Collaboration, connections, and continuity in media innovation

When it comes to the 2020 United States Elections, newsrooms will likely see that there is a fine line between news innovation for the election and how the industry is pivoting during the pandemic. With the shift to digital and a shattering of silos across different types of media (e.g., web analytics tools and even products like podcasts to their offering or toolkits), news organizations have been tinkering, developing one-off types of innovation and rethinking how to best position themselves in the media market. Covid-19 and now the U.S. elections have made these dynamics even more salient. The political climate in the U.S., along with the pandemic, have created a crisis for newsrooms. Maria Konow-Lund and colleagues argued that innovation occurs through crises, or moments of significance such as elections, particularly through shock, start-up, and transformation. Elections have always been spaces for digital news innovation such as with visuals or chatbots. Thus, with changes among audiences and new newsroom organizational realities, news organizations have been engaged in a range of innovation practices leading up to the elections. These include collaboration, connections, and continuity in innovation.


Media organizations started rethinking how to collaborate either through cross-media industry or within their own organizations. For example, First Draft, a project to fight mis- and disinformation online, rolled out a 14- day text message course titled “Protection from .” This course helped teach journalists and others about tactics and techniques of disinformation, such as verifying images or media manipulation. , a project of the Reynolds Journalism Institute housed at the University of Missouri, and the American Press Institute have similarly launched a free text message training focused on election coverage. Hearken launched , an online guide for news organizations to ensure that citizens get information they need to vote. matched students and recent grads with newsrooms across the U.S..

While media organizations admit that collaboration, which is central to the business of journalism, has been harder with the pandemic, during the election, news organizations have continued to develop water cooler opportunities through outdoor meetings, Zoom sessions, and Slack among others. Cross-media, especially through the influence of American media foundations, and internal collaboration during the elections has been a dynamic process emphasizing some of the principles of cross-media collaboration such as content sharing, convergence and coopetition.


Although the types of news innovations can be incremental or project-based, across the industry or within R&D or product teams, the elections have shown innovation in terms of newsgathering, format and storytelling (i.e., automated journalism, enhanced data visualizations, and automated fact-checking within and across media industry and platforms) as well as audience engagement centered on connection. Nuances and audience trust-building efforts have been central components of newsgathering and storytelling innovations. For example, after the 2016 criticism that FiveThirtyEight polling favoring Hillary Clinton winning over Donald Trump has been fraught, in 2020, the organization started forecasting uncertainty through simulation in their poll to represent a range of potential outcomes. FiveThirtyEight also took into account economic uncertainty, overall volume of important news which offset greater polarization, among other things. Buzzfeed news also recruited “Teen Ambassadors” to create election-themed TikTok and Instagram videos. In this sense, connection has occurred within a range of different influencers: from platforms, data-driven innovation to enhanced visualizations.


Whether or not the 2020 election news innovation has been transforming the news industry or a continuation of how the industry has been adapting to the realities of the pandemic, news organizations have had to adapt themselves by finding new ways of collaborating and connecting within their own organizations and across the news industry. For example, Zoom news interviews of candidates are likely to remain relevant even in a post-election and pandemic world. But for collaboration and connection to be successful, newsrooms need buy-in and continuity beyond the elections and even the pandemic. Boundaries across news media organizations are dissolving just as what counts as news media does, thus, what factors and mechanisms facilitate the forms of collaboration and connections in innovation seen throughout the elections is going to be a good point of departure for understanding the competencies and operationalization of innovation in media industries and how through this trust in journalism can be rekindled.