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The Financial Times has appointed John Thornhill as its first innovation editor, to evolve the way the outlet commissions and publishes opinion pieces across different platforms by bringing new technology into the newsroom.

In his new role, announced today, he will work closely with beat reporters and columnists to expand the coverage beyond just text, into visual story formats that can be accessed and shared across different platforms.

He will also collaborate with other teams in the newsroom, such as data, video and audience engagement.

Thornhill was previously deputy editor of the FT and has been with the paper for 27 years. He said his appointment stems from the outlet's desire to leverage its expertise and insights from covering the technology sector.

"We've always had strong tech teams in San Francisco, London and New York who have written about technology as a vertical," he told Journalism.co.uk.

"But in this new role, we will be able to look at issues on a more horizontal basis."

He added that the FT's comment section is a "huge source of strength and a very valuable asset" both for the paper's print and digital offering, appealing to a large audience.

So far in the early stages of the initiative, no specific technologies or processes have been singled out to be implemented, but Thornhill said the outlet is currently at the stage of "asking questions" about what they can do to innovate in the digital space and hopes to have tangible results over the next six to twelve months.

"We want to draw on smart external commentators in addition to our own reporters," he explained.

"There has been conversational debate internally about how best to utilise the comment team and we do believe there is more we can do to innovate online."

The FT's efforts to revamp its opinion section began last autumn, when the outlet hired former Spectator journalist Sebastian Payne as digital comment editor, to increase the strength of the vertical with more video and audio coverage.

In 2015, the 128 year-old outlet also began experimenting more with new formats and technology in its reporting, and created a 11-person audience engagement team to better understand how their readers interact with FT stories on social media and on the website.

One of the initiatives consisted of launching a new Facebook community, 'Tech meets money', in November, which currently has 992 members.

The aim of the group was to answer readers' question about the different aspects of setting up a technology business, which would then be collated into a series called 'The Start-up Toolkit' and published on the FT website.

And in June 2015, the outlet also created a Facebook page specifically for its Wearables at Work experiment, in which employment correspondent Sarah O'Connor documented her experience with wearable technology for a week.

She posted videos of her experiences wearing the gadgets, explained the impact they had on her daily routine, and gathered feedback and additional information about the use of wearables at work from the audience.

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