University of Jyväskylä

Dissertation: 7.10.2017 M.A. Taneli Heikka (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Journalism)

Start date: Oct 07, 2017 12:00 PM

End date: Oct 07, 2017 03:00 PM

Location: Seminaarinmäki, Seminarium, S212

M.A. Taneli Heikka defends his doctoral dissertation in Journalism "Dialogic Journalism: How Can Journalists Partícipate in the Networks of Social Innovation". Opponent professor Indrek Ibrus (Tallinn University) and custos Senior Researcher Turo Uskali. The doctoral dissertation is held in English.

Taneli Heikka Picture: Peter Forsgård
M.A. Taneli Heikka defends his doctoral dissertation in Journalism "Dialogic Journalism: How Can Journalists Partícipate in the Networks of Social Innovation". Opponent professor Indrek Ibrus (Tallinn University) and custos Senior Researcher Turo UskaliThe doctoral dissertation is held in English.


This thesis asks the question “What is the role of journalism in social innovation?” It explores how journalism is redefined when it engages in the creation of “the new” in society. The study analyzes four cases of journalism-related social innovation in two countries – the USA and Finland: a contentious national media event; crowdsourcing for legislation; a series of dialogic innovation workshops in Finland; an environment of data-based civic innovation in the USA. Social innovation is defined as innovations that work in meeting social goals.

In literature and the contemporary discussion on the crisis of journalism, innovation is required to restore journalisms’ legitimacy and financial sustainability. Simultaneously, innovations that affect and challenge journalistic work increasingly emerge from outside the newsrooms. Despite the potential for mutually beneficial co-operation, professional journalism is either absent, or a passive observer, in these environments. Journalism risks losing relevance and trust in the grassroots of society, as was exemplified during the presidential election in the USA and the Brexit referendum in the UK in 2016.

This thesis argues that journalism is increasingly required to operate in flexible roles in networks of social innovation. The thesis suggests various emerging practices available for journalists to collaborate in these environments. It also introduces the type of dialogic journalism to understand how journalism can participate in networks of social innovation. The thesis characterizes dialogic journalism by co-creating solutions for social problems across organizational borders.

Strong innovative dialogue appears to emerge in environments of physical proximity among people from diverse organizational backgrounds. The argument is that holding spaces are the social structures in which open-ended and non-judgmental dialogue among journalists and the former audience can take place. In these spaces, the making of meaning is not only rational but also social, emotive and corporeal. Journalists are invited to temporarily abandon their position as disinterested observers of events.

Research on innovation in journalism has focused on technology-driven, newsroom led innovation. Consequently, the role of journalism in social innovation has been largely reactive. This thesis introduces a way of thinking about innovation as a dialogue over organizational and professional boundaries.

The relevance of the findings to journalism theory is analyzed through the research theme of participatory journalism. The thesis argues that Bohm’s (1996) dialogue, although challenging and seldom accomplished in its pure form, is compatible with the ideals of journalism, for which the participatory journalism movement calls. Traditionally, participatory journalism is viewed as citizens’ participation to journalistic projects initiated by newsrooms. This study suggests an inverted model:  that professional journalists could also seek to contribute to journalism-related innovations in collaboration with the civil society.

The findings are critically reflected against professional journalism’s ideology of objectivity. The findings question the relevance of the journalists’ role as an “objective” outsider, in an era when journalistic work requires openness to professional and personal change. Suspension of professional roles and judgment may be a requirement for learning. Furthermore, through dialogue, journalists can also learn new practices of innovation and overcome resistance to change in newsrooms.

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Taneli Heikka
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