Some lessons from the recent journalism festival in Italy

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The International Journalism Festival took place last week in the Italian city of Perugia. I haven’t seen as much as a footnote in the media – at least the local media. Not surprising. The media hardly speaks for itself, and there are many reasons for that.

Yours truly was not there, but thanks to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, highlights captured by their team have appeared in my mailbox.

Some things deserve our attention as Ugandan journalists grappling with challenges not dissimilar to those facing media anywhere in the world. I’ll summarize seven of the takeaways shared by the Reuters Institute. The full transcript is available at www.Reutersinstitute.ac.uk

Innovation is (also) deciding what not to do. Some of the most versatile inventions in the world today have been in information and communications technology (ICT). Many of them have been very disruptive to media as we know it. But should the media embrace every innovation that pops up? Not so, says The Guardian’s Chris Moran. “An innovation must be something that is genuinely useful to the public or the newsroom.” So should a media house be on Tik-Tok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, etc. or should she choose what is most useful for her audience?

Falling ad revenue may not be a bad thing. According to Alan Rusbridger, the disappearance of ad revenue is forcing newsrooms to focus on journalism that matters to people so they can pay for it; it stimulates content innovation. Is it all over the media? Maybe not. Those who do not innovate on content will stay away because audiences will not pay for anything.

Readers’ income requires patience and practice. Reader revenue is the new fad and beyond discussions and heavy work to create content that appeals to audiences, it will take a lot of patience and consistency to create a habit. “If there is no habit, there is no income for readers,” says Tomáš Bella of Dennik N, adding: “People will only pay for something they have the accustomed to using regularly.”

New perspectives in climate change coverage. I have written in the past about the need to cover climate change not as a distant object of fear, but rather as something that accompanies us every day and manifests differently in different places. Here’s what InfoDesignLab’s Angela Morelli said: “When it comes to climate science, it’s not that we have to separate rigor and accuracy from emotion. It’s not just about numbers. It’s never about facts. It’s always about emotion, and climate change is deeply emotional, because it’s about life and death. In short, can we bring the climate change conversation closer to home!

Journalists should care about impact. It’s the question of what of every story we do. We shouldn’t just fill the pages or the airwaves with mundane stuff that has no impact on our audiences. It’s a missed opportunity. As Tom Trewinnard says, “Impact is at the very heart of why journalists choose to do their work”. What kind of impact, one might ask? Fara Warner of the Solutions Journalism Network says journalists always have an impact, “whether it’s intentional or not, whether it’s positive or negative.” Which side are you on?

Journalism fails democracy by focusing on elites. Does the “he said, she said” story matter or is it just a soundbite to fill in the report card or a quote to fill in the blank? a column in the newspaper? “The question is: what do we do with it? How well do news outlets engage the people who disconnect them? We need a new model that moves away from defining journalism as news and instead sees whether a community receives the basic information it needs to function and is served by those who can ask accounts in power,” says American academic Nikki. Bailiff.

The fight against misinformation is everyone’s responsibility. Social media is notorious as a medium for spreading misinformation. But to what extent does the mainstream media reinforce fake news or clarify fake news? ProPublica’s Craig Silverman says tackling misinformation and disinformation shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of a handful of experts in a newsroom. It becomes a problem when battered reporters don’t know the basics and fall into the usual traps of bad faith actors who use the media to amplify certain narratives.


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