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Notes from a News Impact Summit
Over the years, journalists have experienced significant changes in the way they cover and transmit stories, mainly due to the development of new technologies. For this reason, newsrooms have taken this as an opportunity to innovate, communicate and engage with users in different and exceptional ways.
Under the theme “Spotlight on the Mediterranean”, the last edition of the News Impact Summit, which took place in Rome on 23 May, offered a unique opportunity to know more about innovative initiatives and approaches coming from media houses from the Mediterranean region and beyond.
Media outlets such as Nice-Matin (France), eldiario.es (Spain) and RaiNews24 (Italy) are developing new ways of reporting, engaging with the audience and being economically sustainable in order to adapt and make the most out of today’s to be part of a new digital era. However, in countries like Turkey or Middle East and North Africa region, the work of a journalist is challenging and they have to seek ways of promoting online trust and the verification of news.
Nice-Matin is an example of how media is creating new and different ways to engage with their audience and spread information. Nice-Matin has placed a strong bet on Solutions Journalism, based on identifying problems, asking questions and reporting on the constructive side of the stories, the answers to the problem.
They decided to display a “Solutions” section on their homepage site, to show all kinds of ‘solution’ news. At first, they were not sure about what the outcomes of using solution journalism would be, but after its launch, , it has proved to be a success and has increased Nice-Matin’s subscribers in more than 70% in one year.
Their most recent innovation comes in the form of a chatbot called Tibot. Tibot is a robot, with whom users can start a conversation and ask him about politics, economics, sports and much more. The Chatbot was launched trough Nice-Matin’s Facebook page and people can contact the bot through the messaging service to receive instant up-to-date news.
Improving communication with the audience is also part of the Spanish digital newspaper eldiario.es’ DNA. They have a small team called Lab, which is in charge of creating new engaging formats like gamification, data visualization and video. Esther Alonso, Marketing and Developing Director, explains that for them innovation comes in three ends: organizational model, financial model and entrepreneurial spirit.
First of all, their organizational model comes from a combination of a hierarchical horizontal model and a vertical structure which gathers different areas of expertise to meet and work together on different projects. Secondly, their unique financial model is based on the creation and monetization of of their readers’ community. Around 20,000 readers contribute with financial support to ensure an editorial and economic independence. The last way of innovation comes from failure; eldiario.es understands that failure is the road to success, and because of this they promote a constant testing and piloting of new products to come up with effective and new ideas.
Yet, like many European media, for RaiNews24 — Italy’s 24-hour all news television channel — reaching a full integration with the web is still one of the main obstacles towards building interaction and a better engagement with the people. Nevertheless, their innovative view has given them the opportunity to work with digital tools such as live video sources and social media to maintain a strong connection with the audience. Being part of the digital world has also motivated the media outlet to launch a mobile app, which offers text and video formats, with on-demand videos, live streaming and push notifications. Keeping up with the latest technological developments and with the audience’s demands is a clear need for RaiNews24, and as Marina Sapia — coordinator of the International desk — explains, ‘You have to empower journalists in the field with technology to make sure they are connected’. But the question is: How?
Working together with the audience and knowing what they want is a crucial factor for Montaser Marai, a journalist and documentary filmmaker working for Al Jazeera Media Institute. Marai covered the Egyptian uprising in 2011 that brought down Hosni Mubarak. He covered this event for nearly two weeks, hiding in an empty apartment with a constant fear that he would get arrested by the police or the military. Living as a journalist wasn’t easy and years later after this event, the new military-led regime has created a critical situation for journalists that has arrested many reporters and created a fearful environment. Because of this situation against journalists, Marai has explained that he won’t risk going back to Egypt and will stay in Doha, where he is currently working.
“You can’t be 100% sure. Journalism is about taking risks” — Montaser Marai
After his experience, Marai began to create a strong network of citizen journalism with Al Jazeera. He encourages people to share videos, calls and so on, to collaborate with the creation of journalistic pieces. Initiatives such as the Al Jazeera blog show the importance of sharing what is going on in the world from different perspectives.
Where verification of user-generated content (UGC) has become a new challenge, Al Jazeera Media Institute has also trained more than 150 journalists on how to verify news. To continue with their vision to guide and train journalists, they recently published the handbook: Finding the Truth Amongst the Fakes. The publication gathers case studies, tips and lessons learned, with the the main objectives to guide journalists on how to better use and verify UGC.
The importance and need of verifying news was also discussed by Turkish journalist Mehmet Atakan Foça. During the turkish coup, Foça found several fake images that started circulating in social media alluding to the situation in Turkey but using images from past events such as the Egyptian revolution in 2011 and the bombing in Gaza. As a leading fact checker, he stopped people from continuing to share these fake news and started promoting a culture of verifying information. He currently works investigating digital data verification and translated the Verification Handbook. He is also the founder of teyit.org, Turkey’s bilingual verification website.
Especially in the countries where media is oppressed by the governments like Turkey and some other countries in MENA region, journalists need extra caution in protecting themselves and their sources when handling sensitive information. Many tools, including ones from Google such as Project Shield, are made available to secure the news sites from DDoS attacks. Other simple but effective ways of maintaining an online presence safe can be done by configuring a Google account to, for instance; receive a SMS when you log in from an unknown computer and deactivate geo-localization. The efforts to make security and sharing of online information easier also comes from sites like First Draft News, which provides with practical guidance on how to find, verify and publish content.
But the challenges around innovation in journalism still prevail. Newsrooms are still trying to adapt to new digital technologies, trends and necessities. Creating a newsroom culture, finding new business models and reaching and engaging the audience are some of the challenges that newsrooms are still facing. For many years, newsrooms considered print newspapers a priority. It’s only been in recent years that they have invested significant resources (money and people) to create a more digitally-driven attitude. And, as News Impact Rome showed us, training people in security, advanced techniques and digital tools, creates a digital culture that can accelerate positive changes.
Why not join us at one of the 2017 News Impact Summits to find out more about newsroom innovation?