in a wide range of media fields. However, the question of what the most important innovations in different media systems are has not been addressed. This article attempts to fill this research gap by providing a theoretical framework that deals with the function of journalism in society as well as with the multifaceted meaning of innovation in a time of constant media change. We identify and analyze the most important journalistic innovations in Austria, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom in the last decade. Interviews with 100 experts reveal diverse innovation efforts. From a total of around 1000 mentions, 50 different types of innovations could be identified; from them, 34 made it into the selection of the 20 most relevant innovations in the countries. Different innovations were found to be of varying importance for journalism development in each country. However, some innovations were ranked high everywhere including data journalism, collaborative and investigative networks, audience participation, journalism in social media and the establishment of paywalls. Further comparative analysis of the media policy frameworks, journalism cultures and contexts for the contribution of journalism to democracy is required.
innovation; journalism; change; data journalism; audience participation; media innovation;
investigative journalism; social media
Introduction: Journalism’s Blurring Boundaries and Its Role in Society
The concept of journalism has always been difficult to pin down. Finding a definition of “journalism” has become more complicated in the digital age because its boundaries are blurring (Carlson and Lewis 2015; Loosen 2015). Nevertheless, the central role of journalism in pluralistic, open societies remains oriented toward independently surveying matters of public importance as well as to interpret events within a larger social context. Since societal subsystems, such as politics, economics, culture, and sports, tend to drift apart, journalism is a vital binding force to interrelate, realign, and synchronize these subsystems and to provide them with a common repertoire of social topics and issues (Meier 2018b; Urban and Schweiger 2014).
Drawing on the literature (Malik and Shapiro 2017; Meier 2018b; Kaltenbrunner et al. 2019), in this study journalism is defined as the regular process of producing and distributing information for the purpose of providing an orientation for the public and transparency for the society at large, by an organization that commits itself to sustaining democracy and to journalistic principles such as independence, non-partisanship, topicality, relevance, correctness, and general comprehensibility in order to guarantee this claim.
Journalism therefore plays an active role in generating a common public sphere (Habermas 2006) and thus contributes to ensuring that the basic values of democratic societies, namely freedom, justice, equality, and solidarity are safeguarded (McQuail 1992), fulfilling at least three core tasks (Christians et al. 2009; Meier 2018b, 15ff.): providing information, critical evaluation and monitoring (“watchdog role”), and participation. Accordingly, several fundamental values emerge on which the quality of news is based (Kovach and Rosenstiel 2014; Scheuer 2008, pp. 44–49): truth/facticity, relevance/context, and independence.
These values are mutually interlinked in the current discourse framing of the term “objectivity”. McNair (2017, p. 1331) notes that “the journalistic search for credibility of sources, and scrutiny of what those sources say, without fear or favour, has never been more important to the health of liberal democracy”.
In a “post-factual era” it must also be accompanied by norms such as transparency of journalistic products and processes (Meier 2009), and appropriate tools that strengthen the accountability of newsrooms (Fengler et al. 2013). The notion of blurring boundaries has been used for some years now to frame the evolution of journalism (Carlson and Lewis 2015; Loosen 2015; Scott et al. 2019). Journalism as a profession, as a commercial endeavor, and as a social activity has long been evolving, shaped by many transformations.
News organizations are confronting the challenges posed by digitalization, different news consumption habits and the use of social media, greater access to data, and experimentation with new distribution channels. In the state of flux in which journalism finds itself (Spyridou et al. 2013), under scrutiny, with progressive drops in citizens’ trust in the media (Newman et al. 2021), observing the evolution of journalism’s boundaries helps to understand the phenomena and to anticipate challenges and opportunities. As Loosen (2015, p. 79) argues, “we (as society, journalists, audience members, journalism researchers) seem to be in the middle of a process of figuring out what we regard as ‘journalism‘—and its function for society”.
Indeed, although journalism may be in a moment of crisis (Pickard 2020), the interest in its evolution and, specifically, the concern about what happens at its boundaries indicates that it is still a relevant activity (Scott et al. 2019). Such boundaries are not static, and their evolution is affected by the multiple perspectives that shape journalism, so it is relevant to consider how the most recent changes and innovations influence the (re)definition of those boundaries (Spyridou et al. 2013).
In a three-year, international research project, we are investigating the impact of innovation on journalism, and the influence of the socio-political framework. The media system, media policy, and journalistic culture are considered preconditions and prerequisites for media and journalism innovation. This descriptive study presented here shows the results of the first phase of the project, in which we aimed to identify the most important innovations in each of the five countries and to determine which approaches are relevant to the different media markets and systems in the process and which are significant in individual countries. In the next phase of the project, which is still ongoing, the innovations are examined in depth on the basis of case studies; the third final phase will analyze the impact of the framework conditions in different media systems, building on the findings of the first two phases.
We included Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, and the UK in order to compare representatives of the three different media systems inWest European and North American democracies as identified by Hallin and Mancini (2004). According to Hallin and Mancini (2004), Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (DACH)1 media correspond to a “democratic corporatist model” with strong public service media and a traditionally wide reach of newspapers.
Meier, Klaus, Jonas Schützeneder, José Alberto García Avilés, José María Valero-Pastor, Andy Kaltenbrunner, Renée Lugschitz, Colin Porlezza, Giulia Ferri, Vinzenz Wyss, and Mirco Saner. (2022). Examining the Most Relevant Journalism Innovations: A Comparative Analysis of Five European Countries from 2010 to 2020. Journalism and Media 3: 698–714. https://doi.org/10.3390/journalmedia3040046