Journalists suck at innovation and this is why

We brainstormed with thousands of journalists from news organizations around the world. And we realized that there’s a reason why journalism doesn’t excel in innovation. It’s in their DNA. But good news: it can easily be fixed.

“Good morning everybody! Who has a good idea?”

Our editor in chief opens the daily meeting. It’s 9:30 and time to discuss what our leading headlines will be. We can do a follow up, a new lead, go for an event on the agenda. I’ve been a journalist for a long time. If you include my first assignments in high school it’s been twenty years and I’ve been to many of these meetings.

As soon as the first idea is on the table, this happens:
“That’s not an interesting angle.”
“We’ve done something similar recently.”
“That can’t be done.”
“…. [insert competitor’s name here] just did that!”

A colleague once told me: “Sometimes it feels like a contest to see who’s best at bringing down an idea.”

Sitting in those meetings I got nervous. I thought:
“I need to come up with a good idea.”
No, ambitious as I am, it had to be a great idea. I didn’t want to risk rolling eyeballs from my colleagues.

I feel vulnerable writing this. Why didn’t I take the risk? I usually take risks (quit my job to start Hackastory) and I have guts. For example I traveled to Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring as a reporter, alone. But during the brainstorming meetings I didn’t contribute as many ideas as I would have liked to.

In the journalist’s DNA
At Hackastory we brainstormed with thousands of journalists around the world and I realized that this happens all the time. I believe it’s the critics – internal (you) and external (your boss and colleagues) –  that make journalists suck at innovation. Big time. The biggest reason, in my opinion, lies in the journalist’ DNA.

The thing is: shooting down ideas happens with the best intentions. Journalists are critical. In J-school and at work we’re taught to be critical and we’re rewarded throughout our careers for demonstrating this. Asking critical questions made my article better. It’s what you’re supposed to do. But if you do it at the wrong time, it just kills momentum and crushes creativity

“The best way to have a great idea is to have many”, said Linus Pauling, an American quantum chemist and winner of two Nobel Prizes.

So, put your critic on the backburner…at least for a little bit.

You might also like

Saving journalism: put your audience first

Yes to doing, no to doubting!