International Journalism Festival 2024: what we learnt in Perugia about the future of news

Here are a few highlights from the festival on social media, news avoidance, covering the war in Gaza, investigative journalism and the rise of AI
Credit: Canva / Francesco Ricci

Credit: Canva / Francesco Ricci

Journalists from all over the world gathered again this year at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia to discuss some of the most crucial issues for the news industry at a time of upheaval. Here are some of the festival's highlights, curated by the Reuters Institute's editorial team. 

Stuff we learnt

1. Audio is a fertile field for AI experimentation. Irish journalist Mark Little moderated an interesting panel on the opportunities AI offers news organisations to create new products in the audio space. Lena Beate Hamborg Pedersen from the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten explained how they started experimenting with cloned voices a few years ago as a way to rejuvenate their audience and prevent churn. 

“Our subscribers were not using our subscription as much as we wanted and their average age was 52 years,” she said. “We also saw that more people were buying Airpods, so we saw this as a great opportunity for people to engage with our content while running, commuting, cooking or cleaning. People don’t love clone voices and they are not perfect, but they see value in this.” 

Those initial experiments encouraged Aftenposten to create new audio products, from personalised playlists to educational materials for school kids. They also offered migrants text and audio in seven different languages as a way to make it easy for them to understand Norwegian society. AI audio also makes content accessible to neurodivergent people who struggle to read. “I cried when I received this email from a woman in her thirties with ADHD,” Hamborg Pedersen said. “She said she had never managed to read our articles and she was so happy she could now listen to them.” | Watch

2. Some journalists fear AI regulation can be used to stifle press freedom. A panel moderated by researcher Felix Simon looked at how governments should (and shouldn’t) regulate AI, and how those rules might impact journalism in the years ahead. Indian editor Ritu Kapur said she understood the need for legislation but expressed her concerns about governments using this as an excuse to increase their control over the public sphere. 

“I’m wary about regulation from governments. During this year’s Indian elections, politicians are using AI for campaign purposes, so any regulation coming from entities using AI for their own agenda will be very skewed,” said Kapur, who mentioned a recent incident in which a user asked Google Gemini whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a fascist, prompting a response from the government and some backlash online. | Watch | Read our piece on the Indian elections

3. Public service media needs to be less negative and more diverse. A panel looked at the importance of public service media to build healthy societies and at the challenges it is facing right now. The panel was moderated by our Director Rasmus Nielsen, who stressed that public broadcasters are the most trusted and most widely used news organisations in many countries. At the same time, these outlets are facing pressure from all sides of the political spectrum and struggling to reach young audiences and people with no formal education or lower income. 

“We should be much more courageous in pursuing the truth without fear or favour,” said Naja Nielsen from the BBC, who also said public broadcasters should bring people together and create shared experiences at a time when some people feel lonely or disconnected. She said the BBC is trying to be much more explicit and transparent about what they do. “Being an authority today requires honesty,” she explained. “Young people won’t trust us just because we are the BBC.” 

Anne Lagercrantz from SVT presented a few findings from the research they’ve done on young audiences and argued that public broadcasters should do more to understand them better. “Young people in Sweden are more anxious and pessimistic about the future, and many have foreign backgrounds. Up to 50% avoid the news because it puts them in a bad mood. A colleague from Canadian public broadcaster CBC once said they had asked a diverse audience why they didn’t pay attention and they said: ‘Because you are old, white and worried.’ Our audiences are still not diverse enough.” | Watch | Read our research on public service media

4. Social media has never been more challenging for journalists, but it’s never been easier to connect with audiences. Three experienced journalists exchanged their views on the changing landscape of social platforms and what it may mean for news in the years ahead. Zoe Schiffer, who left Vox Media to found tech news site Platformer along with Casey Newton,  said journalists are now aware that their interests are not aligned with the ones of big platforms. “At Platformer we work for our subscribers,” she said. “For many years we focused on scale, and we built our audiences on platforms. Then the floor fell out from beneath our feet.”

Joanna Geary, who led the news team at Twitter until Elon Musk’s takeover and now works for Bloomberg, said she expected more changes and consolidation in the platform space. But she also encouraged journalists to experiment and try to build a presence in these spaces. “As journalists we need to be where our communities are,” she said. 

Johanna Rudiger, a journalist from DW who has built a huge audience on TikTok and Instagram, spoke about her work. “It’s easy to go viral with opinions, but people appreciate you are neutral and that’s how you build trust,” she said. “Most young people get their news from TikTok and Instagram. So for us as journalists it’s obvious we need to be on these platforms. The more newsy the videos are, the higher the chance they go viral. These videos require a different kind of storytelling and explaining to viewers what something means for their daily lives.” 

5. Not every journalist is leaving X after Elon Musk’s takeover. At a panel moderated by AFP Global News Director Phil Chetwynd, journalists Aaron Rupar, Zoe Schiffer and Marianna Spring discussed how their relationship with this platform has changed since Elon Musk’s takeover.  All the speakers have noted a shift in the platform, including a rise in mis- and disinformation, often amplified by blue-ticks accounts, an increase in trolling and harassment, and a decrease in the number of people getting in touch with stories.

Schiffer, who’s already left X, made the case for abandoning the platform. “Why would you continue to invest in a closed platform run by an erratic person who could take away at any moment everything you’ve built?” she asked. She also argued that Musk’s hostility towards journalists is another reason not to stay. The other speakers are still on X, but have cut down their activity substantially, and are exploring alternative options. However, they’ll stay as long as there are people on the platform looking for genuine news and public officials using it for announcements. 

Rupar advised journalists who want to keep using the platform to put together a list of trusted accounts to follow and to rely on their ‘Following’ feed rather than the ‘For you’ one. Spring, who regularly receives torrents of abuse from online trolls and has written this book about it, said about those pile-on campaigns: “X just moves on, everyone starts talking about something else but I’m constantly speaking to people who are really harmed by what’s happening on the platform.” | Watch

6. Investigative journalism should reach audiences where they are. Senior editors from AP, ProPublica and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism discussed how to make their work more relevant for the kinds of audiences that need it the most. Tracy Weber from ProPublica explained their approach to this big investigation into the abuse of dairy farm workers in the US Midwest. “We realised that we needed to get our findings to the people impacted by them,” she said. 

Farm workers spoke Spanish and listened to music radio stations. So they share their work with local DJs and we put booklets in local shops. As a result, farmers contacted them with more information and they created more impact from their work. 

Weber discussed the work of the ProPublica Local Network, an initiative through which they’ve worked with more than 70 local newsrooms around the US. “They work with one of our editors and get help from our lawyers. One of those investigations prompted the Idaho legislature to approve $2 billion for schools to repair and replace ageing buildings. | Watch

7. Newsrooms have an arsenal of options to counter news avoidance. There are many strategies journalists can use to counter news avoidance, from the formats they use to the stories they cover and how they engage with their audiences. Our own Nic Newman and Ellen Heinrichs from the Bonn Institute discussed seven ideas to address this problem, using examples from around the world.

Some of these examples included ‘time-saving’ newsletter The Knowledge, deep audience listening exercises by the HuffPost which led to new beats and tone, and powerful, human-centred stories such as a Deutsche Welle report on Ukrainians assisting Turkish earthquake survivors. Nic highlighted Le Monde’s TikTok strategy to engage new audiences while Heinrichs shared ARD Tagesschau’s work on a new youth-centred news format. “It's crucial to address an information need that exists and not what you think people should have,” she said. | Watch | Read 7 strategies to counter news avoidance

  • At a separate panel, Rasmus Nielsen, Benjamin Toff presented the findings of his book Avoiding the News, in which they analyse the reasons behind consistent news avoidance and explore some ways journalists can address it. | A thread summarising the talk | An excerpt of the book

8. Journalism by humans still has crucial value in the age of generative AI. Julia Angwin, Meredith Broussard and Dhruv Mehrotra stood up for high-quality, deeply reported pieces at a panel by Courtney Radsch. They stressed that there are aspects of journalism that generative AI cannot successfully reproduce. 

Angwin and Broussard argued against AI companies taking large amounts of news articles and even books as training data for their models without the authors’ knowledge or consent. Even media companies’ deals with AI platforms such as the ones done by AP, Le Monde, PRISA and Axel Springer risk not fairly compensating journalists. “I'm worried this turns us into unpaid workers for the most profitable companies in the world and I view this as unfair,” said Angwin, who spoke about this in this interview we recently published. The panellists also said that a lot of generative output doesn't meet the accuracy standards that journalism requires, and often needs extensive editing by humans at this stage.  | Watch | Read our interview with Julia Angwin

9. Fact-checking is evolving and is more relevant than ever. Despite being faced with a tsunami of mis- and disinformation to counter, as well as scepticism of the efficacy of the practice, and sometimes even hostility from those in power, fact-checkers are still doing important work, argued a panel featuring fact-checkers such as Lee Mwiti from Africa Check and Tai Nalon from Aos Fatos, and hosted by Marie Bohner from AFP. Lucas Graves from the University of Wisconsin said that there’s been a marked shift from fact-checkers primarily focusing on checking statements by politicians, to a much greater emphasis on debunking online hoaxes, driven by the outlets’ partnerships with platforms. 

As social platforms are not a source of news for so many people, BBC Verify journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh said, it’s important for regular reporters and fact-checkers to work much more closely. Sardarizadeh stressed the importance of being aware of the role social media plays in many people’s news diets. “The days of people sitting in front of the television and watching the news or buying the paper are over,” he said. “Today people go to social media. So if you do not know what is going on on these platforms, you do not know the value of this work.” 

Sardarizadeh said journalists often fall prey to disinformation too and argued that “we would see many more mistakes than we do if fact-checkers did not exist.” All the speakers agreed that it’s worth debunking hoaxes and incorrect statements. “If you can change one mind by doing fact-checking, you should be proud of your work,” Sardarizadeh said. | Panel details

10. Independent Arab media is a counterweight to Western narratives of Gaza. At a panel on covering the war in Gaza, Alia Ibrahim, co-founder of Daraj, explained how her newsroom set up a long-term strategy following the 7 October attacks. It would involve covering the war but also explaining and contextualising what was happening. Lina Atallah, publisher of Egypt’s Mada Masr, said their main aim was to “run a very vigorous newsgathering operation”, often using the talents of journalists who were forced to leave Gaza. 

The panel stressed that their newsrooms are specifically geared to addressing some of the shortcomings of Western media. Megaphone’s Jean Kassir said: “Our understanding of journalistic balance is to balance out the asymmetry that exists within the global media system that has resulted in the dehumanisation of an entire population.” Ibrahim explained she and her colleagues at Daraj felt they were “part of the problem” while working in mainstream media, particularly during the Arab Spring.

The panel agreed that the war has created a paradigm shift in how we think about journalism as well as wider questions about democracy and accountability. “This war is not just an event we’re covering, it’s quickly becoming a lens through which we see the whole world,” Atallah said. | Watch

Cool Projects

Helping journalists finesse their prompts. Chris Moran from the Guardian offered a sneak preview of a Chrome extension that his team has created to show the newsroom the promise and peril of generative AI. Named after a seabird, GuiLLeMot is a prompt management system which allows users to click and execute a bunch of prompts the Guardian team has refined in the last year. “This extension helps users understand the limits of this technology,” Moran said. “It’s an experimental playground which gives you a palette of suggested prompts. For example, one of the prompts can give you playful headlines for pieces.” He also introduced PuLLM, an AI tool that allows users to interrogate a chatbot about the Guardian’s standards both in audio and text. “This is something that might be useful when you are in the field. Any public document or regulation could be used in the same way,” Moran said. | Watch

Cloning the voice of a dead journalist. Ezra Eeman, Strategy and Innovation Director at Dutch public broadcaster NPO, explained how they had cloned the voice of investigative journalist Willem Oltmans for this podcast on the 60th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Oltmans, who died in 2004, interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother right after the magnicide and followed different aspects of the case. “We asked his family for permission to recreate his voice and they accepted,” he said. “We have all his diaries and cloning his voice made the narrative much more gripping. He was very outspoken when he was alive, and his family thought this was kind of fitting.” | Watch

AI for tweets. Claudia Báez, co-founder of Colombian investigative outlet Cuestión Pública, presented the project her organisation developed as part of the AIJC accelerator programme for small newsrooms to develop AI tools. The tool, known as Odín, produces a draft of an X thread that a human edits before publishing. These are tasks that used to take up to three hours and now can be done in 15 minutes. | Watch

An Afghan news outlet defying the Taliban censorship. Despite the Taliban’s complete crackdown, there is still a space for journalism in the country, but it is closing very fast. “The root of good journalism has to be fed. We have to use that opportunity before it’s too late,” said Lotfullah Najafizada, CEO of Afghan TV channel Amu TV, in conversation with AFP’s Phil Chetwynd. Amu TV operates on a hybrid system where anonymous journalists in Afghanistan send stories to editors and producers abroad, who beam the stories back into the country reaching millions via satellite. The Taliban don’t yet have the technology to jam the signal. Being based outside of the country means the regime can’t easily summon or approach editors to demand stories get taken down. 

While Amu TV is based abroad, Najafizada says he is not a big fan of the word ‘exile’ as it sounds very political: “We’re journalists when we’re in the country and when we’re not in the country. The landscape of politics has changed but not the ethics of journalism. The Taliban hate us, but we call them for every single story. That is different from some outlets based outside their country who are advocating for regime change.” | Watch

An investigation into a gendered asylum process. A series of stories by Lighthouse Reports focuses on the unique pressures, including domestic violence and forced marriage, facing Syrian women asylum seekers in Denmark. Journalists used data from the Danish immigration service and Refugee Appeals Board and revealed a system that had failed women due to its design by and for men. “There is always a gender angle,” says Megan Clement. | Panel

Local news on WhatsApp. At a panel moderated by Nieman Lab’s Hanaa’ Tameez, Juan Andrés Muñoz spoke about Pamplonews, a news outlet covering the Spanish city of Pamplona mostly through daily updates on WhatsApp. “We focus on service journalism and try to give people information that is useful for their lives,” Muñoz said. “Being on people’s WhatsApp inbox is critical. People open the app several times a day and you’re embedded in the same place where they receive messages from their families, with no algorithm in the middle.” | Watch | Read a piece about the project

News via postcard. New York nonprofit newsroom The City sent out public service journalism via postcard to residents who would otherwise be disengaged from the news. Ellen Heinrichs of the Bonn Institute shared this example of a newsroom actively engaging with its community as a way of countering news avoidance. | Watch

Figures speakers shared

Brazilian fact-checking website Aos Fatos identified over 6,000 false or misleading statements made by former president Jair Bolsonaro in his four years in office, co-founder and executive director Tai Nalon said. · Watch | Managing Editor Tracy Weber said that one-quarter of ProPublica’s $45 million annual revenue comes from small donors. · Watch | Up to 98% of the revenue of French newspaper Mediapart comes from reader revenue, said its new President Carine Fouteau. The site, founded in 2008, has more than 220,000 subscribers and has been profitable from 2010. · Watch | The NYT Audio app was downloaded over a million times in the first six months, said Mukul Devichand, Head of Programming of the app. · Watch |  The Washington Informer social media manager Desmond Barnes said that his newspaper’s website has seen a 60% increase in pageviews after it integrated in their CMS an AI tool for pre-publish SEO optimisation. · Watch | Romanian investigative outlet Recorder publishes around 25 long-form documentaries every year and 90% of their revenue comes from readers. · Watch | Up to 72% of fact-checking organisations reported facing harassment in 2023 because of their fact-checking work, AFP's Marie Boehner said quoting this report from the IFCN.

Quotes that made us think

Julie Pace, AP editor-in-chief, on how they are using AI: “AI is not a replacement for journalists. There’s a crucial human element built into the work we do, and this human element will continue going forward. At AP we are not transmitting any images created or altered by generative AI. We analyse any material we get and ask the same questions we ask when we get any user generated content.” Pace introduced Merlin, an AI generated search tool that makes searching on the AP archive much more accurate. “Merlin pinpoints key moments in our videos to exact second and can be used for older archive material that lacks modern keywords or metadata,” Pace said.

Nicaraguan journalist Carlos F. Chamorro, editor of Confidencial, on keeping his newsroom alive in exile: “We are working for now, but we don’t have a budget for 2025. We can’t plan for the long run. We are working to protect our sources and our journalists. But we are less competitive and it’s tough to keep our newsroom together. People leave and take other jobs or leave journalism. We have to adapt to this condition of permanent exile and we need resources to deal with uncertainty and to provide some kind of stability to our newsrooms.” | Watch | Read Chamorro’s Reuters Memorial Lecture

Spanish journalist Enrique Anarte, TikTok lead at TRF’s Openly, on journalists being news influencers: “I don’t see what I do as very different from what other journalists did on Twitter, when they were not only sharing what they wrote but analysing the situation. In the end, even if you are not sharing your opinion you are helping people understand the world. To me that’s a form of influence. And I’m doing it without compromising my organisation’s standards of impartiality.” | Watch

Sevgil Musaieva, Ukrayinska Pravda editor-in-chief, on how Ukrainian journalists are holding their own government to account: “A turning point for journalism in Ukraine was this big investigation into procurement in the army in February 2023. It led to some people being fired or resigning. Authorities understood that journalism matters and audiences understood that journalism can change things. | Watch

Ajit Niranjan, European environment correspondent from the Guardian, on defining the fossil fuel industry much more widely: “We should be careful about how narrowly we define the fossil fuel industry. The suppliers who are drilling down oil or digging up coal can make a pretty credible argument that if they don’t dig it up, somebody else would. Of course, that doesn’t justify lobbying or the huge amounts of money they spend trying to influence government policy. But if airlines or car companies are not also transitioning, the problem is not going to be solved. There’s a lot of journalists reporting on Exxon or Shell [but not so many covering] what RyanAir or what cement and steel makers are doing.” | Watch

Sam Gregory from WITNESS on how to think about an AI-mediated news ecosystem: “We are trying to understand how to defend reality in a much more complex audiovisual environment. In an election cycle you may use AI as part of your work but you need to defend the integrity and authenticity of election communications and other things. So you want to know whether something was created by a human but also whether it was edited or redacted. It’s important to stress that we are living in a non-binary world in the long run. We can’t say: ‘This is real and this is synthetic.’ It’s going to be a mixed media world in which there are a lot of interactions and it’s very important to recognise that.” | Watch

Meera Selva from Internews on how to support journalists forced into exile: “We have worked in Afghanistan, Ukraine, Myanmar & Sudan. We no longer think of these crises as emergencies. They are the norm we need to prepare for in our programming and funding.” | Panel details

Supriya Sharma, Executive Editor of, on the upcoming elections in India: “There’s this media capture where voters are day in and out being bombarded with propaganda. Even though their own personal lives tell them that things aren’t looking good, the media is telling them that India’s stature is rising on the world scene, to vote for Modi.”  | Watch

Russian journalist Massa Gessen on how strongmen weaponise the past: “Autocracies depend on lies. All contemporary autocrats promise to take their countries to some imaginary past. Preserving an accurate and detailed record of the past is one of the ultimate acts of resistance.” | Watch

Finnish journalist Laura Saarikoski on how to cover the far right: “Don’t report on any outrageous statements on social media. You shouldn’t try to get clicks by giving publicity to every crazy statement. Report on their deeds, not their words. Report on their roots and try to understand why there is so much support for opinions once not considered politically correct. As a reporter you should pursue the truth without agenda and limit your social media use when you are under attack.” | Watch

Fergal Keane, the BBC war correspondent who stepped down following a PTSD diagnosis, on his own experiences: “I went to the wars, in large part, because of the demons inside me. My childhood made me perfectly suited to that role. The number of people I met in warzones who come from fucked-up childhoods is astounding. I don’t think a survey has ever been done, but maybe it should be. [Frontline addiction] is the only addiction people actually praise you for.” | Watch

AI expert David Caswell on the main challenge he observed small newsrooms facing regarding AI projects: “The biggest barrier was a confidence barrier. They absolutely could do it, they did it. But all of them had to overcome a certain lack of confidence that they could do it early on.” | Watch

Tim Sebastian, host of DW’s Conflict Zone and former host of BBC’s HardTalk, on interviewing politicians: “All the work has been done before you get to the studio. I go in with what I call a charge sheet: the questions I feel the public needs answers to. A lot of people we interview should have been in a criminal court, and this may be the only place where you see people answering for some of the most egregious criminal charges.” | Watch

Mukul Devichand from the New York Times on the value of audio to audiences and journalists alike: “The share of human attention that is going to digital audio continues to grow. I can see why. I love audio. It’s a fabulous medium for ideas, depth, intimacy and a fabulous place to tell our stories.” | Watch

AI expert Natali Helberger on regulating AI: “The role of regulation is to make these tools trustworthy and reliable, and to make sure they respect the rights of others. But regulation is not only laws but also internal policies and choosing the tools you work with carefully. Newsrooms should figure out which models have been trained responsibly, and not just go with the loudest one.” | Watch

Our own Mitali Mukherjee on the need for a more comprehensive approach to climate reporting: “There doesn’t seem to be enough will at the senior level in newsrooms and that needs to change. It’s not just about the story metrics. It’s about the fact that climate needs to be inserted into every story and we’re not seeing that enough.” | Watch

Juan Manuel Benítez, Professor of Local Journalism at Columbia University, on what relevant climate journalism looks like: “Climate reporting means different things. As a local reporter working in New York City, for me climate change was trash, flooded playgrounds, transportation and heat in the summer. I was always trying to connect the dots to make the average person be part of the solution to climate change. If we don’t guide our audience towards the solutions they get disconnected.” | Watch

Egyptian journalist Lina Atallah on Gaza’s journalists: “The young journalists of Gaza are able to teach us what journalism means out of having covered this war while being displaced and experiencing famine.” | Watch

Lebanese journalist Jean Kassir on journalistic balance: “For us, having journalistic balance is having a platform that exists in the Middle East that can, a week before 7 October, be extremely critical of Hezbollah waging a campaign against Syrian refugees and LGBT [communities] in Lebanon and the week after understanding that the priority today, editorially, is to use all our resources to cover the genocide [in Gaza] and to contribute modestly to shifting the narrative globally to understand that this needs to stop.” | Watch

Eliza Anyangwe on the threats faced by journalists who cover women and LGBTQ+ issues: “When we think of journalist safety, we think of protecting journalists who go into conflict zones but not journalists who cover gender.” | Talk details

Kenyan journalist Christine Mungai from Baraza Media Lab on attitudes of funding organisations: “Funding to do impactful work is really scarce. What’s abundant is training, mentorships, fellowships, capacity building, and that assumes the media ecosystem in a place like Kenya needs help to develop. The reality is that we’re there, we’re doing the work, we understand the landscape. What we don’t have is just money, and money is not expertise or knowledge. Money does not come with any insight or wisdom or even information. It really annoys me that folks with money assume that they know things. But money is not knowledge.” | Watch

Shristi Jaswal, the Pulitzer Center’s AI Accountability Fellow, on the importance of the tech beat: “I used to cover politics, I was never a tech journalist. But when I saw how tech was acting on an everyday basis with politics and with so many other beats, it became so huge within the politics domain itself, that’s when I decided that tech must be given its due coverage. When we say ‘tech’ it’s not that we’re covering some new gadgets, it’s really how tech is having an effect on the everyday life of people.” | Watch

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