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Harnessing Data and Technology for Journalism

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - JOLT (Harnessing Data and Technology for Journalism)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2020-04-30

The internet and digital technologies have brought profound disruption to journalism and news media. The expansion of digital media means that sustainable and socially valuable journalism faces a monumental challenge on a number of 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. Responses to these challenges have been sporadic, uncoordinated, and lacking in broader critical reflection.

JOLT provides world-class training in digital and data-driven journalism and generate scientific excellence and innovation in the areas of new news practices, business and organizational contexts, and politics, values and ethics to reinvigorate socially valuable and economically viable journalism. Specifically, JOLT will pursue strategic research objectives in:

(1) Theoretical Understanding: to advance the development of multidisciplinary frameworks for digital and data journalism. By bringing together previously distinct disciplines and methodologies JOLT will provide an understanding of the journalism field and its future direction, by generating critical and best practice frameworks in relation to the growth of algorithmic and data journalism, the role of data analytics and infomediary services, emerging business strategies and the values and ethical challenges of new journalism and data practices

(2) Empirical Knowledge: to inform stakeholders across industry, training, research and policy. To support evidence-based decision-making and to break barriers between journalism sectors, JOLT will produce new cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary data on emerging industry practices and business strategies

(3) Learning and Training: to foster ESRs who are responsive to the needs and opportunities of an increasingly diverse journalism field and to develop broader training frameworks that address the needs of the field. Through network-wide training and secondments, JOLT will expose ESRs to learning and training within varied sectors, equip them essential domain specific skills (e.g. data visualization) to work within these sectors, and provide them with transferable skills to enhance their employment prospects

(4) Knowledge and Technology Transfer: to promote the cross-fertilization of ideas and practices between academic, industry and NGO sectors. JOLT’s consortium and research and training programme is designed to translate state-of-the-art academic approaches into everyday industry and training practice. Transfer will be supported by an extensive communication and dissemination plan, drawing on the expert capabilities of JOLT’s industry and NGO partners and JOLT will be a pilot for similar PhD programmes in journalism and technology

(5) Concrete Applications: developed in cooperation with JOLT’s partners, these will be available open-source for adoption and adaptation by the news industry and related sectors. These include new technical methods (e.g. for content delivery protocols), ethical guidelines (e.g. for user-generated content), best practice frameworks (e.g. for algorithmic journalism) and policy recommendations (e.g. for infomediary regulation)
"Work conducted so far can be categorised according to administration, research, training and dissemination activities:

(1) Administration: in the early stages, the focus was on the establishment of the programme. This included meetings of the Supervisory Board, development of the project website and social media presence, financial management and recruitment of 15 Early Stage Researchers. With many of these tasks now complete, the focus is on the general management of the Action, ensuring that milestones and deliverables are met, research and training activities are progressing, and outreach and dissemination activities take place in a meaningful way.

(2) Research: with all 15 ESRs now fully embedded in their hosting organisations, work on the Individual Research Projects is now underway. Each ESR is carrying out their own unique research and are contributing to the wider research portfolio of the associated Work Package and the overall research objectives of JOLT. To date, under the guidance and direction of their doctoral studies supervisor, all have contributed to two Action-level deliverables with a specific focus on the research (a state-of-the-art report and a report on data collection developed for each research Work Package). Additionally, ESRs have presented their work at local meetings as well as at network-events, providing participants with updates on their progress.

(3) Training: the ESR training is two-fold. Firstly, each ESR is embedded in a doctoral studies programme at either at their own university (for university beneficiaries) or at a university within the consortium (in the case of ESRs based at industry partners). This training includes core research skills, tailored to individual requirements. It also includes a diverse portfolio of transferable skills training. Secondly, ESRs have been participating in network-wide training, which provides broader context for their individual activities All this contributes to the development of the quintessential ""t-shaped"" candidate: industry-ready, with a broad spectrum understanding, combined with deep, discipline specific knowledge.

(4) Dissemination: through a wide variety of conferences, seminars, meetings, blog posts, published articles and book chapters, ESRs and their supervisors have been contributing to an extensive dissemination programme, getting JOLT results into the public domain. JOLT ESR have also contributed to the development and publication of open-source software, now available for general use."
The JOLT Action will contribute to the start-of-the-art in a number of areas of significance. ESRs will contribute 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. Aside from financial difficulties, social distancing measures also put a strain on newsrooms’ organisational structures and their ability to deliver an effective public service. This created an even greater dependency on digital technologies and access to high-quality tools and resources. Perhaps most notably, the crisis emphasised the need for high-quality journalism to help the public navigate the “infodemic” of false information and to uphold democratic principles of transparency and accountability during and unprecedented crisis. The research conducted by the ESRS will have an impact in all these areas to inform stakeholders across industry, training, research and policy.