Conceptualising Innovation Through a Cultural Model: Arab Investigative Journalism

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This paper explores the impact of specific social and cultural contexts on understanding and initiating innovation in investigative journalism training and practice in the Arab world. Historically, Arab journalism practice and training has taken on a Western model of operation as it is regarded as an ideal model of journalism practice in the region, however, this is slowly changing to suit an Arab media ecology. Today, in a digital journalism environment, there is still no efficient culturally appropriate model for Arab journalists to work in. Through an observation analysis of training sessions and interviews with Arab investigative reporters in 2013 and 2019, this paper will address the challenges facing the development of an Arab culture of investigative journalism, whilst also discussing the innovative methods Arab journalists are experimenting with in light of these challenges.

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It has since been eleven years since the rise of the “Arab Spring”: a series of anti-government uprisings that spread across the Arab world, ultimately leading to regime changes in several countries including Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Using social media and other digital platforms to communicate and strategize, pro-democracy activists demanded increased transparency and freedom from their long-serving leaders. This special issue has sought to probe ways through which journalism is evolving in non-Western societies over a decade since the protests began. Articles accepted in this issue adopted several methodological and theoretical approaches to appraise the current state of journalism in the “developing” world questioning what influences, if any, the protests had. We sought to contribute to knowledge on ways through which the “Arab Spring” was impacting journalism practices in the Arab world and beyond. It’s our hope that findings presented in this issue will enlighten new insights and inspire new research endeavors on the transformation of journalism in the Arab World and indeed other “Southern” nations particularly as it relates to digital realms.
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In order to understand and explain current developments in the media landscape, using the lens of innovation and innovation theory adds value to media research. This chapter gives a theoretical introduction to the concept of innovation. It argues that media innovations may be related to product innovation, process innovation, position innovation, paradigmatic innovation and social innovation, and that innovation may involve different degrees of novelty. The chapter also highlights key influences on innovation in the media: (1) technology, (2) market opportunities and user behaviour, (3) behaviour of competitors, (4) regulation, (5) industry norms, (6) company strategy, (7) leadership and vision, (8) organisational structure, (9) capacity and resources, and (10) culture and creativity.
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The right to privacy and the right to information are both essential human rights in the modern information society. For the most part, these two rights complement each other in holding governments accountable to individuals. But there is a potential conflict between these rights when there is a demand for access to personal information held by government bodies. Where the two rights overlap, states need to develop mechanisms for identifying core issues to limit conflicts and for balancing the rights.This paper examines legislative and structural means to better define and balance the rights to privacy and information.
While academic research has mainly focused on how legacy media organisations conduct their general news production work, fewer studies have focused on specialised practices such as investigative journalism in relation to innovation and technology. Scholars, however, have observed that news production is increasingly taking place outside the newsroom. In this context, the present article explores the ways in which emerging media organisations innovate and adapt practices of watchdog journalism within their staffs and facilities. Its case studies include a co-op that seeks to engage ordinary citizens in production; a collaborative data desk that aims to professionalise a variety of actors, including local journalists, citizen journalists, activists, hackers, developers and media organisers; and a global tech company that seeks to produce investigative journalism with national but also global resonance.
Data journalism in the Arab world is increasingly becoming a tool for uncovering the truth as a backbone to solid journalism that is leading to social change. As part of the global south, Arab investigative journalists are finding that learning the tools of data journalism could become the only way to assist them in producing successful investigations. However, there are some challenges to such journalism, which include accessing the data required for their investigations. Freedom of Information (FOI) laws are restricted and information is hard to find. This chapter looks into some of these challenges and how Arab reporters are finding particular methods of discovering data could work better within their cultural climate than standard methods found in Western journalism. This is based on a larger project that explores a theoretical framework for investigative journalism that is more suited to countries of the global south, outside Western models of journalism. Evident from the early days of Arab journalism, in the 1930s and 1940s in Egypt, the Amin Brothers attempted to liberalise the press and revolutionise reporting methods; they did so through a Western lens. Along with a free press, they advocated Western-style democracy, Western liberalism and free enterprise (Jehl Mustafa Amin, Liberal editor jailed by Nasser, dies at 83. The New York Times, 16 April [Online]. Accessed 20 Nov 2014, 1997). Yet within the tightly monitored Arab media environment, and given the vastly different political, social and cultural context in which Arab journalism operated, such concepts were not easy to apply. In practice, Arab journalism was forced to diverge from the Western model, but it did so, and continues to do so, in an ad hoc fashion. There is still no efficient, culturally appropriate model for Arab journalists to work with. The chapter will address this deficiency, exploring how a model of data journalism can be developed systematically outside Western frameworks.
This is the first book that looks into the state and role of investigate journalism in the Arab world. It explores the vital role the media could potentially play in informing and empowering society, to assist in opening up the communicative space in a region where this has previously been taboo.
Newspapers and journalism began in the Middle East in the nineteenth century and evolved during a period of accelerated change which shaped their unique political, social and cultural role. Drawing on a wealth of sources, this study for the first time explores the press as a Middle Eastern institution. It focuses on the circumstances that influenced the growth of the Arab press, its own impact on local historical developments, and the long-term effects that early patterns of its emergence have had on later evolution.
This article investigates a rapidly expanding branch of journalism innovation in online news media. The umbrella term computational exploration in journalism (CEJ), embraces the multifaceted development of algorithms, data, and social science methods in reporting and storytelling. CEJ typically involves the journalistic co-creation of quantitative news projects that transcend geographical, disciplinary, and linguistic boundaries. Drawing on extensive empirical data, this article provides a conceptual overview of the field by identifying three main pathways of computational exploration in journalism: the newsroom approach, the academic approach, and the entrepreneurial approach. Implications for changing journalistic practice are discussed, and the theorizing is summed up in a triplex proposition about changing mindset processes coming out of CEJ. The study indicates that the computational exploration not only leads to innovative uses of the technology, but also to innovative ways for journalists to think and behave; journalism innovation leads to innovation journalism.
Journalism and the media are in the midst of tumultuous change, driven at least in part by technological and economic uncertainty on a global scale. The thesis of this paper is that the key to the viability of news media in the digital age, as demonstrated by both long- and short-term patterns, is innovation. To insure long-term success, innovation in news media should be guided by four principles: intelligence or research, a commitment to freedom of speech, a dedication to the pursuit of truth and accuracy in reporting, and ethics. Evidence is presented that early innovation by news media leaders that adhere to the principles outlined here are finding success in both building audience and generating digital revenue.
About the Transparency Unit
  • Al Jazeera Investigates
Executive Director of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism
  • Rana Sabbagh
Coach at Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism
  • Jawad Al-Omari
Arab Investigative Journalism”, in Ammon
  • Yosri Fouda
  • Street John
Behind the First Arab Data Journalists’ Network
  • Advocacy Assembly
Cairo Declaration on the Right to Access Information in the Arab World
  • Al Urdun Al Jadid Research Center
Status of Freedom of Information Legislation in the Arab World
  • Said Almadhoun
Arab Data Journalists’ Network, a Driving Force for Change in the Region
  • Sherry Ricchiardi
Time to Step Away from the ‘Bright, Shiny Things
  • Julie Posetti
Al Jazeera Network Launches a New Unit for Investigative Journalism
  • Press Release