U.S. and Pakistani Journalists Capture Essence of Innovation
(Partnership promotes cutting-edge reporting, economic development) (1202)
By Carrie Loewenthal Massey
New York - Fairness, honesty, accuracy. In societies with a free press, these qualities long have stood as the tenets of good journalism. The public turns to the media for reliable information and insight, resources people employ in deciding how to live their lives.
According to those practicing an emerging style of reporting - innovation journalism - truth and thoroughness remain supreme, but stories must reach their audiences through filters that are different from the traditional ones. Experts argue today's world is driven by a fusion of politics, business, technology, science and culture, while many newsrooms continue to divide the topics into separate beats. The new innovation-journalism beat takes a different approach, removing the old topics from their silos and blending them to inform audiences accurately of the driving force behind a changing globe: innovation.
The idea is also driving a series of partnerships between the United States and Pakistan to promote innovation journalism in Pakistan. Stanford University's Vinnova-Stanford Research Center of Innovation Journalism (InJo Center) collaborates with Pakistani journalists to deliver frontline innovation journalism and further the method's expansion into mainstream media in South and Central Asia, the United States and around the world. Pakistani journalists also receive assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to study innovation journalism in the United States.
"The accelerating rate of innovation is not only in information technology, it's everything: health care, transportation, housing, agriculture, food, music - almost every aspect of life and society," said David Nordfors, InJo Center founding executive director. "The innovation economy is changing the ways we organize our lives."
"Innovation journalists must be smarter than beat journalists because they need the intellectual bandwidth to cover a much wider and deeper pool of knowledge and information," Nordfors said, explaining that innovation encompasses all aspects of a new product or idea reaching the public and the impact the development has on its recipients.
One partnership between the InJo Center and Pakistani television station SAMAA TV produced an award-winning program, Innovation, which increased public awareness of local issues of innovative development in Pakistan. The show covered topics ranging from alternative energy to mobile banking and other initiatives under way that aim to "improve the lives of the ordinary people," said Fatima Akhtar, Innovation producer and anchor. Akhtar added that the production reached both urban and rural Pakistani audiences.
The Innovation series was named "Brand of the Year 2009," surpassing more than 500 competitors from various industries in a nationwide consumer survey conducted in Pakistan and an expert panel analysis.
In an e-mail interview with America.gov, Amir Jahangir, chief executive officer of SAMAA TV and creator of Innovation, explained the show's broad appeal and influence. It targeted "the masses for identifying the issues, the government for legislation and to develop public policy to foster innovation, [and] academia to increase the importance of innovation in the thought process of the future social and corporate leaders." The program engaged business leaders in an effort to encourage the adoption of new technologies and business models as well, he said.
Jahangir credited Innovation's success, in part, to the contribution of InJo Center fellows from around the world. The fellows advised on program content, shared research and provided commentary on the innovation processes covered in the show.
In a press release, Jahangir elaborated on the partnership: "Due to this collaboration, the content of our program has been acknowledged as being credible, containing relevant issues and making efforts in bringing together the relevant stakeholders of each industry to find innovative measures to cater [to] the society['s] needs," his statement said.
Nordfors views SAMAA TV's integration of international journalists into the Pakistani production as a prime example of the power of innovation journalism to effectively report on the global economy. He calls these networks among journalists from different countries "innovation journalism's true synergy." To explain, Nordfors suggested the prospect of the Finnish telecommunications company Nokia opening a new research and development facility in South Central Asia.
"If there are good networks between Finnish innovation journalists, South Central Asian innovation journalists and innovation journalists in [California's] Silicon Valley, they can contact each other and compare notes, and will all be closer to seeing the bigger picture. This will give much better news coverage in all countries involved," he said.
The better news coverage provided through the innovation-journalism approach is crucial to the success of emerging economies like Pakistan's and those of other South Central Asian countries, according to Nordfors.
"Good innovation journalism in developing economies connects the dots, linking the innovation economy with public decisionmaking, mediating public understanding and discussion. That will drive innovation; there will be more stories for innovation journalism to cover; public engagement will increase," he said. "It is a feedback loop driving innovation and public enlightenment."
Arif Allauddin, chief executive officer of Pakistan's Alternative Energy Development Board, also recognized innovation journalism's contribution to formulating solutions to issues Pakistan faces, including the challenges of providing quality education, health care, and employment opportunities for youth, as well as ensuring adequate energy supplies. He said in a press release that the Innovation program, for the first time, familiarized Pakistanis with initiatives at work in other countries on which Pakistanis could model their own solutions to problems.
To facilitate the continued expansion of innovation journalism in Pakistan and throughout the world, the InJo Center welcomes a new group of fellows each year. Each group includes four Pakistani journalists, who receive USAID funding to visit for five months. Fellows attend innovation-journalism workshops and conferences at Stanford and partner with U.S. newsrooms throughout the country that are covering innovation issues. In addition to receiving training in the new form of reporting, fellows build contacts in the United States and share their own expertise with their host institutions to help enrich American journalism.
"The contact between the hosting newsrooms and fellows is very positive," Nordfors said. "You don't often find journalists from other countries in American newsrooms. It adds a sharing perspective and gives contact between journalists that is direct and collegial."
SAMAA TV's Akhtar is among the 2010 InJo Center fellows. She feels her experience so far has helped her "understand the process of innovation from different standpoints," knowledge she considers "extremely useful" for her return to Pakistan, where she says she will apply her new skills in her journalism.
In addition to the Pakistani fellows, the InJo Center currently hosts journalists from Sweden, Finland, Slovenia and Mexico. As practitioners and students of innovation journalism, the fellows and their colleagues represent what some see as the future of the media. Innovator and InJo Center adviser Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist at the search engine company Google, recognizes innovation journalism as not only progressive but crucial to a democratic society.
"High-quality journalism lies at the core of democracy," he said in an e-mail interview. "Innovation journalism seeks to explore ways in which the journalism profession can thrive in a 21st century, online environment. New business models and new delivery channels are needed if this essential function is to be preserved in the democracies of the modern world."
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)