said Murdoch Rodgers, a former investigative journalist for BBC to the delegates of Future News Network 2017, and he could not have said it at a better setting. The British Council promoted the voice of the unheard in professional journalism: the youth.
In the past few weeks, I have been asked plenty of times to tell my story about this wonderful phenomenon called Future News Worldwide, which did live up to its’ name: 42 countries and total 100 delegates out of 2000. As Mark Wood, ex-Editor-in-Chief of Reuters phrased it: “The future of journalism is sitting in this room”, and it really felt like it was sitting in that room.
But when I began to get my story on paper, I remembered what Mr Rodgers also said: “The stories you unearth are nothing without the contribution of other people…” and that “Sometimes the questions that you pose are more important than the answers”. So I will ask whether really the future of journalism sat in that exact room for 2 days and I will try to show it to you, dear reader, through the individual stories that it was indeed trying to achieve that summit.
The flight to Edinburgh for delegates from China, through Indonesia to Zimbabwe; from all over the Commonwealth and Europe, was already a trip of a lifetime; learning from top-notch journalists from their respective field of expertise was an experience of a lifetime, but receiving this for free from the British Council was the real deal.
“A lot of it is luck.” as Christina Lamb described her survival as a war correspondent – but was it just all luck for these delegates? Personally, who only attended the conference, because the top contender dropped out, for me, this could be claimed as luck. But even considering that, I was said to be second, it was far from luck, since I still tried my best, what paid off at the end. “You only fail when you give up” (Adnan Sarwar Assistant Editor; The Economist). However, just as I, also delegates from their countries have been chosen by their proven record on the field of press and journalism, even with a specific article written for this conference, to assess their preparedness, creativity and storytelling ability.
As Nic Newman, from Reuters Institute, phrased it: “If you have that passion and determination, you will succeed!” – What these young journalists clearly possessed. Even to this day stuns me the work and commitment of Tafadzwa Ufumeli whose dedication to photojournalism is visible on all of his work: taking pictures of violent protests in Zimbabwe, in the midst of the turmoil in his country. Yet, at the conference, he took his passion seriously, and he fast became the “official” photographer, in order to fuel the delegates’ tweets about the panel discussion with his photos. Christina Lamb was right: “In those dark places and moments you often find the most amazing people”
David Pratt, Contributing Foreign Editor to the Herald and freelancer photojournalist taught us a valuable lesson: “Good storytelling depends on good listening”. So that is what we did in these two days. We tried to absorb as much knowledge as possible, with the curiosity for asking about everything, since “stories are all around you […] you have to ask” (Murdoch Rodgers).
We learned that “Journalism is a serious business – because you can effect change” (Mary Hockaday) as “We never dilute the truth, we never hide from the truth… We are in the business of truth.” (Adnan Sarwar). We were told that “Every human being has a story…it’s up to us to tell it in a compelling, engaging, accurate and truthful way” (Deborah Rayner, Managing Editor of EMEA; CNN) and that “There are two kinds of journalists – those who ask for permission and those who ask for forgiveness” (Anne McElvoy, Senior Editor; The Economist), thus “”No is just a starting point” (Christina Lamb). Although “… you’re doing an ethical good by getting the story out.” (Anne McElvoy) “An empathetic journalist is the most successful journalist.” (Alessandra Galloni, Global News Editor; Reuters).
In the end, lectures can be boring, but what was unique about this conference, was the tremendous amount of contribution from the delegates, the countless after-presentation talks, the unasked but unmissable networking opportunities. But above all what made this conference perfect was the atmosphere and the delegates themselves.
From the start I felt that I am around my kinfolk: I was once again known by my determination to always ask a curious question. The only surprising difference was, that for the first time in my life, this was judged as a positive attribute of mine, even for some, an admirable one.
For these reasons, good time, laughter and party, of course, was self-evident. The ability of the Edinburgh 100 to stick together, collaborate and organise, be it a drinking in a pub after sessions, or to start a new platform after the conference is simply astonishing. Even though pursuing the same career path and ambitions, these people did not compete with each other, as they were in deep agreement with Mr Rodgers once again: “You can get more out of collaboration than competition.”
In further sessions, we were educated about the present of the press as “We’re about content…those important stories that you tell will punch through the noise of the Internet” (Adnan Sarwar) because “Demand for high-quality journalism has never been higher” (Matt Cooke, Head of Int. Google News Lab) since “People pay for music. Why wouldn’t they pay for news?” (Christina Lamb) but when we write we have to ask the question: “Is it in the public interest? Or just interesting to the public?” (Donald Martin, Editor-in-Chief; the Herald)
When talking about the future of media, we had to understand that we shouldn’t “…let technology get into the way of your audience.” as for example “If it doesn’t work on mobile, in many markets it doesn’t work anymore” (Matt Cooke). “Journalism of the future will be less about telling and more about conversation and genuine dialogue.” as “Robo-journalism is what we will see more in the future” (Nic Newman), however, “There is no tool that replaces your own judgement” (Matt Cooke).
Unfortunately, but we had to leave home, where ever that was around the world, but we became a lot richer after we left. We got valuable advice like: “There is no point in dying for this job. You’re useless if you’re dead.” (Christina Lamb); “Don’t take anything at face value, you need to probe…everyone has agendas.” (Donald Martin) or that “Impartiality relies on you being curious about things you tend to disagree with” (Anne McElvoy).
In the end, only the question stands still: Was the future of news sitting in that room? Ever since we left the conference, I strongly believe that all of us is asking the same question from themselves. Was it sitting there? But this sense of curiosity, thirst for answers and the ability to discover questions that have not been heard before is what will drive us to fulfil that projection, since “It’s an amazing time […] These are the times to be a journalist.” (Anne McElvoy)