The first day of the BBC Social Media Summit (#bbcsms) discussed changing technology and innovations. Daniel Bennett reports:

In the midst of a communications technology revolution, the need for innovation in the newsroom and in the presentation of news is regarded as the norm. The web, mobile and other technologies offer opportunities to present and deliver news in new, compelling formats to the audience. There is untapped potential in data journalism, the serendipity of the web, curation of media content and gaming. 

News organisations, however, are facing a number of difficulties. Traditionally, research and development departments have been separate from editorial input. New products have been produced that might have benefited from journalists' input. At the same time, innovative ideas are probably best formed far away from the day-to-day whirlwind of the news cycle.

Marrying the technical and the editorial is not always an easy task: it requires cultural change within newsrooms. The role of the journalist is no longer limited to an individual pursuit of the news story, but needs to be viewed as part of much wider news projects.  

Developing in-house technological solutions or innovative news products can be problematic: news organisations might spend a lot of time, energy and resources developing a product that has to be replaced when the industry moves on in two years time.

News organisations are also concerned that they do not have the financial resources to compete for the brightest developers. Why would they work for a traditional media organisation when private companies like Google, Facebook or Twitter - and, in the US at least, defence and government contracts - offer greater rewards?

The other option for news organisations, working with external companies, is not without risk. What happens when the URL-shortening company you are using goes bust? How dependent can you become on a third party to display and deliver your news content?

In an era of online experimentation, media companies are hedging their bets by investing in both models. The New York Times R&D Lab is collaborating with on, and the Washington Post is partnering with and  

Forming collaborative partnerships both within and outside news organisations appears to offer the most promising route to technological innovation in news. As one participant put it: "Do what you do best and partner with the rest."

Daniel Bennett - @Dan_10v11 - is a PhD candidate in the War Studies Department at King's College, London, writing a thesis on the impact of blogging on the BBC's coverage of war and terrorism.


Reports from others in different groups discussing the issues:

Paul Bradshaw writes: The massive change that we are part of means we are trying to do two things at once: not just taking stock of the tangle of tools and processes we've invented but also trying to ensure we don't stay still and continue to innovate with input from outside our organisations.

There has been plenty of experimentation with different platforms and a slow formation of policies around using them - but we still need to work out which tool is best in different situations.

Barriers remain: technology is just one; bureaucracy is another; the limitations of what a journalist can install on their machine a third.

When it comes to continuing innovation, for some organisations the key is to open up to competition and ideas from outside. One broadcaster hosts multiple pitches from online start-ups every week: it makes things feel more competitive, they say; and much better than relying only on your internal development.

Other organisations have created and published APIs as a way of facilitating easier innovation both inside and outside the company, where new opportunities for partnership arise.

There is a concern about reliance on third-party tools and how to prepare for changes in their levels or terms of service. There already exists a distribution risk around buying satellite access, for example, that can be blocked in sensitive situations. The decentralised nature of the web allows for more workarounds, but that doesn't protect against centralisation in the future.

More radically, it will be fascinating to see if any possibilities for new forms of news consumption emerge from motion detection and Microsoft's Kinect gaming technology, and whether a UK disruptor like Huffington Post will ever emerge. Or will British innovators continue to look to Silicon Valley to fund their projects?

Paul Bradshaw - @paulbradshaw - is founder of the Online Journalism Blog and the crowdsourcing website Helpmeinvestigate. He is a visiting professor at City University, London and runs the MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University.


Graham Holliday writes: One of the underlying challenges discussed during the session on innovation and technology in the newsroom was how to understand what people want from a website, what they do while they're on it, and how to use data.

"The interest in social graphs is going to be huge. It could be revolutionary, if we get it right," said one newspaper editor.

There was an understanding that it is not about large numbers of followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook - it's about finding key influencers and creating better ways to share:

"How can you personalise the online experience on your news site so they want to share? There's a lot of subtlety about how that works."

"It's not about having thousands of followers. It's about having two or three or so key influencers within those followers."

Mobile is still seen as a challenge and a huge opportunity:

"During the Arab uprisings, mobile traffic grew much, much faster. There was a tenfold increase in traffic."

However, with reference to tablet mobile devices, there were lingering worries about the current focus on the iPad. One editor admitted ignoring some of the data:

"There's possibly too much attention paid to iPad. Sometimes we ignore statistics as to what platforms people are using. Sometimes strategy can be skewed from what is actually going on."

All agreed they were waiting for an effective Android alternative to the iPad to understand how the tablet market was going to play out in the long run.

Finally, one newspaper editor was looking to data to innovate:

"Data is one of the coming trends. We need to hire people who understand their way around large databases. Governments are producing tonnes of data, but journalists are doing nothing with it."

Graham Holliday - @noodlepie - is a foreign correspondent, photojournalist, university lecturer and BBC journalism trainer. He has worked on blogs, social media and citizen journalism projects since 2002.

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