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Cultivating the Landscape of Innovation in Computational Journalism

Cultivating the Landscape of Innovation in Computational Journalism

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Published by: towknightcenter on Apr 03, 2012
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CUNY Graduate School of JournalismTow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism
Cultivating the Landscape of Innovationin Computational Journalism
By Nicholas Diakopoulos, Ph.D.
April2012
 
2
1. Introduction
Technology is rapidly shifting the ways in which news information is gathered, produced, anddisseminated. Some of the core areas of computing, like databases and information retrieval, arealready hard at work driving many of these changes as news organizations re-adjust to thedigital era. Yet the transfer and use of computing technology in news and journalism can beaccelerated. This paper takes as its premise that there may be opportunities for computationalinnovation in journalism that have been
overlooked
or are
underexplored
. What are some of theother technologies, beyond databases and information retrieval, that can be used to help fulfillnews consumers’ needs, to advance the goals of journalism, or to enhance the production anddissemination of knowledge for the public?We begin here to develop a process to
systematically
analyze and explore the potential fortechnical innovation in journalism, both to provide a more structured way to think aboutinnovation in journalism, as well as to identify potentially overlooked or underexploredopportunities to create new value propositions in journalism. Systematic innovation consists ofthe organized search for change and the analysis of opportunities such change might offer foreconomic or social innovation
1
. Such a structured process needs to, at a minimum, consider: (1)What innovations are needed either to solve problems, meet user needs through newexperiences, or increase efficiencies in processes; (2) Whether the innovation is technicallyfeasible and how to make it work; and (3) Whether the solution fits the values of the intendedusers and is likely to be adopted. The crux of the process explicated here is
user-centered
and
value-sensitive
and approaches innovation both from the perspective of people
 producing
thenews (both professionals and non-professionals) and
consuming
the news.Placing constellations of ideas and concepts in improbable juxtapositions is often the source ofnew ideas. This is the basic supposition behind combinatorial creativity and is the reason whyproduct innovation often comes from new uses or combinations of existing knowledge ortechnologies. This suggests an approach for systematic innovation that involves enumeratingand then combining concrete concepts that span the space of interest.Through extensive reading into the literature we developed four such conceptual typologiesthat span our interest space and correspond to the three considerations proffered above. Thesetypologies include (1) relevant dimensions of computing and technology, (2) news consumers’needs, (3) journalistic goals, and (4) value-added information processes. These four typologiesare geared towards helping to explore the space of
 product
and
 process
innovation, in particular by means of new computing technology. There are of course other types of innovation (e.g.marketing and organizational) that are not systematically considered in this paper
2
.Using the four typologies as a basis we carried out a review of relevant computing literature inorder to assess areas of the conceptual space that have received more or less attention. Eachrelevant piece of literature was labeled with the concepts that it addresses and these labels were
1
 
Peter F. Drucker. Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Harpercollins. 1985.
 
2
 
Oslo Manual: Guidelines for Collecting and Interpreting Innovation Data. 3
rd
Edition. OECD. 2005.
 
3then used to produce a visualization of the conceptual space. Section 3 presents thisvisualization as a mechanism to identify promising areas of future activity. In section 4 wemove beyond mapping what we found to developing a method to instigate the
 generation
ofnew ideas in this conceptual space. We summarize and conclude our approach in section 5.
2. Conceptual Typologies
In this section we detail the four conceptual typologies used in our systematic innovationprocess. Extensive reading and research in the fields of computing, journalism, andcommunication was undertaken in order to identify and appropriately describe these conceptsso that they could be used in our mapping and generative processes. The typologies, however,are not exhaustive, as some degree of relevance assessment was needed when deciding whatconcepts to include or exclude. Ultimately we strove to include concepts that were neither tooabstract nor too specific, as we thought such extremes could be detrimental to effectiveliterature mapping and idea generation.
Dimensions of Computing
We throw the word around sometimes – “computational this” or “computational that” – butwhat does the kernel word,
computing,
really mean? Definitions abound online, but perhaps themost canonical of definitions comes from Peter Denning, a professor and elder in the field ofComputer Science (CS). In his words, “Computing is the systematic study of algorithmicprocesses that describe and transform information.”
3
Computing runs a strong parallel to journalism in that it is fundamentally concerned with
information
 , but adds another focus on the
algorithmic
. Computing is about information, about describing and transforming it, but alsoabout acquiring, representing, structuring, storing, accessing, managing, processing,manipulating, communicating, and presenting it. And computing is about algorithms: theirtheory, feasibility, analysis, structure, expression, and implementation. A fundamental questionof computing concerns what information processes can be effectively automated.In modern CS there is an extensive body of knowledge that stems from this core notion ofcomputing. For instance, the Computer Science Curriculum defined in 2008 indicates 14different areas of knowledge
4
. These areas are often instantiated differently at differentinstitutions. One institution with a useful distinction is the Georgia Tech College of Computing,which delineates some areas as belonging to
core computer science
 , and others belongingto
interactive computing
. Roughly, core computer science deals with the conceptual (i.e.mathematical), and operational (i.e. nuts and bolts of how a modern computer works) aspects ofcomputing. Interactive computing, on the other hand, mostly deals with information input,modeling, and output. There are aspects of professional practice, engineering, and design thatapply in both. Some of the sub-areas of core and interactive computing are shown in Table 1.
3
 
Peter J. Denning. Is Computer Science Science? CACM 48 (4) 2005.
 
4
 
Computer Science Curriculum 2008. http://www.acm.org/education/curricula/ComputerScience2008.pdf
 

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