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The biggest challenge to media organisations is not posed by technology or declining revenue, but by the firms’ own inabiliaties to innovate, a study of nearly 250 media leaders from around the world found.

François Nel of the Faculty of Culture and Creative Industries at University of Central Lancashire, and Coral Milburn-Curtis of Green Templeton College, University of Oxford, analysed almost 250 responses from media executives in 68 countries to find out the priorities for investment in each organisation and compare them across the industry.

The research, World News Publishers Outlook 2017, published by WAN-IFRA today, found that 30 per cent reported financial growth over the past financial year, and 34 per cent reported there had been no change. This result represents the most positive outlook in the survey’s history, which has been compiled annually since 2009-2010 in the aftermath of the financial recession.

The survey shows a significant link between the organisations who reported financial success and those who prioritised a culture of innovation in their newsrooms.

"When we asked respondents to predict the single biggest change they would have to make over the coming year to ensure their company’s future success, the most frequent answers echoed this response from a senior manager in Brazil: 'Culture.' An analyst from Austria was more specific, saying: 'Further implementation of innovation culture across the whole organisation, including editorial'", Nel wrote in the report.

"Nearly seven out of 10 of the executives in our study agree to some extent with the statement, 'Our innovation projects have helped our organisation develop new capabilities that we did not have three years ago.'"

The report also explained the seven building blocks of promoting innovation culture in the newsroom, adding to previous research in the field by explaining the importance of Innovation Role Models and why media leaders should become such figures in their organisations.

Screenshot from World News Publishers Outlook 2017

Elsewhere in the report, the top three priorities for investment over the next 12 months were identified as: social media editorial activities, developing new products within the media sector, and streamlining workflow and processes.

In the long term (the next five years), social media editorial activity remains the first of the top three priorities, but the following two change to include content production service as well as social media commercial activities.

However, social media commercial activities did not even make the top ten of the short-term priorities for most publishers.

Nel explained that the majority of the publishers surveyed seemed to believe that creating content and distributing it on social media was enough to bring in revenues, but those publishers who took a more proactive role and worked on the commercial aspects of platforms fared better financially.

"In effect I don’t think many people have a clear commercial platforms strategy in place – there needs to be much more emphasis on that.

"People who have a clear social platforms strategy are much more likely to be reporting success. If you look for money you are likely to get it."

The research also identified two important markers of successful media companies: investment in data journalism, and an awareness of newsroom diversity and the benefits it can bring – diversity was at the top of the agenda of only 11 per cent of respondents.

"Data journalism takes particular skillsets and if it’s done well delivers amazingly original insights. I think that’s what the result shows, that the most innovative companies that are most successful are also investing in innovative editorial activities like data journalism," Nel told

"Diversity again shows that people who are most interested in being open, creative and innovative and provide space for multiple voices in their newsroom are likely to be connecting more broadly with society and audiences.

"And that is going to show not just internally on satisfaction levels but also externally," he added.

The full report is available here (free for WAN-IFRA members, at a fee for non-members).

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