26 July 2019
Future News Worldwide, an international summit organised by the British Council, opened its doors last week to 100 young media makers from all over the world, writes Future News Worldwide 2019 delegate Andra Maria Maciuca.
The competition in the run-up to the two-day long conference was tough: over 3,000 applicants expressed their interest in attendingt, which was joined by prestigious journalists such as Jon Snow and Christina Lamb and held at the Reuters UK headquarters in Canary Wharf. The prize for the selected winners consisted of accommodation, meals and transport to and from London.
Reuters, NDTV and The Sunday Times industry representatives give insights into complex issues such as bias and truth
The first day was opened by Nick Tattersall, Managing News Editor for Europe the Middle East and Africa at Thomson Reuters. He spoke about the noise created by technology with an increasingly fast-paced access to information, and how this can represent both a challenge and an opportunity. In the process of filtering all the background noise out to reach the essential, he expressed his belief that a high premium is placed on unbiased information:
'Responsible journalism practiced without fear and without bias has never been more important. I think in the era of fake news and disinformation, it also brings home just how much physical, intellectual, logistical and emotional effort goes in accurate and unbiased journalism.'
The young media makers were keen to ask questions from the very first speaker, which led Nick Tattersall to speak about the importance of having a variety of voices in the newsroom:
'It is very healthy in a newsroom to have a variety of opinions and to debate on how and why to cover something'.
The second speaker, Sreenivasan Jain, Managing Editor for the New Delhi Television (NDTV), spoke about the challenges faced by journalists who do their job, that of 'exposing wrongdoing'. He also talked about how the public can become more engaged:
'Defending power seems to sell more. I think there is a challenge on those of us who are trying to speak the truth, to make truth more compelling, more relatable. We need to find a way to make people feel like they have a stake. If we start to feel pressure, then they will as well. Making that link is important, it is definitely something we should all think about going forward'.
The last journalist of the day was Christina Lamb, Chief Foregin Correspondent for The Sunday Times. She talked about last year's worrying increase in violence against journalists across the world:
'It's not just happening in censorship, it's happening in India and Brazil, some of the world's biggest democracies, and the large number of these crimes go unpunished. We have seen a decline in media freedom, which I think is very worrying and journalism plays a huge role in the society as you know. You can't take freedom of press for granted, you can't take democracy for granted. We all need to step up our game. I think foreign correspondents and journalists are playing a vital role in the society.'
Christina Lamb also tackled the subject of 'truth' and the challenges related to it: 'People seem to have different versions of truth, some people don't accept facts. When you have leaders of the free world lying and accusing journalists of being enemies of the state, it makes it very difficult'.
The first conference day finished with a networking dinner on a boat on The Thames, where Jon Snow was the guest speaker.
Talking about his background and how it influenced his world and professional vision, Snow said that he was very musical, his mother was a pianist and when he was very young he was chosen to be a choir boy, so music 'informed' him: 'There is my starting point', he said, 'Music. I wasn't very bright at school, I didn't get very good exam results and I couldn't go into university. So I decided I would volunteer with an organisation called VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas). I was lucky enough to be sent to Uganda and to this day I can still sing the Ugandan national anthem.' He then sang it to the audience which rhythmically clapped in response.
He proceeded by saying: "Music, Africa, development, education, all came together in the space of a year. Things happen to you along the line which you must never forget. It might be the death of a parent, it might be the birth of a child, it might be anything, but these things are things which inform who you are and how you see the world. Be true to how you see the world. Be true to yourself. Never find yourself being persuaded by some proprietor of a news service to pursue something in a way that disagrees with the way you are. You must stand up for who you are and what you believe in."
He also added: "Although we are completely neutral, you have to accept what your views are and set them off a little against what you are being told or what you're learning. Somehow you have to come out with a balance in which you are being true to what you believe in, true to the way you are."
Successful journalists discuss key industry issues, such as diversity in newsrooms, lack of pay and press freedom
The second day's first journalist to speak brought a lot of amusement in the audience. Nadine White, News Reporter at HuffPost UK, balanced the audience's smiles with some important discussions, the main one being diversity in newsrooms.
She said: "I realised that the community I was in wasn't represented in the media. That is the main reason I decided to get into the media. The news should represent all people, it shouldn't just represent a group of people".
Nadine also talked about the benefits of being from a different background to the majority of the society, saying that it is what allows her to 'bring unique perspectives to the newsroom'.
She added that earlier on in her career, she freelanced for a few small publications, "the operative word being 'free'" and that she started getting paid while working for The Voice Newspaper because "one of the editors actually used their conscience and said, 'you've been working for us for a while, here is some money'".
Nadine's insightful yet light-hearted discussion was followed by an interactive media law and ethics-focused debate with Donald Martin, Editor-in-Chief at Newsquest Scotland. He presented various scenarios in which, as an editor, one had to choose in real life, against time pressures, whether to publish certain photographs and information. The young journalists were encouraged to make quick decisions on the matters and justify their reasoning.
This intense exchange of ideas was followed by a challenging presentation of technology-driven investigative journalism, which was done by Aliaume Leroy and Benjamin Strick from BBC Africa Eye.
Yet the learning did not stop here, with some strong life lessons being shared by the last speaker of the conference. Sonny Swe, Founder and CEO of Frontier Myanmar and Myanmar Times, talked about his eight year and a half imprisonment which started in 2004. He was 'having a great time, flying high, and suddenly everything was gone' after being convicted because of censorship regulations.
Speaking of the day he was arrested, he said: "They took me from the police station to the prison and on my way to prison I met three people: my sister, one of my very close friends and my childhood friend, coming from the other direction. And I thought, 'I will probably never see these people again, I will probably die'. They took me inside the prison and the first thing they did was to throw me inside and shut the door. They only let me out 15 minutes a day".
Although he lost his family, marriage, publication, bank accounts and house, and his 'hopes and dreams', he learned an important lesson that he shared with the young media makers: 'Your mental strength is way more important than your physical strength'.
He added: "A lot of people will say 'don't be a journalist, you're going to be arrested'. We need people like you, because if we don't have people like you, how can we defend our country?".
The conference days also included talks from companies such as Facebook, Instagram, Google News Initiative and the Solutions Journalism Network, as well as visits to international newsrooms, such as the BBC and ITN/Channel 4.