The Future of News is Collective and Inspiring

Future News Worldwide 2019 delegates from Ireland and Northern Ireland.

At the start of the year, I had family and friends sending me a link to the British Council website, telling me to apply for a journalism program they had going on, telling me I would be “perfect for it.” Fast forward a couple of months prior to this – I had just graduated, and was applying for graduate opportunities all over the place. Journalism is a hard sector to break in to, and it seemed each opportunity advertised needed an insane amount of experience. I had faced months of rejection, so when I went on to the British Council website and applied for their Future News Worldwide conference, I didn’t have high hopes.  

In April, I received an email accepting me onto the FNW19 conference. Obviously, I was shocked, believing I would never have got onto the program – but I became doubly shocked when I realised I was 1 out of 100 young journalists picked from around the world, selected from a pool of 3,000 applications. On the 16th and 17th July 2019, we were based in the Thomson Reuter’s headquarters in London, listening to and learning from some of the world’s best journalists. 

At the reception dinner in Reuters HQ, 15th July.

Activities started the day before, on the evening of 15th July. We knew we had reception dinner and drinks lined up, but didn’t know the venue. When the bus pulled up outside the Reuters HQ in Canary Wharf, you could feel the excitement in the air. This was a fantastic way to begin the week. We were able to network with all the speakers lined up for the coming days, as well as staff from Reuters, previous FNW delegates, British Council staff, UK Foreign Office staff, and media makers from around the country.  

Me outside the Thomson Reuters HQ in London on the first day of FNW19 Conference.

The conference began with an early start on the 16th July (surprisingly my night-owl self didn’t feel too bad waking up at 6am), and our first speaker was Nick Tattersall, the Managing Editor News for EMEA at Reuters. Nick has reported from all around the world for Reuters, including from war-zones at the beginning of his career, so his insight into the changing world of reporting in a post-truth era was enlightening. In particular, his statement that “the future of news, and trust of news, relies on boots on the ground” stands out to me. In a world where social media means everyone is a journalist, we still need those expert reporters on the ground to ensure truth prevails. 

Next up was Sreenivasan Jain, managing editor of New Delhi Television. Not knowing much about the media and the political landscape in India, this talk was really interesting for me. Focus was given towards the press freedom (or lack of such) for journalists in India due to the influence of corrupt politicians. Following this came words from Christina Lamb, the Sunday Times Chief Foreign Correspondent and a true journalistic hero of mine. She spoke candidly of her career as a foreign reporter, and her time spent living and working in Afghanistan. 

On the first day of the conference, I took part in a tour of the Reuters newsroom, which provided a great insight into the daily running of one of the world’s biggest news organisations. Joanna Webster, the Managing Editor for Strategy and Operations for EMEA at Reuters conducted the tours and shed light on how each branch of Reuters works together. After this, we launched into workshops with Google News Initiative, Facebook and Instagram to learn how to optimise these platforms for journalism. 

The first day was wrapped up with dinner and drinks on a boat on the River Thames, where speakers included Channel 4’s Jon Snow. Definitely one of the maddest experiences I’ve ever had, it is sure to be a night to remember. Jon Snow gave us advice on how to continue doing important journalistic work, while looking back at his own career with his characteristic wit and humour. 

The second day of the conference began with sore heads and an interesting talk from Taylor Nelson of the Solutions Journalism Network. This branch of journalism focuses on the importance of reporting on responses to social issues, and not just in explaining events as they happen. Up next was one of my favourite speakers of the conference, Nadine White of the Huffington Post. She spoke candidly of her experiences in journalism, and how she broke into the industry – highlighting to us the importance of using Twitter and social media to give yourself a voice. 

Following this, we broke off into groups to ‘Meet the Experts’. A favourite discussion of mine from this time was with Suyin Haynes, a Senior Reporter at TIME Magazine. She helped us with how to pitch articles to media platforms, and shared how she got into the industry. We then went on to listen to discussion from Aliaume Leroy and Benjamin Strick of BBC Africa Eye on how they use open source techniques to fuel investigative journalism. 

The conference finished up with the inspiring words of Sonny Swe, cofounder of the Myammar Times who spent 8 years in prison for his work in providing a journalistic platform. He spoke of surviving his time in prison, and continuing his fight for press freedom on his release. 

Future News Worldwide 2019 gave me a fantastic opportunity to learn how to become a great journalist from the best in the business. It also gave me the opportunity to learn from 99 other delegates from around the world, most of whom I would have never met otherwise. The atmosphere of the trip, both during the conference and in our spare time, was the stand out feeling of the experience for me.

Often as young journalists we work in a cycle of competitiveness, however this program had a feeling of community attached to it. Even now, weeks on from the end of FNW19, we are all still in contact and supporting and aiding each other’s work.

After taking part in FNW19, I can safely say the future of news is in safe hands. 

Delegates at our hotel on the first night of the conference.

Keeping Up With the New Year

‘New year, new me’ – It’s the mantra everyone knows. A new year is supposed to propel you into new thinking, adopting new habits, or building upon past ones. It’s a bunch of pressure, sure, but it helps you to promise yourself that you will do better, that this year will be better than the last.

January feels like it lasts for about a year, and for this reason I felt as though I got a lot done this January. I got myself my first car, I read three books (a big deal for me, I’ve always been a super slow reader), I went to the gym three times a week, I started planning a bunch of article ideas I want to pump out in the next few months, and I applied to a bunch of jobs and internships. The ‘new year, new me’ vibe was very much in place, and very much working.

February comes around like a hammer though. The determination of January starts to dwindle; February always goes too fast and always feels a bit rushed. Whereas last month I was reading pretty much a book a week, I’m not even a third of the way through a book a week into the month. I’ve started going to the gym less, telling myself I feel too tired from work instead of just pushing through it. But I still feel determined, I still feel as though I can change things for the better.

The point is, I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. Sure, it’s good to be motivated and get stuff done; but it’s similarly okay and perfectly normal to feel like you need to take the backseat on things for a while. I still want to achieve all the goals I’ve set in place, I still have a spiralling and growing list of things I want to do, but the difference is I’m not forcing myself to do all these things by a set time and date.

It’s all about upholding and keeping new habits, not just doing them to do them, but doing them for fulfilment. I’m trying to keep up with it and enjoy it instead of focusing on rushing through it all.


A Month to Bring It Home

Politrippers with Senator Kamala Harris in Miami Gardens, FL.

Florida has always been a political troublemaker. The most prominent example of such was the 2000 Presidential Election, wherein Al Gore lost to George W. Bush by 537 votes in Florida. A prominent Purple State (also known as a Swing State – a state where the vote is often split between Republican and Democrat), Florida has long been one of the most exciting arenas for politics and political debate in America.

So from October to November 2018, I had the opportunity to fly a few thousand miles from Ireland to experience the Mid-Term Elections from Miami, Florida. I travelled alone, but met up with a group organised by Politrip – a political travel group currently in its first year. We had a training day a month or two prior in Belfast – various other training days were held across the UK – but this was the first time we were all meeting.

With Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, FL-26’s incumbent Congresswoman

For the month we worked on Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s Congressional campaign in Florida’s 26th Congressional District, and we also worked on Andrew Gillum’s Gubernational campaign. Experiencing campaigns at two different levels of government was an incredible experience. Seeing the differences and similarities between how each campaign was run, how volunteers and paid canvassers acted, was inspiring. Each campaign office we worked with was so committed to change, so hopeful that America could lift itself from the trudges of Trump, that it inspired hope that anything is possible.

Whilst in Miami, we had some once-in-a-lifetime experiences to meet some astounding politicians. Although we weren’t lucky enough to meet him, we went to see President Barack Obama speak at a Florida Democratic Party GOTV rally a few days before the election. We also got to meet House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, at a rally for democratic candidates in Miami. This whole event was potentially overshadowed by a raging Republican protest outside the building, an event that made national news and even received condemnation from Republicans.

Andrew Gillum speaking at a GOTV Rally in Miami, FL

President Barack Obama speaking at a GOTV Rally in Miami, FL

Most inspiring of all, however, was the opportunity we had to meet Senator Kamala Harris (pictured above), a politican hotly tipped to announce a 2020 Presidential candidacy. We met Senator Harris during a GOTV rally at Andrew Gillum’s Miami Gardens office, where office organiser Darnell introduced us as “the Irish kids.”

First days in the Andrew Gillum offices in Miami Gardens, FL

Experiencing American politics through acting and interacting within it and with those involved in it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime moment. It provided not only an amazing opportunity to live in a beautiful part of the country for a month, but showed grassroots political determination in action. Seeing politics work from the ground up showed how it should function in any democratic society; a series of debates, with organised action and continuous campaigning towards one common goal: instating change.

For a citizen of Northern Ireland, experiencing such political work in action was inspiring. It showed how things can be done, and led to questions of why does this not happen at home? Why is political action not widespread, and ultimately motivated to be better than we have been before?

Such widespread grassroots action in Northern Ireland is what we need for this country to progress, so it was incredible to see it working in action; and led to hopes of such change happening for us as well.

Sunset from Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign offices

Why I Meditate

When you think of meditation, what comes to your mind? Is it an image similar to the one pictured above, a serene image featuring a figure sitting cross-legged, with eyes closed?

For me, this is exactly how I pictured meditation. And I ultimately thought it wasn’t for me – until I turned it into a habit.

In my last post, I talked about how I’ve recently started reading a bunch, and about how that’s changed how I feel about myself and others. Meditation has influenced me in a similar way, and can be carried out just as regularly.

I stumbled upon meditation a few years ago, thanks to the Headspace app. It was during my first year of university, I was feeling anxious and restless, and online research suggested meditation was a simple way to deal with this. I really struggled with it. Sitting in one space for 5-10 minutes a day – when it was all too easy to reach for my phone and and distract my mind by scrolling through Twitter – felt impossible.

But simply distracting my mind from difficult feelings wasn’t sustainable. Fast-forward two years, and meditation has become a part of my daily routine. Every morning I sit for 10 minutes and do nothing. Think about nothing. I just let myself, and my mind, rest and grow. As a person who has always been a worrier, someone whos mind is always going 100 miles per hour, the discipline and clarity meditation has provided me is priceless.

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At the time of writing, I am on day 17 of my meditation streak. After stopping and restarting countless times, incorporating this important tool into my daily life took a lot of work, but it has undeinably been worth it. Forcing myself to overcome classic hurdles, such as finding a quiet space and time daily to focus on the here and now, has started a rhythm that is hard to break. As noted in an article written by Oliver Burkeman for The Guardian – you need to make yourself sit down and do the damn thing, even if it seems like the hardest thing in the world.

Burkeman continues to note that most people get distracted when they start meditating, but this is not a problem. Instead, noticing when you are distracted is the whole point of meditation. Regulating your attitude and behaviour, noting when your mind has strayed from the present moment – away from focusing on the breath, the body, or a current thought – is when the habit is formed:

“Getting back on the wagon, over and over, is the practice. And good luck doing that if you haven’t fallen off first.”

And what a habit it is to form. Daily basic meditations on Headspace, led by the calm voice of Andy Puddicombe, constantly urge you to keep in mind your motivation to meditate. It constantly keeps what you focused on what you want to achieve, the change you want to see in yourself. Personally, the reason I love to meditate is that it calms my mind; although I’m not even three weeks into regular meditation, already I’m seeing changes in my concentration levels. Similarly, I’m a lot calmer than I normally am – both mentally and physically, which has helped me feel a lot closer to the people I talk to regularly.

There’s also a whole bunch of long term changes meditation can bring around. I won’t go into detail on them here, but they include: reducing stress, improving sleep, reducing anxiety and depression, and it can even change your brain. Pretty impressive for sitting with your eyes closed for 10 minutes a day.

TL;DR: I recently started meditating regularly, and am seeing a bunch of positive changes already. So, if you’re thinking of taking the plunge into mindfulness – just do it!

Reading Saved My Brain Cells

When I finished university three months ago, a weird thing happened to me: I had an overwhelming bunch of free time all of a sudden. Due to this (and of spending most of it lying down bored), I started feeling lethargic; physically but, interestingly, mentally as well. The startling change from writing a dissertation – and focusing my brain every day for months as a result – to watching episode-upon-episode of ‘Friends’ while scanning my mobile for days on end started to become numbing.

I started to feel dumb as hell. So I set myself a promise and a challenge at the same time: I was going to read. A lot. A bunch of different genres, a mix of fact and fiction, as much and as often as possible. I hoped that doing so would kick-start my brain, and change me from being pacified by Netflix to being inquisitive about the world again.

I’ve never been the best at following up on challenges I make to myself, but I don’t think I’ve done too terribly so far. I have read 6 books since the end of May, and am currently half way through my 7th. At the end of this post you can find a list of all the books I’ve made my way through so far, and some on my to-read list – just in case you’re lacking some book recommendations!

To prepare for this post I delved into doing some research to see if there was a conclusive link between this uptake in reading and why I feel much more mentally alert and satisfied recently. Turns out, this is a common feeling when it comes to stepping up your levels of reading, but there are a whole load of other effects that are enhanced resultingly.

For instance, reading fiction increases your ability to empathise. A study carried out by psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano at the New School for Social Research in New York, proves that reading fiction helps you to navigate real-life complex social relationships easier. In explaining these findings, Kidd notes that:

“What great writers do is turn you into the writer. In literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others”

So if you’ve ever found yourself reading and wondering why a character would act in such a way, and its wracked your brain for a good chunk of the book (Holden Caulfield, why are you so annoying and stupid?!?) – you’re not alone…especially when it comes to understanding the protagonist in ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’ Your brain is helping you get inside the character’s head, to fully understand them and their actions.

Another great boost I discovered when I set out on this challenge was I got better at concentrating, due to how immersive reading is. It has now gotten to the stage where I can complete a whole bunch of tasks without even breaking concentration to check my mobile. This is because reading helps lengthen your attention span, leading many to suggest that reading a little bit every day can do you a world of good in the long-run.

Also, as shown through the diagram below, reading engages different aspects of your brain to work at once. Just like physical exercise, the more you exercise these mental muscles the stronger they will be and will become in the future:

Image result for reading brain

All of these benefits combined prove one thing: that reading is the greatest workout for your brain, and it’s a workout I hope to continue using often for the foreseeable future.

Books I have read (since May):

  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer
  • Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (currently reading)

To-Read:

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
  • Dreams From My Father by Barrack Obama
  • Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson
  • Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House by John Heilemann & Mark Halperin

TL;DR: Books are amazing and do so much for us and we do not deserve them (but should definitely try and read everyday anyway).

 

Streaming: Buying Music Out or Opening Doors?

As we all know, for as long as record labels have been dabbling in music, successful music/musicians = money. Music is so easily commodified; it is a medium most people use, a medium that can make anyone’s mundane day better, and any great day fantastic. Such high public use means a good opportunity for money making, naturally.

But with the continued growth and success of streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal: is music becoming much more than just $$$? Can music streaming provide a real grounding and break-through for Indie musicians who have to graft harder than their established counter-parts?

Compared to smaller streaming services, such as Deezer and Tidal, it’s evident that the paid streaming field is populated mostly by Spotify and Apple Music. It probably didn’t take data and a graph to figure that out (when are you ever told to check something out on Deezer?), but still – the figures illustrate the popular conceptions of music streaming:

Infographic: The Music Streaming Landscape | Statista
Source: Statistica, Dec 14th. 2017. As of 2018, Spotify now has 75 million paid subscribers, while Apple Music has 40 million.

And this graph just illustrates those who PAY for such services. It has been estimated that in 2018, at least 95 million people use Spotify’s free services. And that’s just ONE streaming service. This has got to only be a good thing for up-and-coming musicians, right?

Not exactly. Spotify has always been regarded as failing Indie musicians – major artists and record labels make up the money lost from poor streaming pay as Spotify pays to license the music of popular musicians, something they don’t do for Indie artists. New musicians tend to miss out in monetary gain. In an even worse turn of events, the meagre sum that artists gain is divied up between their ‘right’s holders’ – record labels, publishers, etc. Basically, an artist gets roughly $0.0084 for each track streamed, but in reality this tiny sum is somehow even smaller.

So, should fans of Indie music give up streaming services once and for all? In a word…no. In the midst of all this doom and gloom for the future of Indie music is the advantages gained through use of streaming sites that are so densely populated. Playlists tailored to users, such as Spotify’s weekly-updating ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist, introduce listeners to new music. Music that may be new, or 40 years old – but which is new to the listener nonetheless. Through features such as this, I have discovered some of my current favourite bands and musicians that I doubt I would have heard of without it.

As acknowledged by Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter VÉRITÉ in an article she wrote for Forbes in March, it isn’t the role of music streaming services to make Indie musicians successful. Instead, they offer the possibility of discovery. The role of the musician and record label in such an era of music saturation is to convert the “passive-listener to active fan through any means possible. Locate and solidify your tribe to build a solid foundation. Find your people, and work for them.”

In an era where music is everywhere, and anyone can access a wide range of it through streaming; musicians are able to optimise such platforms to point interested people in the right direction, and to hope that strangers will stumble upon their hard-work. A perfect example of this is Soundcloud. Budding musicians upload their newest track, newest EP, newest remix, and cross their fingers that someone will stumble across it and propel them into the public consciousness. The new accessibility of music is therefore not a negative for Indie musicians, it provides a whole new realm of possibility.

TL;DR: Music streaming services pay musicians poorly, which is bad as Indie artists rarely make much money. BUT in an era of musical saturation, streaming can be used as a discovery tool; an accessible way for new fans to hear songs they love. It becomes a platform for new musicians to bounce off.

 

Beginning of the End

With first semester completed, I now actually have a brief amount of time to breathe and write about something that’s not related to politics.

Without a doubt, these past few months have been the most difficult I’ve experienced at university so far. You are always aware that final year is going to be difficult, hectic, and just a general struggle, but nothing that anyone warned me about could have really prepared me for the first semester.

It’s a definite baptism of fire, wherein your responsibilities pile up so fast you feel like you could drown in them. The first few weeks, especially, were the hardest. Juggling being a member on a society committee for the first time, a part time job, and a copious amount of reading was crazy intense.

Towards the end, though, things started to get a wee bit better. Starting assignments earlier made me feel more in control, trying to push myself to get at least two difficult readings done per module per week helped to calm me down.

Also, having a great support system – friends, boyfriend, family – really helped me get through the transition to the “big year.” I really can’t thank them all enough for being there for a chat, or even just a cup of tea.

Although I’m sure next semester will be an even bigger challenge, what with juggling a dissertation and copious assignments, hopefully if I stick to what I’ve learned these past few months everything will be a-okay.

Now I’m just ready for a sweet sweet break to enjoy Christmas.

TL;DR: It’s okay not to be okay, things will always get better with time and perseverance. Only you know what works best for ya!