Our best of from International Journalism Festival 2016

The 10th edition of the International Journalism Festival was held in Perugia, the capital of the marvellous region of Umbria, Italy - famous for its truffles and nice weather. Journalists from around the world gathered there for the four-day conference.

News Labs’ Basile Simon, Jacqui Maher, and Sylvia Tippmann were there to attend the event and participate in panels.

Here’s their best-of.

Notable panels and chats

“Does the rise of closed networks spell the end for social newsgathering?”

A panel discussion moderated by Google’s Matt Cooke with An Xiao Mina from Meedan, BBC World Service Mobile editor Trushar Barot, and Mandy Jenkins, news director at Storyful explored how messaging and chat apps like Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Viber, and WeChat may change social media monitoring, discovery and verification of material and interaction with the audience. And what are the technical challenges and ethics of using content sourced from these spaces?

An Xiao focussed on WeChat, which is the most popular messaging app in China. It is used for paying on the go, hailing taxis and everything else, too and is therefore in everybody’s hand when it comes to exchanging resources for breaking news. Using QR codes to ‘befriend’ one another, it allows for a level of verification that isn’t available in open networks.

Trushar Barot made a case for WhatsApp as a way to engage with BBC audiences. He argued that because a mobile phone number as the only requirement, this network allows interaction with people in the developing world, some of whom may be deterred by the hurdle of having an email address to sign up for other services. The transmission of a mobile number also gives journalists the chance to simply call back and verify a source.

All three panelists and the great majority of the audience agreed that closed networks won’t stop social newsgathering. It may even offer a better way of verification and establish a ‘more personal’ contact to the audience. “It is not impossible to do newsgathering this way”, says Mandy Jenkins, “but it requires a lot more work.”

“Journalism after Snowden”

Emily Bell put together another fantastic panel of high-profile journalists to discuss, over two years after they first hit The Guardian, what impact the Snowden revelations have had on journalism practice.

Ewen MacAskill, the Guardian’s defence and intelligence correspondent, reflected on the topic in the light of the “Panama Papers” published only days before. One of the most interesting consequences of the Snowden leak was, in his opinion, the creation of alliances of journalists and publications to tackle the reporting work ; as well as the use among journalists and their sources of strong encryption and encrypted chat apps. Finally, the public’s engagement with the Panama Papers proves to him that “hard news still matter.”

Der Spiegel’s Marcel Rosenbach, a veteran of all things leaks in German media, explained how his publication covered the Snowden revelations at the time, by publishing video explainers and showing the real victims of a surveillance that could be perceived as something quite abstract. Echoing MacAskill, he sang the praises of WhatsApp turning on end-to-end encryption for a billion people thanks to their work with Open Whisper Systems. His work in the last two years has been centered around the will to offer readers a counter-narrative to “an easy win for law enforcement” in the debate about freedom versus “the promise of security.”

Working in a networked way between news organisations, Rosenbach said, allows spreading of the risks, sharing of skills, an increased reach, and different presentations of the information.

Launching new products from the Newsroom

Innovation and new formats are high on the agenda for most news organisations, everybody wants to be the ‘first who did it’. How do you integrate this process with the business-as-usual, the daily reporting, and how do you make wild ideas into products?

Moderated by Celeste LeCompte from ProPublica, Aron Pilhofer (digital editor at the Guardian), former NPR’s news executive Madhulika Sikka, Tom Standage (The Economist), and Erin Millar, (co-founder and CEO Discourse Media) discussed the way their organisations approach innovation.

“Ideas should come from editorial”, says Standage. While he supports the clear division “between church and state” (between business and editorial), he thinks people should have the freedom to roam between them to allow innovation to move forward. Pilhofer agrees with the exchange between units, which may build the “connective tissue” between product and journalism. All panelists agreed that innovation is not necessarily blue-sky thinking, it can actually happen in “boring” incremental steps. So, at which point should we put the ‘product-hat’ on an innovation project? Call it product? - “From day #1.”, the panelist said in one voice.