The Future News Wolrdwide 2018 programme organized by the British Council was held at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh 5 and 6 of July. Edinburgh is the first designated UNESCO City of Literature in the world, and a symbol of wisdom, culture, freedom and critical thinking.
I arrived on July 3rd at 5 am, being with Yang Chen the first ones, after eleven hours of flight from Beijing. 100 journalism students from 50 countries were chosen for the programme between more than 2500 applications. I was one of the three chosen Spanish delegates.
Two days after, I found myself in the same room with brilliant minds from all backgrounds and walks of life. It showed that the millennial generation is indeed as engaged, or even more, as past generations, with the problems of the world. All of them are passionate storytellers, and they were willing to meet each other and join intellectually enriching conversations.
In the first session, the British Council staff provide us with pencil and paper to take notes. At the same time, we grabbed our phones and cameras and demonstrate that we can embrace the new tools without despising the old ones.
Every session of the conference was enlightening and challenging at once. Every speaker was either a journalist or an important media figure. In other words, a storyteller, just like us. They knew the importance of the background, and how to tell an inspiring story in an hour.
One of the most interesting things about FNW may be the disappearance of the power distance, as the speakers and the delegates mixed and gathered together. We had the opportunity to ask whatever we wanted to some of the biggest names in journalism right now, and they were not in an elevated platform (not all the time), they were with us, drinking, eating, taking pictures, showing that we are all people, and that they were at some point of their careers in the same situation as us, dealing with the frustration of being a newcomer.
The voices of the delegates were also heard during the panel discussions, were some of them debated, raised questions and explained their motivation for being there. William Boateng, Ghana delegate, mentioned that he wanted to “tell the African story globally”. He noted: “Who better to tell the stories than the local voices?”.
It is worth praising the philosophy of FNW. It was not only about boosting our motivation, discussing ideas worth spreading, ethics, journalists talking about journalism to journalists, but also real projects, practical and actionable information, applicable tools that we could immediately use and that showed us that the future is digital. Low-budget tools that also can be used by ordinary people, as the ones that Yusuf Omar uses to teach citizen journalists.
Yusuf Omar is considered a enfant terrible by part of the industry because of his portrait of stories in short mobile videos and the philosophy behind it: “We are teaching communities how to do it on their own. We want a decentralized newsroom”. For Yusuf “it’s okay to have emotions, to take sides”. As someone that has covered the Syrian civil war, it’s worth pointing out that his vision is similar to the one of the war journalist David Pratt, who said that “we don’t have to be neutral. You can’t be a journalist if you don’t see the fundamental injustices”.
In a programme like FNW, full of senior journalists of the most important news organizations of the world, the presence of a journalist that questions the status quo like Yusuf is important. With mobile journalism, “there are more perspectives, more truth”, and solve the problem of the lack of diversity and representation that the traditional media has always been accused of. About how to separate the real information from the noise of the fake news, Yusuf claimed the education of the audience, more media literacy. “Let the community determine the narrative” was the conclusion of someone that considers that the members of the audience can also be creators.
Yusuf is the co-founder of Hashtag Our Stories, a platform that empowers mobile video storytelling communities around the world. The delegates asked about the numbers, the revenue, and the answer seemed far than ideal for most of them, as they are founded by brands and other sponsors.
Most of the delegates questions covered our worry about the money. We may want to change the world, but also pay the bills. Catherine Gicheru, first woman bureau chief and first female news editor of the Nation Media Group in the region and data journalist of Code for Kenya and Code for Africa, said that is envy of us: “This is a very exciting time, journalism is more important than ever before”. But we actually are very anxious about the collapsed business model. As Melissa Bell, co-founder of Vox, highlighted as one of the many problems of the news industry, “no one knows the worth of our work, not even ourselves”. For Catherine, however, the solution also relies, as Yusuf reflected, in taking the audience into the equation: “We have to rethink how we are doing our jobs. Reporting is not enough, we have to involve the audience. This is a conversation with them, not a monologue”.
The name of the session of the Kenyan journalist was “Journalism that matters”. She reminded us that our job is to give the audience useful information. The delegates asked Catherine how exactly to make the readers take action, why the audience should care. “Make them feel that they have some power. That doesn’t mean not writing objective news, but not just report incidents. Instead, explaining the implications and consequences that something has for them”, it was her answer.
As Yusuf, Catherine is aware of the advantages of technology: “Technology allow us to tell better stories. Now you can do more. You can reach more people, millions, and if you at least touch one person, it will be worth”.
The shadows and lights of technology were omnipresent during all the sessions of the conference. “Use technology if it helps to tell your story. Otherwise, don’t use it”, admitted Matt Cooke, Head of Partnerships and Training at the Google News Lab during the Google workshop. After all, journalism is about people. Technology can be useful, but is only a mean, not an end. David Pratt also uses whatever means he has to tell a story, but the story is always about a human being: “Journalism is about engaging and intimating with people”. Indeed, you don’t have to be a war reporter to see this fundamental principle. Melissa Bell stressed: “You are in this business because you care about the people”. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be critical with the subject of your story. For Carrie Gracie is crucial to engage with the place and the people when reporting in a foreign country, respect them, and not consider them a stop in your career, which also includes being critical if necessary. That is what she has been doing during many years as BBC reporter in China. The Chinese delegates were eager to know how to report China and fight the censorship. The tips given by Carrie didn’t lack sense of reality: “Write reports that are not red lines for the government but that also can be interesting and useful for the audience or try to report the country for international media”. However, as Alessandra Galloni, Reuters Global News Editor, suggested, “no life is worth a story”. According to Carrie, “for the time being, doing directly economical or political report in China is unsafe”.
They are senior journalists, they know what they are talking about, they are practical and not daydreamers. Alessandra proposed: “Try to analyze or do reports from another angle, that may not seem so threatening, but indeed they are”. Instead of taking sides, she believes that “facts are much more powerful than description”.
More about the conference: a video report made by my fellow Spanish delegate Marta Ramírez here.