Damon Kiesow named Knight Chair in Journalism Innovation at Missouri School of Journalism

Damon Kiesow

By Austin Fitzgerald

COLUMBIA, Mo. (July 24, 2023) — Damon Kiesow is now the Knight Chair in Journalism Innovation at the Missouri School of Journalism, an update from his previous title of Knight Chair in Digital Editing and Producing. The new title reflects the evolution of the endowed chair position and Kiesow’s research and service as he finishes his fifth year at the School.

“As a leader in news product strategy, Damon’s work to support the country’s local news ecosystem goes well beyond the scope of digital editing and producing,” said David Kurpius, dean of the School. “He is actively engaged not only in creating practical solutions for newsrooms but in redefining how the industry should think about innovation, and this new title supports that direction for his research and service.”

Kiesow, who served as director of product for The McClatchy Company before coming to the School, said the updated title better describes the focus of his work, which re-examines journalism’s relationship with technology and innovation while developing solutions that tackle some of the most challenging issues facing the industry.

“We really need to recapture the word ‘innovation’ for journalism,” said Kiesow, who co-founded the News Product Alliance and is the author of a forthcoming news product management textbook. “As an industry, we sometimes focus on the tech and take our eyes off the people, the readers. It’s important to use innovation in a way that is collaborative in building value in the community rather than extractive, where you’re just using innovation to pull more money out of peoples’ pockets.”

The Knight Chair at Missouri was established as a tenured, full professorship in 1997 with a $1.5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, matched by the state of Missouri. Since 1990, the Knight Foundation has endowed 26 chairs at 23 universities. Knight Chairs in Journalism are top professionals who bridge the newsroom-classroom divide with innovative teaching, major outreach projects and their own journalism.

Kiesow’s projects seek to reframe technology’s role as one of support, moving away from Silicon Valley’s tech-centric approach, which he said lacks the balancing influence of a strong mission to create a public good rather than a singular focus on market share and turning a profit.

We really need to recapture the word ‘innovation’ for journalism.

Damon Kiesow

One such project, a partnership between Kiesow and the MU Institute for Data Science and Informatics, is building an algorithm that can assess the quality of news coverage in a given area without the work, expense and time required for traditional methods. Here, the algorithm itself is not the end goal, only a means to efficiently get accurate information into the hands of experts who can then have informed conversations with community members about their local news coverage.

“If we can make the first part of the work quicker and cheaper, then we can get more quickly to going to communities and asking them if their news needs are being covered,” Kiesow added. “The algorithm gives us the ‘what’ — the quantitative aspect — but we need the qualitative, the ‘why,’ to inform innovation. We get that from talking to people.”

Jim Brady, vice president of the Knight Foundation, agreed that the Knight Chair’s new name represents a view of innovation as more than the cutting edge of the digital frontier.

“More than a decade ago, the Knight Commission said journalism didn’t need saving, it needed re-inventing,” Brady said. “We agree that the word ‘innovating’ should reflect what it actually means — doing things that are not just new, but new and better, and that add convenience, efficiency, effectiveness, value and more.”

Of course, the need to balance a community-oriented approach to news with the financial demands of a business is not a new concern. But Kiesow notes the digital age has made it easy for local news organizations to lose focus, pursuing national or even international audiences while losing sight of their communities, which consider local news the most trusted form of news in America.

“We want to use technology — we love technology,” Kiesow said. “But it has to be used in a way that doesn’t redirect our attention, time or money in ways that don’t provide valuable journalism to local communities. If you use the internet to chase advertising revenue at a global scale, but the value you create is meant to serve a small community in Missouri, then you’re taking your eye off the ball.”

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. The foundation invests in journalism, the arts and the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Its goal is to foster informed and engaged communities essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Updated: July 24, 2023

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