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Harnessing Data and Technology for Journalism

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - JOLT (Harnessing Data and Technology for Journalism)

Reporting period: 2020-05-01 to 2022-04-30

The internet and digital technologies brought profound disruption to journalism and news media. Sustainable and socially valuable journalism faces a monumental challenge on several fronts: free online content undermines traditional business models leading to a dramatic loss in revenue; previously stable audiences are fragmenting with the unprecedented proliferation of online content sources; and journalistic storytelling continues to lose ground to new forms of information sharing on mobile and social media.
To date, responses to these challenges have been sporadic, uncoordinated, and lacking in broader critical reflection. JOLT aimed to address this gap by providing innovative training for the next generation of journalism leaders and by generating scientific excellence in key areas. The issues addressed by JOLT gained increasing prominence during the lifetime of the project. Across the world, policymakers increasingly recognise the need to support independent journalism and to find innovative ways of fostering technology for the benefit of democracy and society. JOLT’s overall research objectives have established some of this groundwork. Specifically, JOLT pursued the following research objectives:
Objective 1 - Theoretical Understanding: ESRs participated in multi-disciplinary events organised by the network and other stakeholders where they presented their work to each other and deepened disciplinary perspectives. They developed their individual research projects by presenting their work to domain specialists through conference presentations and publications. Ultimately, theoretical advances will inform the final PhD theses of the ESRs working with humanities and social science disciplines.
Objective 2 - Empirical Knowledge: All ESRs generated new empirical knowledge, which was written up or communicated to academic audiences through 29 journal articles, 3 book chapters, and 71 conference presentations. In addition, this work was translated for non-academic audiences through 33 outputs including media publications, policy recommendations and best-practice guidelines, open-source tools; and datasets
Objective 3 - Learning and Training: JOLT ESRs attended 7 network-wide training sessions in addition to numerous specialised training offerings tailored for each ESR. In addition to the skills gained by ESRs, all participants, including supervisors, gained valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities of organising training for researchers emanating from multiple disciplines across the social sciences and technology sciences. ESRs undertook 12 secondments.
Objective 4 - Knowledge and Technology Transfer: The project training events, meetings and conferences provided a platform for the cross-fertilization of ideas and practices between academic, industry and NGO sectors. Each ESR project has identified clear paths to build on their tangible results and to disseminate those results to potential stakeholders. Research has been incorporated into practice in the media partner organisations (BBC, Samsa.fr) through further projects and collaborations in academia (DCU, AUTH, UvA, UPS, UNAV).
Objective 5 - Concrete Applications: JOLT ESRs delivered 7 policy recommendations and best-practice guidelines, 6 open-source tools; and 4 datasets. These are accessible from the JOLT website and were promoted by partners.
Across all of these areas, JOLT ESRs have made significant advances to the goal of fostering sustainable and socially valuable journalism. The research area is rapidly evolving with new technologies, practices, and societal concerns emerging all the time. By addressing fundamental issues, JOLT researchers have provided foundational advances in key areas, but they and the project supervisors are cognisant of the dynamic nature of the environment. Research and training collaborations across disciplines are undoubtedly valuable for deepening understanding of the core issues and potential solutions. JOLT ESRs and supervisors gained from the exposure to different disciplines and went on to implement these insights in new collaborative projects.
Work conducted can be categorised according to administration, research, training and dissemination activities:
(1) Administration: in the early stages, the administrative focus was on the establishment of the programme including setting up the Supervisory Board, project communication platforms, financial management procedures, and recruitment of ESRS. General management activities concentrated on ensuring that milestones and deliverables were met in a meaningful way.
(2) Research: Each ESR carried out their own unique research as part of a wider Work Package and in support of the overall research objectives of JOLT. To date, under the guidance and direction of their doctoral studies supervisor, all have contributed to three research-related deliverables including a state-of-the-art report; a report on data collection; and a final research report.
(3) Training: ESR training was provided through the doctoral studies programme at the registered university; through consortium-wide events, and through specialised offerings taken up by ESRs in accordance with their Career Development Plans. Each ESR progressed through training in core research skills, transferable skills, and domain specialist skills contributing to the development of the quintessential "t-shaped" candidate: industry-ready, with a broad spectrum understanding, combined with deep, discipline specific knowledge.
(4) Dissemination: ESRs were provided with extensive support for the dissemination and communication of their research outputs to different audiences. In keeping with the objectives of JOLT, special attention was given to the translation of academic research into outputs that are accessible for industry and the public. The success of this strategy is evident in the large number of academic and non-academic outputs including the development and publication of industry best-practice guidelines and open-source software, now available for general use.
ESRs have contributed to original research, extending current knowledge in the three research areas (New News Practices, Organisational Disruption and Politics, Values and Ethics) as well as policy documentation and best practice guidelines for industry and research. The core issue addressed by JOLT (how to harness digital and data technologies for sustainable, ethical journalism) has become more acute since the project began in 2018. In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates the need for impactful research on contemporary journalism including its technological, business and organisational, and ethical foundations. The pandemic increased public reliance on journalistic media outlets, but the dramatic decline in ad spend forced many outlets to cut staff and reduce services. More generally, there is wider recognition of the core relationship between democracy, technology, and journalism, as evidence by the EU’s joint Democracy Action Plan and Media and Audiovisual Action Plan. As noted, the work undertaken in each of the work-packages sets the foundation for advancing the ambition of these plans by contributing to the start-of-the-art.
The JOLT Consortium Members and invited guests at the training event in Dublin, Ireland, Feb 2019