The report unpacks their role, examines their organisation and offers advice on what you should do if you want to start one, says WAN-IFRA.
The Media Labs report is the product of four years of research, mapping, and tracking Media Labs across the globe. It confirms that Media Labs are a rapidly increasing global phenomenon and are found in industry, university and technology settings. Indeed 123 active Media Labs were mapped in 29 countries by the research team.
The Labs are diverse and were set up with varying aims, from exploring and experimenting in new business areas, to opening up new ideas, technologies and working practices. Some were established to strengthen ties between research and practice. Others are functioning as journalism startup incubators and acceleration units.
Whatever their shape or form, they help shift organisational culture, and here small interdisciplinary teams play a valuable part. When given space and time, people working in cross-functional teams think differently. This fresh thought allows new perspectives on experimentation and learning and helps develop a new open-innovation culture. Not all labs identified by the study are still around. Some have shut, having achieved their purpose. Funding issues and change of management or ownership also led to some being retired.
One of the most valuable contributions from Media Labs is that they horizon-scan future innovation structures and trends. For an industry in need of new solutions, this is crucial - not only when encouraging and growing a culture of innovation, but when responding to the transformation of others.
The report is grounded in four years of research on Media Labs in a project supported by WAN-IFRA's Global Alliance for Media Innovation (GAMI). The global map of Media Labs can be found online on media-innovation.news.
The report authors are Ana Cecilia Bisso Nunes, research lead from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS), and John Mills, a researcher from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan)'s Media Innovation Studio.
“Investigating media labs has given us clues on what innovation in media and journalism is really about, how it has been appropriated by these experimental structures and in what sense are they influencing the future of journalism in the digital, networked and new media context," said Nunes, whose research is ongoing. "It also helps identify the main challenges and strengths on doing things differently in a space that tries to escape from the time pressured process in favor of a trial and error approach."
Mills added: "A core finding of our research is how labs serve multiple purposes: they develop new products, introduce new processes into an organisation and equip people with knowledge and the skills to innovate now and over time. Labs are created to fit their own specific environment, and are a growing way that publishers and others are equipping their organisations to meet the challenges of digital transformation."
Stephen Fozard, Project Director of WAN-IFRA's GIobal Alliance for Media Innovation, said: "We started this research four years ago because we believed by mapping initiatives worldwide, we would be able to find ideas and practice worth sharing with WAN-IFRA members. It has been rewarding to see that the initial premise was right and that this report will prove valuable to anyone invested in a Media Lab or thinking about creating one."
Trends in Newsrooms #3: Media Labs report can be accessed online. It is free for members of WAN-IFRA and the World Editors Forum.
Non-members can purchase it online. Download here.