Digital transition, sustainability and security in spotlight on the last day of International Journalism Forum

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During the last day of the iMEdD International Forum 2023, we focused on topics that affect all media at local and international level. The transition of media organisations to a modern digital era, alternatives models of sustainability in an ever-changing environment and the protection of journalists from digital threats, as well as the journalistic coverage of the far-right were among the topics discussed. In addition, workshops were held on processing and managing large volumes of data, creating 3D maps and data visualization, and understanding the workings of the Freedom of Information Act in the US.

The highly relevant topic of digital threats and electronic espionage solutions kicked off the day, with Bill Marczak, senior researcher at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, sharing tips and information with the audience on ways they can protect their devices from attempts to hack into their digital lives. One simple yet particularly important trick to reduce the chances of becoming a target of malicious attacks is to uninstall unused apps. As Bill Marzack said, "It sounds very simple but it can make a big difference" , later added that, "At its core, the spyware problem is mostly a technical problem, but it also has to do with a lack of accountability."

Do investigative journalists actually venture in the jungles of Brazil and Cambodia? It may seem impractical, but the next panelists, who are partners of the Pulitzer Center's Tropical Forest Research Network, are doing just that. Their research is aimed at unveiling the interconnectedness of supply chains - legal or illegal - with networks of illegal logging and land encroachment that put indigenous communities at risk of extinction and accelerate the effects of climate change.

"When we talk about the supply chain, the global becomes local and the local becomes global... The best way to hold governments accountable is for (journalists) to work with people with different skills." , noted Elisângela (Lili) Mendonça, Environment Reporter at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

At the same time, an innovative approach that combined human experience with artificial intelligence was presented, aiming at analyzing the election speeches delivered by the political leaders of Greece. This was an experimental project implemented a few months ago by iMEdD Lab, in collaboration with Datalab of the Department of Informatics of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and Antonis Galanopoulos, PhD candidate in Political Science at the same institution. Participants in the discussion presented the audience with their methods of using artificial intelligence algorithms to categorize topics, sentiments and rhetorical patterns, while identifying indicators of polarization and populism.

The next panel discussion focused on the importance of collaborative journalism. During it, speakers shared rare stories of collaboration between the public, journalists and the media to publish high-interest topics that would not otherwise come to light, as they would require excessive investment of resources and time. In this context, Michele Silva Co-Founder of Fala Roça, stated "We want to have a journalism that uses common language. We co-create this content. Whenever the community people collaborate with us, that gets published and everyone co-signs the reports."

Media sustainability translates into independence and this was the topic that the next panel dealt with. A critical issue for domestic media, which have been grappling with the harsh effects of the financial crisis since 2008, while witnessing dramatic and, at times, irreversible shifts in the media landscape. As Carine Fouteau, editor-in-chief of Mediapart, pointed out, "We are accountable only to our readers. Only our readers can buy us. Right now our model is successful. We are the third daily newspaper in France. A model of complete independence."

Digital transformation affects every aspect of media organisations' operations, being one of their main priorities in recent years. In the discussion that followed, we heard representatives from The Wall Street Journal, La Nación and South China Morning Post discuss the ways in which they have developed their digital identity and suggest effective strategies that other media outlets can adopt. As, Shazna Nessa, Head of Visual Content and Editor-in-Chief at The Wall Street Journal remarked "At some point our readers became overwhelmed by all the information coming to them. So what we decided to do was to try and present stories and news in a simple way for people to engage with, using plenty of large images and shorter text. So we continued to build on that idea. This was a challenge for reporters who were used to writing lengthy texts. Often, new ideas can stem from a conversation. Technology is in constant evolution. I believe that thinking is the most crucial aspect in our field, both in design and problem-solving. Our readers can't be confined into a single mold."

In a special hearing session of the audio documentary "TRAUMA", produced by iMEdD, we delve into interviews with survivors and relatives of victims affected by seven major disasters and accidents in Greece from 1999 to date. The common thread that emerged for those affected is a widespread lack of trust in the state and a prevailing sense of impunity. As Kostas Koukoumakas said "We wanted to avoid turning the audio documentary you just listened to into a mere retelling of stories that solely focus on the events of the tragedies, attributing blame and examining who was held accountable. In other words, we had to select the stories in a manner that, at the risk of excluding many - considering our interviews with over 25 people - there remained a common thread that bound them together. That thread was the experience of trauma, both on a personal and collective level."

During the International Journalism Forum 2023, Antoine Malo, a journalist at the Journal du Dimanche, delivered a keynote speech chronicling the largest journalists' strike in French history. It arose following a change of ownership at the JDD and the appointment of an editorial director with a far-right background, lasting 40 days and resulting in mass journalist resignations, eventually prompting an official EU investigation. His speech was followed by a discussion on how the media should cover today’s steady and continuous rise of the far-right. "When an organization has already gained initial impact, trying to isolate it becomes counterproductive", noted journalist Dimitris Psarras.

The International Journalism Forum 2023 wrapped up with a dynamic live journalism session curated by the European Press Prize.