At the start of July I was one of 100 delegates from more than 50 countries to descend upon Scotland’s capital Edinburgh for Future News Worldwide 2018.
Future News Worldwide is an annual three-day conference run by the British Council which aims to draw together talented journalists from across the world to network and learn about the industry.
As someone who has wanted to go into journalism for a number of years, it was a real privilege to have been selected for a programme that I know is immensely competitive, as it allowed me to meet a wonderfully talented group of people in the wonderful surroundings of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, which opened in 2004.
This year’s programme began on Wednesday 4th July with talks from Jackie Killeen and Mark Wood, although I unfortunately had to miss both because I had made an error with dates and had double-booked myself. I did it make it in for the Wednesday evening and was able to get settled at the accommodation before Thursday’s packed day of talks and discussions.
My late arrival did make the opening moments of Thursday slightly more difficult, as all the shy elements of my personality came to the fore and I suddenly felt very awkward. However, that soon dissipated as I was able to talk to some of my fellow delegates over a nice continental breakfast before heading into the first talk. The talk was given by Kenyan journalist Catherine Gicheru, who spoke at length about her work with Code for Kenya and the ways in which we, as journalists, should be looking to challenge the realms of traditional journalism and aiming to provide our audiences with actionable information.
If Catherine’s talk gave me some food for thought, the following talk by Melissa Bell from Vox completely filled my plate. I closely follow a number of blogs that come under the SBNation umbrella, whilst I also have great admiration for the way Vox covers the news. Her main focus was what she described as the ‘WTF Problem’ – the idea that most major news providers assume such a level of prior knowledge that most of us are often left not actually knowing the original premise of a story.
After a slight interval we had our third talk with Lucy Freeman of the Media Defence Initiative. In truth press freedom is not something I’d previously thought too much about, largely because of a narrow-minded view that it didn’t pose too much of an issue to me and the areas I want to work in. However, sitting in a room with such a diverse group of people from around the world made me realise that it is a far bigger issue than I’d ever come to recognise and is one that I have a duty to help improve. Journalism is like a big family, not just an assortment of lone wolves. We have a duty to help each other tell the stories that matter and hold the powers that be to account and ensure that people have a safe environment to do that in.
That talk also made me realise what was so special about the whole conference. The learning experiences were incredible but it was the opportunity to meet so many talented young people from a great range of backgrounds that was so memorable. I met people from every corner of the globe, with interests across all areas of journalism, and they all had different stories to tell. Such unique experiences live with you for a lifetime and are incredibly hard to replicate.
Lunch was swiftly followed by a series of workshops, something that allowed us to split into our three respective groups. The first one was with Facebook and it was quite interesting to hear what they are trying to do to stamp out ‘Fake News’ and provide people with accurate content after their issues over the past year. We also had talks from Tom Felle, a lecturer at City University, who gave a really informative talk on verifying sources, which is increasingly difficult and often taken for granted in this era of social media, and Matt Cooke from the Google News initiative. Cooke’s talk was probably the most informative of the day, as he provided us with a number of useful tools, tips and tricks to make the most out of our browser.
Day 1 then drew to a close and after a brief break in our accommodation to freshen up, it was dinner time. It was nice to see everyone all dressed up and ready for the walk (the very long walk!) up to ‘The Hub’ on the Royal Mile. As someone who goes to University in Scotland, the presence of a bagpiper in full kilt wasn’t too much of a shock but it clearly was a real eye-opener for some of the delegates from quite far afield.
The dinner itself was good, capped off by a keynote speech from Alessandra Galloni from Reuters. Her experience and skill shone through and she really managed to keep people’s attention after such a long day. A highlight of the evening’s proceedings were the pre-assigned tables, which allowed me to really get to know some of the delegates I’d not had the chance to speak to during the day. I was next to Rachel McTavish, STV newsreader and host of the conference, and a young man called Fahri from Indonesia. Fahri’s experiences with press freedom, or the severe lack thereof, shocked me, whilst I was able to learn a lot from Rachel and gain some valuable contacts to use at my student newspaper.
Some of us went for drinks after the dinner in the famous Edinburgh Grassmarket, which did lead to some heavy heads on the Friday morning, but I was raring to go for another busy day.
Friday’s first talk was by BBC journalist Carrie Gracie. Her passion was obvious, as she got quite choked up on a number of occasions. Obviously she has been in the news a lot recently and she provided a valuable analogy for us to take away ‘Have a compass, have a map’. After her talk, which seemed all too brief, we then had a session on media ethics with Donald Martin, editor-in-chief of The Herald and head of Newsquest Scotland. Some of the questions we were posed were really challenging, but were good in the sense they gave us the chance to really think about what we would do. I was lucky enough to have a good chat with Mr Martin afterwards about the future of the Scottish media, something I’m deeply interested in, and he was able to provide me with answers. They weren’t overwhelmingly positive, but they were what I expected.
Both before and after lunch we had panel discussions, involving some of the delegates. These were good as they allowed them to express their thoughts, aims and fears about the future and marked a distinct change of pace from the other talks we’d had over the two days. Three other talks took place on the Friday, perhaps the most interesting from my point of view was that given by David Pratt, a veteran Foreign Correspondent for both The Herald and the BBC. He was incredibly engaging and wasn’t afraid to tell some hard truths about the pros and cons of freelancing, how bias is actually useful for his work and that if we don’t have an ‘insatiable curiousity’, we won’t get anywhere.
Mary Hockaday’s closing talk was interesting, but the highlight for me was the question posed by South Korean delegate Min-gu Cho. He asked quite clearly about translators not getting credited properly on the BBC website and it was a question she couldn’t answer, but one that clearly showed he’d done his research.
After her talk though, it hit me. It was all over. The goodbyes had started. An amazing two-day experience, one in which I had learned so much, was over in a flash. I wholeheartedly enjoyed the experience, but as I got my train back to London on the Saturday, I could only think of how incredible it must have been for those from outside of the UK. Many of them face incredible challenges in their home countries and travelled for more than a day to be in Edinburgh, and they will take away with them, as I have, incredible memories and motivation for the coming months.
Looking back now, I only have one request. Well, two really. The first is that I wish that I could do it all over again, giving me more time to meet and learn alongside some wonderful young minds. The other one is less selfish – if you are reading this, or are in the same position I was a few months ago deliberating whether to apply, don’t. It doesn’t need a second thought. Do it. This is such a great opportunity provided by the British Council and you won’t regret doing it. Not one bit.