More than 1,000 senior executives from the media industry around the world converged on Zaragoza at last week’s World News Media Congress for a three-day immersion in learning and sharing.
The menu was rich, diverse, satisfying, bite-sized as well as main courses – just as you would expect at the home of tapas – and most importantly it did not disappoint.
My starter at the conference was a discussion about the safety of journalists and threats to press freedom at a meeting of the World Editors’ Forum which took place on World News Day.
The threat and intimidation journalists face in going about their everyday duties was quite frankly horrifying, and scary to hear.
Threats and harassment were a common theme espoused by many journalist federations around the world – many attributed to political intimidation.
The upshot for many was that the actions of a state-supported campaign of intimidation and threats was having a chilling effect on the sort of coverage the state machinery did not want to see published.
And by creating such a hostile environment – there was a “trickle down” effect from governments to the people, breeding a belief that what we know as solid professional journalism was fake news.
In Poland, where Gazeta Wyborcza operates – and was awarded Wan-ifra’s coveted Golden Pen in recognition of their fight against state-sponsored oppression, we heard about the concerted attempts to quash public interest journalism and protest in their acceptance speech.
In many countries around the world, journalists are labelled tax evaders, money launderers, traders in fake information – to discredit them – leading to further intimidation and aggressive trolling.
So how can journalists around the world unite to stand with their sisters and brothers against this? We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to this in the UK. For, while we may not witness this form of intimidation, we know every day our journalists are intimidated and threatened. It is just a matter of degree.
What questions does this raise for the tech platforms to help to protect our craft and to fight against disinformation?
To my mind, we need to recognise that this cannot be solved by one publisher or one country. Without solidarity we see a threat to freedom of journalism.
So maybe the press organisations and their bodies around the world should pull together to lobby through the United Nations for press freedom to be recognised and enshrined.
On a lighter note we heard that collaboration can be key to helping small publishers thrive.
Henneo, a small local newspaper based in Aragon, where the Congress took place, has formed alliances with 15 publishing groups across Spain to work jointly on sharing tech platforms and monetisation strategies in a way that has helped to transform their fortunes that they could not have done individually. Surely this is a lesson for our small publishers here in the UK. To find out more, look at the Alayasn Media project. (https://www.alayans-media.com/)
One of the main topics of discussion was around quality and trust – two small words that carry such importance in our drive to shift away from advertising models and enable us to move towards persuading readers to pay for the content we are serving up to them.
Rasmus Nielsen, Director of Reuters Institute, was sharing a stage with Lisa MacLeod (FT Strategies) and Dean Roper (Wan-ifra), Professor Nielsen talked about the disconnect between what journalists think is important in terms of trust and what readers think is important.
Lisa revealed the work of the FT Strategies team in their sustainability of journalism index – a new tool pointing to what are the key indicators for a sustainable future and how it can be used by publishers across the world to assess the viability of their business model. We will be hearing a lot about this in the future.
Staying with sustainability there were two important announcements that will benefit many publishers in the future – both funded by the Google News Initiative.
The Financial Times, via its consultancy FT Strategies, and Google have negotiated a three-year programme to support more than 500 publishers in 50 countries to deliver sustainable growth strategies – an extension of the successful Digital Revenues Launchpad run here in the UK.
It will focus on reader revenue, products and technology, data and audience engagement and diversity. Read more here https://aboutus.ft.com/press_release/ft-strategies-google-news-initiative
The second initiative was an extension to Wan-ifra’s successful Tablestakes programme that is also helping news organisations around the world find a path to funding models based on reader engagement and reader revenues. https://wan-ifra.org/2022/09/new-round-of-tables-stakes-europe-2023/
On the same stage as this was announced, we heard from David Higgerson, chief digital publisher at Reach plc, about how they have benefited from the programme with their newsletter strategy – now totalling 300 across the group; Khalil Cassimally of The Conversation – with an enlightening look at their model of providing quality content through collaboration with the university network; Margret Muller, of Rheinische Post Mediengruppe, on how they have engaged with different audiences in a project across their whole newsroom, and Patric Hamsch with a similar story at NWT Media.
There was so much on the menu at this Congress, that this blog will not do it justice, but one parting thought was the recurring theme about why we still do not have diversity in gender, race and disability in our newsrooms. A debate without conclusion – but a pledge for publishers to sign up and commit to doing what they can to improve the situation in their businesses.
It will be interesting to see what 2023 brings in terms of change here.