The Networked News Lab

Lead Research Organisation: London School of Economics & Pol Sci
Department Name: Media and Communications


The Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science undertakes research at the interface between social and technological transformation, asking how a sea change toward intense connectivity is reshaping the way we communicate, and with it the nature of social and political power. Within this sweeping theoretical agenda is a debate about how the shifting communication landscape will affect news production.
My research for a PhD at the Department explores this issue in Kenya and Ethiopia, offering a new perspective by critically examining the changing relationship between international development projects and the mass media. As international development actors increasingly become involved in the production of media, either directly or indirectly through their funding, how has this shifted power in the media landscape? Specifically, the PhD research will ask whether the incursion of a new sector into news production has created the possibility for journalism to become a more 'autonomous field' (Bourdieu 2005). The project will employ mixed methods of semi-structured interviews, participant observation and critical discourse analysis.
The knowledge exchange project allows this research to be embedded at the centre of collaborative work, co-producing knowledge in tandem with the research in order to produce a transformative impact on the policies and practices of journalism in Ethiopia and Kenya.
This project proposes to create a forum where technological innovations and conceptual insights can be explored, experimented with and assessed by leading journalists. A small group or four or five accomplished journalists will be convened in each country, representing a range of mediums and media houses. The project will benefit from a partnership with Twaweza, a ten-year initiative with a strong focus on information and transparency.
The Networked Journalism Lab will then test what can be done in the new communication landscape: accessing new sources of information, connecting with people who could not be reached before, using crowd-sourcing, social media, innovative survey techniques and citizen journalism, etc. (and still going out to speak with people in person).
This experimentation will rely on contributions from various people and organisations at the helm of new media innovations. Many of these organisations are already making efforts to insert their work into the mass media and would welcome the opportunity to engage with a group of leading journalists.
These resource people will be asked to present their work to the journalists of the Networked News Lab. In a discussion facilitated by the co-investigator, the journalists will share their initial ideas about how the given technology could assist with the reporting process. Any changes to the platform needed by the journalists will be supported by the Project Partner. Working independently within their own media house, each journalist will then put their ideas into practice on a feature story.
At the subsequent meeting, the journalists will review each other's stories and share their experience of using a particular technology. In this iterative process of action and reflection, the journalists will be encouraged re-imagine their profession in the emerging communication landscape.
With adequate permissions, the work will be featured by the journalists' respective media outlets and on a Twaweza-funded website entitled the "Networked News Lab." The lessons learnt will be communicated in a briefing, on-line and in print, and at two seminars for wider audiences: one in Nairobi and one in Addis Ababa.
We are at a historic juncture. New technologies have put journalistic models in question, and it is still unclear whether mainstream journalism will emerge any more pluralistic or democratic than it is today. This project aims to involve journalists in Kenya and Ethiopia in finding an answer to this question.

Planned Impact

The project aims to have an impact on several non-academic groups, including private firms, civil society organisations and governmental agencies.
First and foremost, it will have a direct impact on the policies and practices of major media houses in Kenya and Ethiopia. These might include the Nation Group, Standard Group, Royal Media Group and the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation in Kenya. In Ethiopia, participating companies may include the Reporter, Awramba Times, Sheger FM and Ethiopian Television. International news outlets such as the Inter-Press Service and the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks have also expressed an interest in the project.
For the journalists who participate from these organisations, the project will give them professional expertise and skill in the application of new communication technologies to news production. It will also help them to formulate new standards of journalistic ethics and professionalism. To carry the impact of the project beyond their own personal practices to the policies of their respective media houses and professional associations, the project will encourage participants, through group reflection, to act as proponents of change in their own right. The project will further empower them by bolstering their credibility with the accomplishments of the project and by connecting them with like-minded journalists and other actors with whom they can act collectively. The project will connect these journalists to developers of information and communication technology (ICT) who have designed crowd-sourcing platforms, data visualisation tools, mobile phone polling software and other new media applications. Project Partner Twaweza will support the developers to adapt these tools to the needs of the journalists.
These individuals and organisations constitute a second target audience, including organisations such as Ushahidi, Sodnet, and Map Kibera, among many others. These organisations almost invariably have an interest, if not an explicit mandate, to influence mass media, though they often lack the expertise or connections to do so effectively. This project will give this group of people a needed opportunity to engage with the media. It will also provide them with constructive yet critical feedback on their projects by turning the engagement between the two groups around. Usually, the new media developers lecture journalists on the possibilities of the technology. This arrangement would be more demand driven, with the journalists assessing the possibilities and pitfalls of new media from a well-informed position.
The project will also aim to have an impact on a variety of policy-makers. Experimenting with new technologies and forms of reporting will likely expose the gaps and out-dated statutes in government laws as well in more informal guidelines set by the media houses or self-regulating associations and guilds. This project would garner important policy lessons for media development organisations like Internews, Panos and IREX, especially related to how to make media training more participatory and focused on promoting local innovation. Finally, the project will shed light on how international donor interaction with journalists - as part of their public relations campaigns or wider communication strategy - can also play a role in promoting a stronger news media (or inadvertently undermine the independence of the media). These lessons will be communicated partly through engagement, but also by a strategy of communication to disseminate the lessons widely on-line, in print and at two seminars targeting members of these audiences.


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Description The Networked News lab was a knowledge exchange project intended to promote innovative forms of journalism in Kenya and to inform the policies that affect journalism. Over the course of a year, the Networked News Lab repeatedly assembled a group of leading journalists in Kenya to look critically at news coverage and offered them support to experiment with innovative approaches to news-making that might address the shortcomings they perceived with current practices. The process was informed by research carried out concurrently with the project by Research Fellow and PhD candidate, Nicholas Benequista, into the nature of journalistic agency in this country.

The Knowledge Exchange project enabled the formulation of recommendations for policy and practice, and also informed the research itself - allowing for scholarly ideas to be scrutinized and tested by practitioners.

It has highlighted an array of factors - some economic, some attitudinal - that prevent the country's mainstream journalists from effectively collaborating with the new media community.

The knowledge exchange also highlighted how new communication technologies are sometimes used as tools by journalists to assert creative control over their work and to push for changes in their industry - with implications for how the development of Kenyan media can be supported.

Finally, the exchange project yielded a number of lessons about how to create stronger ties between media research and practice in Kenya. One of the project's greatest contributions may be in fostering a stronger relationship between scholars and journalists.
Exploitation Route The Networked News Lab has primed several audiences both in and outside Kenya to the findings from the Knowledge Exchange project and further results are expected from the research and analysis that will build on this project for the PhD thesis. Several academic and policy briefing publications are anticipated - containing, respectively, academic and practical insights that benefit from the knowledge exchange project.

The process itself has left a potential legacy in Kenya in the form of a model indicating how to bridge research and participatory action in news media production. An upcoming workshop with media scholars will explore this topic, and prospective participants in that event have expressed an interest in discussing how to institutionalize the Networked News Lab, or some version of it, for longer-term engagement between scholars and journalists.

These discussions are likely to bring in organizations such as the Editor's Guild, the Media Council of Kenya and other bodies with influence over Kenya's media regulatory framework and the policies of major media houses.

A cooperative endeavour of this kind, if it does emerge from the Networked News Lab, has the potential for a lasting impact on the future of Kenyan journalism, as the project initially intended.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

Description Over the course of a year, the Networked News Lab repeatedly assembled a group of leading journalists in Kenya to look critically at news coverage and offered them support to experiment with innovative approaches to news-making that might address the shortcomings they perceived with current practices. The process was informed by research carried out concurrently with the project by Research Fellow and PhD candidate, Nicholas Benequista, into the nature of journalistic agency in this country. The Networked News Lab communicated its findings widely, using the website, social media and special events to present to audiences that included Kenyan editors, journalists, national and international media development practitioners and other media scholars. The ESRC funding also supported a series of publications - for both academics and practitioners - from the project. The project has already a modest but discernible impact on the audiences it targeted, and has helped to build relationships and promote ideas for future collaboration that could deepen that impact considerably. The impact on the participants themselves has been the most notable success. The participation of one television journalist in the Networked News Lab has had an influence on the concept and format of a new television show interrogating journalistic practices in Kenya. "Face the Press" has since become a successful weekly show on national television network KTN. Others testify that the project has helped them to sharpen their ideas and practices in more subtle ways, and also helped to strengthen their position in their own institutions, which was one of the intended consequences of the project. "I am part of the Networked News Lab because I believe that sharing our experiences as journalists across different formats and from different media houses can only improve Kenya's media. The Lab has helped connect me to a group of younger journalists whose perspectives and experiences have given me food for thought and also affirmed the first principles of journalism that I hold to be true. The revamped website has also generated interest in my work and helped those who view my work to see it in a different light. Now my bosses know that my work is of interest beyond the circle of those who eat and breath international justice." - Tom Maliti, journalist and contributor to the International Justice Monitor ( Requests for further information about the project from editors at The Star and East African and from institutions such as the Editor's Guild and Media Council of Kenya also suggest the project's insights and findings have reached others in the Kenyan news profession. The project has also had an influence on practitioners in the fields of media development and communication for development, as originally envisaged. Because of the work of the Networked News Lab, the multi-donor funded Making All Voices Count took adjusted its country strategy in Kenya based on input from PhD researcher Nicholas Benequista. Organizations including the iHub, Media Focus on Africa, Article IXX and Internews have also sought advice and input from the project's insights. Finally, the Networked News Lab has drawn interest from several organizations and individuals interested in establishing a media think tank in Kenya. These include Moi University, the University of Nairobi, the Media Council of Kenya, Pawa254 and others. Institutionalizing the Networked News Lab as a research unit within one of Kenya's universities or as a private trust would be the most significant outcome from the project, but this may have to wait until the coordinator of the Networked News lab has completed his PhD and is in an institutional position to pursue this goal.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Societal

Description Knowledge Exchange Scheme
Amount £1,000,000 (KES)
Organisation Twaweza Initiative of Hivos Tanzania 
Sector Private
Country Tanzania, United Republic of
Start 11/2012 
End 10/2013
Description Forum on the Role of the Media in the 2013 Election 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Researcher Nicholas Benequista was invited to speak in a panel discussion. The talk was well attended by journalists and civil society practitioners interested in media accountability, and sparked a lively debate about whether the media sacrificed the truth in order to preserve the peace during the 2013 presidential elections.

This speaking engagement led to future collaboration with one of the attending organizations, Media Focus on Africa, and to an invite to contribute to an edited volume on the 2013 elections.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Presentation at the fifth Deutsche Welle Media Dialogue 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The presentation helped to promote the work of the Networked News Lab amongst international practitioners of media development connected to the Deutsche Welle Akademie. Engagement in this event also prompted a representative of the Media Council of Kenya to request more information on the project and to discuss future possibilities for collaboration.

The paper presented was included in an edited volume that is due for publication in November/December 2014.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014