Reporting disruption: Journalists & innovation


Innovation is a key topic for the European Union. With countries like China and India snapping at the region’s heels, the need to compete on a global level has never been so important.

Some 30 journalists gathered in Brussels from 24-26 November to attend the European Journalism Centre’s Innovation Union and Industrial Policy seminar, supported by the European Commission. The approach was to convince journalists of the value of innovation in Europe.

Certainly, the figures impress. If Europe’s target of a 3% increase in GDP expenditure on innovation research and development is achieved by 2020, some 3.7 million jobs would be created, effecting an increase in annual GDP of €795 billion by 2025.

In order to achieve this target, Europe would require at least one million more researchers in the next decade.

Europe’s innovation lag

What is clear is that Europe is not investing in innovation as much as its competitors, both current and future.

Thomas Barrett, Director of New Products and Special Transactions at the European Investment Bank explained failure is an anticipated element of the innovation process, but if it is funded with public money as with many European innovation instruments, progress will be tentative.

Speed of innovation, or rather the lack of it, was a key issue addressed at the seminar by European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.

Progress on a European Patent, which has been unresolved for decades despite a large push by the current Belgian Presidency, was cited by experts throughout the event as an example of Europe’s slow response.

According to panelist Bruno Van Pottelsberghe from the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management, it is easier to obtain European immigration clearance for a footballer than a visiting scientist.

Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn also addressed criticism that innovation will create high value jobs but not a lot of them, saying innovation was necessary in a broader sense in terms of design and not just hi-tech improvements. In her opinion, the only way European service and manufacturing industries can survive is through innovation and “upskilling”.

Journalists’ role

Both the European Commission’s representatives and independent speakers at the seminar such as Ann Mettler from the Lisbon Council thinktank and Simon Hampton, Director of European Public Policy for Google, emphasised the role of journalists.

They seemed well aware that the disruptive nature of innovation to entrenched European ways of working may prove a difficult pill to swallow.

Support for risk-taking, particularly given current economic strain, will require persuasion.

Thomas Barrett made a clear case for immediate innovation investment, “Risk is not something that can be avoided, just managed”.

He spoke about the ‘Risk Sharing Finance Facility’ – jointly financed by the European Investment Bank and European Commission – which uses relatively small amounts of public money to ‘seed’ private investment and share the risk.

Journalists attending the event represented countries across the Union, each reflecting on the effect innovation will have on their industries and economies, as well as their own role in reporting it.

Péter József Martin, a Hungarian journalist who has worked for national business and news weekly Figyelő (Observer) emphasised the different reporting approaches on the topic that individual European journalists must each take.

“Journalists always have a role in spreading good ideas and I think innovation is a key factor in goals for competitiveness, for a better life to put it very simply.”

“But the kind of innovation [to promote] depends on the country and region. The challenges are different for European and American journalists, but inside Europe as well the challenges are different for say Hungarian journalists and Finnish journalists too.”

The message from all the speakers as to the applicability of innovation to every sector was clear. And given the unprecedented period of disruption that the global media industry is currently experiencing, journalists are arguably better placed than many to understand the impact, implications and possibilities that come with change.

Click here for more EJC journalism seminar opportunities