International Journalism Festival 2022: what we learnt in Perugia about the future of news

Here are a few highlights from the festival on topics such as business models, climate coverage, press freedom and the war in Ukraine 
Perugia

Credit: Canva / Francesco Ricci

After a two-year break, the International Journalism Festival was back in Perugia. Journalists from all over the world discussed pressing issues facing the news industry such as the rise of hybrid newsrooms, reader revenue models, the coverage of the climate crisis, news innovation and the media side of the war in Ukraine. Here are some of the highlights of the festival, curated by the Reuters Institute's editorial team.  

Stuff we learnt

1. Innovation is (also) about deciding what not to do. "One of the roles of innovation is introducing new questions to the live conversations that are always happening inside organisations," said Robin Kwong from the Wall Street Journal at an interesting panel on how to decide whether to do new things in newsrooms, moderated by Renée Kaplan from the FT. "Jumping on every new feature launched by a tech platform is not innovation," said Chris Moran from the Guardian. "An innovation has to be something that is genuinely useful for the audience or the newsroom. What I try to do now is finding interesting people in the newsroom with interesting problems to address." | Watch | Read our interview with Chris

2. Declining ad revenue may not be a bad thing. Alan Rusbridger, Chair of our Steering Committee, said the slow disappearance of ad revenue is forcing journalism to focus on the needs of readers and earn their buy-in. “The dependence on advertising is going to diminish, but we’re learning inspiring stories about how journalism is repositioning itself and demanding to be taken as a public good in the public interest.”

3. Reader revenue requires patience and habit. A panel hosted by our Head of Editorial Eduardo Suárez looked at three news organisations that run successful reader revenue models in very different countries: elDiario.es in Spain, Zetland in Denmark and Dennik N in Slovakia. "We can't take for granted the fact that people know what the need for journalism is and the sheer fact that it costs a lot of money," said Lea Korsgaard from Zetland. "If there is no habit, there is no reader revenue," said Tomáš Bella from Dennik N. "People will only pay for something they are used to using on the regular."

A second panel chaired by our Head of Leadership Development Federica Cherubini looked at what's next for the business of news. "Many newsrooms have experienced huge spikes in traffic during the pandemic and this led to conversions. The real challenge today is the retention of those new subscribers, which is incredibly difficult and quite expensive," said Renée Kaplan from the FT. "We can feel the pressure from our members when there's a controversial issue. Our editor-in-chief often writes directly to the people who want to cancel. He often manages to bring them back," said Rosalía Lloret, CEO of Spanish newspaper elDiario.es. | Watch | A thread on the reader revenue panel | A thread on the business of news panel | Read Eduardo's paper on reader revenue

4. We need urgent action from newsrooms to address hate directed at journalists. At a panel on government-directed disinformation in Brazil, our former Journalist Fellow Daniela Pinheiro said that media organisations should be ready to proactively fend off fake news and harassment. “Newsrooms should employ experts on digital so they can respond fast to any threats. You have to have your own army ready for combat." Her fellow Brazilian journalist Patrícia Campos Mello agreed that journalists targeted, who are often women, should not be left to deal with it alone: “Companies should do something. There should be an institutional response,” she said. | Watch | Read our interview with Patrícia

5. We need new perspectives and formats in the coverage of climate change. “We need to look at who's telling the story of climate change, how it is being framed, whose perspectives are being centred,” said our Deputy Director Meera Selva at one of the panels on the coverage of the climate crisis. “When it comes to climate science, it's not that we have to separate rigour and accuracy from emotions. 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,” said Angela Morelli, CEO and co-founder of InfoDesignLab, a socially conscious information design firm.

Other speakers focused on how global warming was depicted in the news media. BBC News' environment correspondent Matt McGrath said: “In 2007, when we covered the IPCC report, it was smokestacks and polar bears. And I fast forward to now, when we're talking about migration and air pollution, and about the interconnectedness of these difficulties and the relevance to real people.” Pulitzer-winning photojournalist Michael Kodas stressed how photographs were increasingly used as an investigative tool in the coverage of climate change. "There's a real role for very good visual journalism in accountability journalism,” he said. | Watch | Read Meera's piece on this topic | Check out the Oxford Climate Journalism Network

6. Ukrainian journalists have fought hard for press freedom: they need global journalists now. “We weren’t granted a free country. We fought for this free country tooth and nail, and we built all the democratic institutions in Ukraine," said Kyiv Independent CEO Daryna Schevchenko at one of the sessions on Putin's war. "Journalists in Ukraine worked for 30 years to build a civil society and they succeeded, while Russian journalists apparently failed, because their civil society is non-existent. By the end of 2021 we approved so many progressive laws. This happened thanks to the press and the civil society. We managed to get to the point in which authorities were the servants of the people. We managed to ensure that we had the right to work freely. That’s why this war is so unfair." When asked how journalists around the world can help their Ukrainian colleagues, Daryna was very clear: "Keep talking about the war in Ukraine. Because as soon as you go silent, the situation will get worse.” | Watch

7. Diversity is (also) about storytelling. “Diversity is not only about who is telling the story, but about how and to whom you are telling the story,” said Wafaa Albadry from Deutsche Welle, who said that journalistic formats, often imposed by algorithms and commercial demands, carry with them inherent and dangerous biases. Our Journalist Fellow Kathy English stressed in her panel that journalism in the western world has failed in being accountable for the value of diverse and proportionate coverage. Kathy said: "There has been minimal action and minimal accountability." | Watch | Read Kathy's paper | Read our podcast with Kathy

8. Journalists should care much more about impact. "Impact is at the very heart of why journalists choose to do their job," said Tom Trewinnard from Fathm at the panel he moderated. Journalist Shirish Kulkarni spoke about his experience at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and how impact is embedded in everything they do. "The old accusation of 'journalism as advocacy' is often used by people who want to preserve their privileges," he said. Fara Warner, from the Solutions Journalism Network, reminded us that journalists always have impact, "whether it’s intentional or not, whether it’s positive or negative." | Watch 

9. Journalism may be failing democracy by focusing too much on elites. "It’s not that there isn’t news but that the high quality news is not being consumed by everyone," said US academic Nikki Usher. "The question is: what do we do about it? To what extent do news organisations engage people who tune them out? We need a new model that moves away from the definition of journalism as news and instead see whether a community is being served with basic information it needs to function and whether it is served by those who can hold power to account." | Watch | Listen to our podcast with Nikki 

10. Tackling misinformation is everyone’s responsibility. Craig Silverman from ProPublica reminded us that combating misinformation and disinformation shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of a handful of experts in a newsroom. It becomes a problem when beat reporters don’t know the basics and fall for the usual traps of bad-faith actors who use the media to amplify certain narratives. | Watch | Check out Craig's slides

11. Journalism is becoming a luxury career. In many places journalism is becoming a profession that only a privileged few can pursue, warned Emily Bell. “Kids who want to be journalists but come from economic insecurity just don't want to enter the profession because it's unstable for them. It's becoming a luxury career and that's a real problem.” | Watch

12. Public pressure can work to combat trolling. At a panel on the targeting of journalists, prominent Brazilian journalist Patrícia Campos Mello said public pressure on platforms and politicians can be effective in responding to online attacks. “We were speaking out and telling Twitter and Facebook, ‘This is going on, you have to do something’. Only when they feel that this is going to damage their brand will they start doing something. Otherwise, they will say ‘...But freedom of speech’, which is important, but not to threaten people." | Watch | Read our interview with her

13. Newsrooms should build more bridges across teams. Millie Tran from Condé Nast suggested that product managers should mediate between technologist and editorial teams looking at user needs and advocating for different types of content or distribution. "Product management for me is about audience, technology and revenue," she said. Louise Story, who used to work at the Wall Street Journal, said that a top-down culture inside media companies sometimes clashes with a product and technology mindset and added that newsroom managers should listen to different teams and ask the right questions. | Watch

14. Hybrid working isn’t just good for employees: newsrooms benefit too. Angela Pacienza, Executive Editor of Canada’s Globe & Mail, suggested a more flexible model “allows us to be more competitive when it comes to hiring staff and allows us to recruit a more diverse workforce.” She was talking on a panel at which our own Nic Newman presented the Changing Newsrooms report, co-authored with Federica Cherubini, on how newsrooms are approaching questions around flexible working and diversity in recruitment. | Watch

15. It's possible to innovate without big budgets or approval from the top. On a panel on building trust and driving innovation in public service media, broadcasting managers Christina Johannesson from SVT and Helje Solberg from NRK discussed innovation with journalist Ros Atkins, the force behind BBC viral news explainers and the 50:50 project. Ros argued that innovation doesn’t necessarily require big budgets and endorsement from the top and stress that it's possible to drive new projects with determination and stamina by building support within the organisation. These are the themes at the heart of the EBU News Report that lead author and Reuters Institute's Senior Research Associate Alexandra Borchardt presented at the panel, which was chaired by Felix Simon, from the Oxford Internet Institute. | Watch

Cool projects

Collaborating for the future. A unique fellowship programme was launched to explore how AI can be harnessed to improve reporting. The programme, part of the LSE’s journalism think tank Polis, is open to 10 pairs of applicants – each with one journalist and one technologist – from media organisations worldwide. | Find out more

Direct publishing. News lab Fathm believes journalism should harness the most popular form of digital interaction to engage with audiences: direct messaging. “If messaging apps are among our audience’s most used apps, why are we not doing more to engage them there?,” asked co-founder Fergus Bell, who presented a new tool he describes in this thread. | Watch

Celebrating Dr. King’s legacy. “If you don’t ask the right questions, you celebrate the wrong things,” said Wendi Thomas from the MLK50 project, a news outlet established to mark 50 years since Martin Luther King’s death. “Dr. King came to Memphis to support black, striking sanitation workers. That’s the focus of our coverage: how systems and policies and institutions affect workers.” | Watch

Keeping journalism alive in Afghanistan. Afghan journalist Saad Mohseni spoke about the work of TOLO TV in a wide-ranging conversation with Bloomberg Opinion columnist Bobby Ghosh. Mohseni is the Chairman of the Moby Group, one of the fastest growing diversified media companies in South and Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The Moby Group owns TOLO TV, one of the few independent news outlets in Afghanistan. | Watch | Read our story on press freedom in the country

Great talks you may have missed

A panel about podcasting in the Global South, home to the fastest growing podcast audiences. Watch | A talk about news fatigue and how to fight it. Watch | A panel how to decolonise global news coverage. Watch | A masterclass by Benjamin Strick in geo-journalism. Watch | A panel on vaccine journalism. Watch | A talk about covering immigration in Europe. Watch | A masterclass by Craig Silverman from ProPublica in investigating the money behind websites and digital ads. Watch

Ukraine: covering Putin’s war

Daryna Shevchenko, CEO of The Kyiv Independent. “Our mission at the Kyiv Independent is to make sure we deliver as much information as possible. I find it hard to find a lot of reasons for optimism. I would like to ask you to keep talking about Ukraine. I do hope that after this war we'll keep reporting on a Ukraine that's flourishing again and growing. But I also realise there are hundreds of women and children raped. Many people will have PTSD after the war and everyone will have to live through that trauma while rebuilding a country that has been largely destroyed by the Russian army. But I just hope that while we do that, you guys in the global press keep talking about it.” 

Jane Lytvynenko from the Shorenstein Center. "In 2014 we Ukrainians had a revolution which filled social media feeds. It was so powerful. But when it was over, the war began, and this created the perfect environment for disinformation. Then the attention cycle drifted away from Ukraine, and social media companies were not kept accountable for what was going on: the same propaganda we see now. Putin didn't begin calling Ukrainian nazis in 2022."

Iryna Vidanava from Belarus’ City Dog. “In a situation like this, there is no business. There is only mission. We try to deliver independent information about what's happening. But the ad market is now collapsing and we are relocating.” | Watch 

Peter Pomerantsev from the Agora Institute. "This is a local conflict. But it's also a geopolitical one. So it's important to analyse what Putin is trying to destroy. He's trying to wipe out the Ukrainian identity. Our job as journalists is to make sure people care. Putin is also trying to present Ukraine as this wasteland defined by war. That's not true. Most of the country is still functioning. So our reporting shouldn't reinforce Putin's narrative and should reflect that. We should be very careful that our reporting doesn't help Putin's goals." | Watch 

Figures speakers shared

35 countries are suffering from a significant deterioration of freedom of expression at the hands of governments, said Gypsy Guillen Kaiser from the Committee to Protect JournalistsWatch | The English-language Kyiv Independent’s GoFundMe has raised over £1.5 million since the war started. More here | Around 2% of Slovakia’s adult population subscribe to national daily Denník N. More here | 50% of the revenue of Spanish news site elDiario.es comes from its 63,000 members More here | 36 journalists are being sued by a businessman in Brazil. More here | 54% of journalist participants in the Freelance Journalism in Europe survey 2022 are extremely or very concerned with their mental health. More here

Quotes that made us think

Rana Ayyub on speaking truth to power. "I chose to tell a truth without sugarcoating it, unlike what you see by well meaning people who refuse to call fascists by their name, who refuse to call dictators by their name, who refuse to call demagogues by their name. I don't have the luxury of taking a step back. I don't have the luxury of staying silent because my country and my people need me and there are so many of them who have placed their trust and faith in me." | Watch

Julia Angwin on rethinking reporting standards. “In a world of big data, anecdotes just don’t prove it anymore. In the old days as journalists we could write three anecdotes and that’s a trend. We can no longer do that.” | Watch

Lucy Westcott on journalists’ safety. “Danger does exist for journalists everywhere and not just in war zones. We need to normalise these conversations.” | Watch

Tanmoy Goswami on the creator economy in the Global South. “The creator economy is pretty meaningless - especially in our part of the world. The creator economy wasn’t built for people like us.” | Watch | Read our interview with Tanmoy | Read our piece on the creator economy in the Global South

Lucy Kueng on people management. “We need to be much more intentional about the people management aspect of things in our organisations. We need to design the new roles that are needed more carefully.” | Watch | Read Lucy's ebook on this topic 

Viktorya Vilk on journalists’ health and safety. “People think that digital safety is in its own box. But digital safety, physical safety and mental health are intertwined, and we cannot make distinction anymore between the digital and the physical space when most of our life in the pandemic has gone online.” | Watch 

Khadija Patel on why journalism matters. "We have to take a step back and think about what the value of journalism is and why we need it to continue. It is a public good. It helps us understand the world we're living in. Without it, we can't survive." | Watch

Tabea Grzeszyk on female solidarity in entrepreneurship. “Whenever it was risky, people who saw what we wanted to do and who believed in it and were willing to give realistic, significant money were always women. The men came later.” | Watch

Errin Haines on both sides-ism. “We have two of the few openly trans reporters in a mainstream newsroom in the country. The attack on trans people in state legislatures across America is real. Their dignity and humanity is up for debate. This is existential for them. We're not both-sidesing people's humanity. We have to jettison this myth of objectivity because it is literally a matter of survival for certain people,” says, editor-at-large at the 19th*. | Watch

Ros Atkins on not taking trust for granted. "There was once a time that the BBC was automatically seen as fair. But I've tried to re-enforce that, and not just assume people trust us because of our reputation. We try to juxtapose any assertion with fact, with evidence at that moment." | Watch | Read the summary of our seminar with Ros

Laura Oliver on valuing freelancers. “Freelance journalists are often overlooked and under-supported considering how many of us there are. But we bring such a diverse range of skills and stories into newsrooms. This needs to be recognised.” | Watch

Meera Selva on journalists engaging in pile-ons. “Journalists are operating in increasingly polarised societies. What concerns me is that healthy competition in many environments has tipped into destruction where it’s tempting to join in the pile-on of journalists from other publications, especially ones different from your own. Journalists need to be aware of some sense of solidarity.” | Watch

Gypsy Guillen Kaiser on defending journalism. “It really requires an active defence of our collective right to know things that affect our daily lives and our ability to decide and that’s what journalism does. That is the purpose of this work.” | Watch

Voices we hadn’t heard before 

Elyas Nawandish on media freedom in Afghanistan. “In Afghanistan a journalist has two options: to collaborate with the Taliban or leave the country.” | Watch 

Devi Asmarani on supporting women’s rights. “Being a feminist media organisation, we do a lot of calling out, we expose things as they are and we talk about problematic stuff. But instead of just highlighting this, we can become part of the solution.” | Watch 

Candice Fortman on funding news. “I’m not interested in the audience understanding how journalism is funded. They have many other things to think about. How journalism and information is funded isn’t the audience’s problem and arguably is a societal issue that needs to be dealt with at a much greater level.” | Watch