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.

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