What is Innovation Journalism?

A follow-up to my post Innovation Journalism Watch: “Economist Challenges Ideas About Inequality”:

What is “innovation journalism,” anyway? An (almost unwatchable) episode of “Current Content Downloads” (NMM(-TV)SNBCNNBS) presents some cases in point and concludes that it is essentially a form of fake news similar to that used by Colombian narcoparamilitaries.

According to the Wikipedia,

Innovation Journalism (InJo) is journalism covering innovation. It covers innovation processes and innovation (eco)systems.

That definition is, of course, a tautology.

In rhetoric, a tautology is an unnecessary (and usually unintentional) repetition of meaning, utilising different words, i.e. saying the same thing twice.

Or as the old joke goes:

Circular definition. See definition, circular.
Definition, circular. See circular definition.

Compare Terminology Watch: “Covert Embedded Reporters”.

The Wikipedia article was initiated by an anonymous user at IP address

A quick whois query shows that that IP address is registered to Stanford University.

According to the Wikipedia, the term “innovation journalism” was coined by Stanford professor David Nordfors. As I noted in my previous note-taking session on the subject,

What is Innovation Journalism? It’s a meme being pushed out hard by Stanford, VINNOVA — an agency of the new asocial-democratic political order there in Sweden — and the U.K.’s “innovation” quango. It has a blog network and an academic journal dedicated to it. They’ve already shortened it to InJo, in the best tradition of Newspeak. The PR industry loves it. It is it anything more than a meme? No.

(The Swedish state has apparently been captured by neocons.)

Of course, an IP address is not capable of uinquely identifying the anonymous user — which is why Wikipedia is such a FUD factory. Anyone can say anything and you never get to consider the source.

Stanford is a big school, after all. I used to use the library there, and even attended the last (aptly named) Blogger Con held on the campus.

Still, a quick self-plagiarism check shows that portions of the Wikipedia article repeat promotional copy authored by Nordfors and others in the “innovation journalism” “innovation (eco)system.”


Resolved, therefore: “Innovation journalism” is a noise machine and echo chamber. It is a form of viral marketing.

It’s as phony as my own fictional TV network, NMM(-TV)NSBCNNBS. It’s as phony as the house band of that network’s fictional Tonight Show, the fabulous Zebu Cavaco and His Cur-Deus Homos.

Technically, under Wikipedia rules — of which there are more and more every day — if I were to post a profile of this legendary band, it would be subject to removal.

For public-sector “innovation journalism,” see also Quasi-Nongovernmental Influence-Peddling Machines, Redux.

Is viral marketing a form of journalism?

I imagine that topic has come up frequently in the negotations over Rupert Murdoch’s bid for Dow Jones and the Wall $t. Journal.

See also Wal-Mart Journal Watch: Price Check on Journalistic Integrity! and BBC 2.0: False Dilemma as a Way of Second Life, on the recent finding that the BBC’s business coverage falls short of its own impartiality guidelines.

But the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and the Innovation International Media Consulting Group would certainly like you to think so.

This week’s edition of BusinessWeek, meanwhile, illustrates the “innovation” aspect of “innovation journalism.”

“Quality of service methodologies kill innovation.”

For a countervailing case from the field of civil engineering, see “In Hell, The Engineers Are Brazilian and the Musicians Are German.”

To be fair, I have not read the article in its entirety yet. I am only a student of QoS methodologies, not an expert, so I will not rise in passionate defense of Six Sigma as a theological worldview.

Still, it strikes me that a parallel argument is often used with respect to so-called “journalistic ethics” — I prefer to think of the subject as “information service quality assurance” — by evangelists of Journalism 2.0.

An example: When Hearing O Globo Voices Online, the international blogging project of the Berkman Center for the Intel-Inside Society at Harvard Law, received its award for “innovations in journalism” from the Knight-Batten Foundation, one of the competing projects was a transparency initiative from a small-town newspaper in Washington that was Webcasting its daily editorial meeting, in which the makeup of the day’s front page was debated and decided on.

The Knight-Batten jury, therefore, found that using technology to promote transparency and reader participation is not that innovative.

Using technology run astroturf-style viral marketing campaigns as a”grassroots” lobbying technique is. Edelman’s phony “grassroots” “Nascar dads spontaneously blog for Wal-Mart” campaign is one of the more celebrated recent cases.

Other cases in point:

The case of José Murilo Junior, the Brazil editor for Hearing Global Voices Online is especially interesting because it illustrates the confluence of the “innovation journalism” meme with New Age ideology — what I like to call “the rhetoric of the technological sublime.”

Besides working as a “strategic information manager” for Brazil’s Ministry of Culture, Murilo also bills himself as the worldwide Webmaster for the Santo Daime religious movement — a New Age religion based on ritual ingestion of ayahuasca, a powerful psychotropic drug. On which see also

I just finished reading Beatrice Labate’s anthropological study of the subject — in which the researcher gets high with her subjects.

It’s an “innovation” in scientific methodology, she tells us.

What is the “rhetoric of the technological sublime”?

It is perhaps most perfectly illustrated by the Veja magazine (Brazil) cover story last year on the iPhone product launch: “It’s Like Magic”

“Without it, life would be hell on earth.” Microtec advertisement, Veja magazine, issue 87. File under “the rhetoric of the technological sublime (RTS) in postmodern technology PR, Velvet Elvis tendency.”

Examples of the “New Age” and “revolution” topoi in viral marketing of the “innovation” type can be multiplied almost endlessly.

One I often point to, however, is a Scripps-Howard seminar for Mexican journalists by Jefferson Morley of the Washington Post shortly after last year’s elections in which he tells them that the gatekeeper function of Journalism 1.0 is gone forever, and that

… this revolution is permanent and irrevocable.

How Porfirio Díaz 2.0 is that?

See also my Kill the Umpire: A Big Think.

Resolved: The profession of journalism has been taken over by Moonies.

Finally, is the notion of journalism as a form of viral marketing itself innovative?


It has a long pre-history.

I have discussed the case of Brazil’s Carlos Lacerda before here, for example — the newspaper owner who parlayed the power of the press into elected office and support for the 1964 coup d’etat is an ongoing subject of study.

See Hiya, Maia: The Naked Mayor on Carlos Lacerda, for example.

The “ex-blogging” Rio mayor is currently enmeshed in a scandal in which mafiosos who allegedly fund paramilitary groups and bribe judges also allegedly bribed jurors in the competitive Carnaval competitions this year.

See Rio: Carnaval Carnage Goes on the Record.

On the central figure in that scandal, a former torturer for the Brazilian military dictatorship, see Carnage and Carnival: The Curious Career of Captain Guimarães.

In an issue of Brazil’s Veja magazine in my personal archives, the password for access to online content by newsstand purchasers, was NOVOLACERDA (”the new Lacerda.”)

And “innovation journalism” of this kind also seems to be the preferred propaganda technique of Colombian narcoparamilitaries as well.

See “The Long Arm of Colombian Paramilitarism.”

And for pro-paramilitary alt.media from Brazil, see Funk Carioca: “The Hot Lead is Flying.”

These, I submit to you, in terms of the techniques used — most especially “reputation laundering,” or attributing the source of a message to a front thought to enjoy more public trust than the message sponsor — are historical precursors to contemporary postmodern “innovation journalism.”

I insert an NPOV challenge. It will be gone within 45 minutes, I bet you. Click to zoom.


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