Three trends in digital journalism: Native advertising, algorithms, and gamification


Moderator: Oscar Westlund, professor, Department of Journalism and Media Studies, OsloMet - Oslo Metropolitan University

The presentation is part of the OsloMet Digital Journalism Focus Seminars, organised by the research group Digital Journalism.


Digital journalism is often concerned with novelty. New revenue models, new production dynamics, new ways to engage with the audience. Accordingly, digital journalism scholarship tends to trace lines of inquiry that respond to the fervent and rapid changes of its object of study. In an effort to better portray the contours of change within digital news media, it is perhaps more fruitful to focus on the entanglements between the past, the present, and the future of journalism.

In this presentation, I discuss three research projects on three “new” trends in digital journalism: native advertising, algorithms, and gamification. These trends are adopted by news organizations as part of an overarching effort to explore the future of news. Such a broad and institutionally driven attempt to figure out how journalism will operate in the years to come assumes that these trends are new, technologically enabled, and potentially profitable. In this talk, however, I critically present these “new trends” against a historical drop. Contextualizing these trends allows for gaining a deeper understanding on the construction, adoption, and eventual outcome of such trends in digital journalism.

First, I discuss native advertising, a monetizing model that has been widely adopted in news organizations in practically all Western countries, as a way to find new sources of revenues. Based on complex design and layout compositions, native advertising proposes a type of “shiny camouflage” that both signals and disguises advertising as editorial content. This is, of course, only a new iteration of old-fashioned infomercials and advertorials. However, placed in digital interfaces, they have achieved higher commercial success than most alternative digital formats. For digital journalism scholarship, native advertising raises questions of trust, legitimacy, and editorial autonomy.

Second, I focus on the role that algorithms have had in newsrooms in recent years. While the image of a robotic reporter writing news has become an iconic figure in the social imaginary, fully automated news production is still distant. Algorithmic filtering of news agencies newsreels, automated audio extraction, or the automated annotation of metadata for SEO purposes are vital micro-processes in the newsroom that, while automated, still require the interaction of a newsworker. The automation of news production needs to be understood as a continuum in which smaller processes are increasingly suited with algorithmic power and in which the journalist intervenes in various degrees. I argue for addressing the trend to increase the automation of control of news production as a way to rationalize the relationship between news organizations, newsworkers, and technological innovation.

Finally, I turn to gamification, defined as the use of game thinking and game design techniques in non-gaming contexts. It has been widely implemented in digital services as an attempt to attract and increase user engagement. This type of persuasive technology focuses on tracking, quantifying, and individualizing behavior, placing the user at the center of the news experience. Blurring the boundaries between games and news raises questions about the long-lasting normative separation of entertainment and news, and how it is slowly fading.

This presentation engages with some of the current debates in digital journalism research, such as the focus on novelty, technology, and audience-orientation.


Raul Ferrer-Conill is a doctoral candidate in the department of Media and Communication Studies at Karlstad University. His dissertation examines the uses of gamification in digital news outlets (expected graduation early fall 2018). He has published his work in  Journalism Studies ,  Digital Journalism , and  Television and New Media , among others. His current research interests cover digital journalism, gamification, native advertising, and processes of datafication.
Related publications

Ferrer-Conill, R. (2018). Gamifying the news: Exploring the introduction of game elements into digital journalism . Karlstad University Press.

Cheruiyot, D. & Ferrer-Conill, R. (2018). Fact-checking Africa. Searching for truth through data journalism. Digital Journalism, Advance Online Publication. DOI: 10.1080/21670811.2018.1493940

Ferrer-Conill, R. & Tandoc, E. (2018). The audience-oriented editor. Making sense of the audience in the newsroom. Digital Journalism, 6:4, 436-453 . DOI: 10.1080/21670811.2018.1440972

Ferrer-Conill, R. (2017). Quantifying journalism? A study on the use of data and gamification to motivate journalists. Television and New Media, 18:8, 706-720. DOI: 10.1177/1527476417697271

Ferrer-Conill, R. (2016). Camouflaging church as state: An exploratory study of journalism’s native advertising. Journalism Studies, 17:7 , 904-914 . DOI: 10.1080/1461670X.2016.1165138