Takeaways From the 2017 International Journalism Festival in Perugia

Last month, the International Journalism Festival, an annual summit that takes place in Perugia, Italy, celebrated its 11th edition with record-breaking attendance: more than 65,000 participants, 2000 journalists and nearly 700 speakers from 44 different countries. Indeed, the festival has staked its claim as one of the most noteworthy events in the field, with leaders, professionals and students coming together to discuss trends, news and issues affecting journalism today. For several years, Edelman Italia has partnered with the festival and, as in the past, here are some takeaways from our 2017 experience.

Over the last 20 years, journalism has experienced three significant changes in business and distribution models: the switch from analog to digital, the rise of the social web, and now the dominance of mobile. Which is why it was no coincidence that the main sponsors of the International Journalism Festival were Facebook, Google, Amazon and WordPress, as well as ENI, a multinational energy company headquartered in Italy.

This year’s summit showed that the influence of social media platforms and technology companies is having a greater effect on global journalism than even the shift from print to digital. These platforms have evolved beyond their role as distribution channels, and now control what audiences see and who gets paid for their attention, and even what format and type of journalism flourishes.

In short, platforms have become publishers in a short space of time, leaving news organizations confused about their own future. If the speed of convergence continues, more news organizations are likely to cease publishing — instead, distributing, hosting and monetizing as their core activities.

The influence of social platforms is shaping journalism itself. They offer incentives for specific types of content (such as live video) or dictate publisher activity through design standards, and have thus become explicitly editorial.

The Festival showed how the platform companies, led by Facebook and Google, have been proactive in starting initiatives focused on improving the news environment and issues of news literacy.

News organizations have reached a crossroads. Should they maintain smaller audiences but retain complete control over brand, audience, and data? Or should they cede control over user data and advertising in exchange for significant audience growth offered by the platforms?

This question and other trends were among the main topics discussed during this important festival. Here are three main highlights, also presented in an infographic:

Fake (or false) news: "It will take years to dig out of this mess"

According to The Guardian, in the past there was news and “not news.” Now there is “fake news,” a term that identifies all the news or the stories that we can find on the Internet that are not true. But platforms now prefer to call it “misrepresentation” or “misleading.” The issue characterized both Brexit and U.S. elections, the topic became the leitmotif in the next round of European elections, and now companies like Facebook are working on developing algorithms and systems to decrease the sharing of fake news. But at this point it is unclear if it is working.

Suggestions for combatting this epidemic that emerged at the festival included:

  1. Early detection
  2. Cut off economic incentives
  3. Build products that trigger alerts
  4. Encourage Facebook to introduce news flags to identify fake content

Everyone can play a crucial role in combatting this ecosystem of misinformation. Everyone must take responsibility for independently checking what we see online, and journalist must check a piece of news before they publish it.

Can trust in the news be repaired?

For the first time, multiple parties are coming together to form trustworthy alliances — and the festival served as a launch pad. At the start of April, a global coalition of tech leaders, academic institutions, nonprofits and funders, including Facebook, Mozilla and Craigslist Founder Craig Newmark, announced a $14 million initiative to combat declining trust in the news media and advance news literacy. The coalition includes Edelman and many other organizations, such as Wikipedia and the London School of Economics and institutions in Asia, Europe and Latin America, including UNESCOThe News Integrity Initiative, which will be administered by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism will unite an initial group of 19 organizations and individuals around the world to make journalism more informative. It will conduct research, plan events and undertake projects to help news consumers understand it better.

Companies or the media: Where do readers get their news from?

With the emergence of new digital market attention and a surge in large amounts of information, companies are feeling the need to play a different role in this ecosystem of communication. Companies are evolving into media companies — many could not survive by focusing exclusively on their products. One-way advertisement is no longer effective in the world of Internet and social networks. Brands are thus almost forced to focus on a kind of content that will create a more direct and engaging relationship with their users.

Fiorella Passoni is general manager, Edelman Italy.

International Journalism Festival