The first GEN Summit in the post truth era comes to an end

For three exciting days, guests and speakers of the GEN Summit organised by the Global Editors Network explored what it will take to navigate media’s future

Samuel Burke from CNN on the main stage at the GEN Summit

“I would like to extend a big thank you to all of our guests, partners and speakers for coming and engaging with us,” Peter Bale, GEN President told delegates.

Bale said that the point of this summit was to provide not just another talking shop. We have had Masterclasses where people can learn pragmatic tools, especially for newsroom managers and experiments with visionary technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR).

A broad variety of guests and speakers, some from outside the journalistic world such as academics and technology specialists, gave us new perspectives on our current society, which is the whole point of the GEN Summit, he said.

The importance of creating and maintaining trust in every aspect of our organisations as a counterpoint to the new post truth reality became perhaps the main point to take away from the summit.

As farewell advice to guests before next year´s Summit in Lisbon Bale said: “In this new reality we will have to make sure we keep current as we run 90 mph to just stay still. It can be very easy to accidentally slip into a pool of ignorance, but not if you come to the GEN Summit.”

Peter Bale, President of the Global Editors Network

Throughout the three days we covered both broad overarching themes such as cooperation, innovation and disruption and more focused events such as competitions, Masterclasses and opportunities for networking.

The challenge of post truth was a foundational part of this year’s Summit and was covered in-depth in “The Washington Post in Trump’s America and a digital world” and “Are we losing the media we need for democracy?”. While Reuters confirmed a “trump bump” in news users paying for the sake of helping journalism, new attitudes to freedom of speech and integrity of news have bred unprecedented challenges.

Martin Baron’s keynote in full ‘The Washington Post in Trump’s America and a digital world’

“High quality politics needs high quality media & journalism,” Renate Brauner, Vice-Mayor and Vice-Governor, City of Vienna told the gathering.

Martin Baron, Executive Editor, The Washington Post reported: “Journalism is a business, but there’s something bigger: a mission. The US president hates that mission…The president may be at war but the Washington post is not, we are at work.”

Oxford University’s Timothy Garton Ash in the session ‘Are we losing the media we need for democracy?’

On a less concerning note, one of the special exhibitions was the VR studio and the talk “VR is here to stay. What’s next for journalism?” explored how the technology had evolved since it was lasted covered at last year’s summit.

The technology seemed to not have grown as explosively as predicted and as with all new technology it has been finding its relevant niches such as breaking down barriers of understanding by delivering projects with rare visual insight.

Tencent’s Jonathan He, Francesca Panetta from The Guardian, , Latoya Peterson of the Undefeated/ESPN, Yue Cheng Media’s Bin Gu, and moderator Robert Hernandez from USC Annenberg for the panel ‘VR is here to stay. What’s next for journalism?’

“We are seeing all this growth in the mobile-snapping market, which nobody expected. And then the high-end stuff like the HTC Vive, the Oculus flatlined. Consumers thought why am I spending $800?, but also “To take people inside…there’s a lot of richness you can explore which you do not have currently.” Latoya Peterson, Deputy Editor, Digital Innovation, The Undefeated, ESPN

“A good story is a good story no matter what technology. We need to experiment and fail sometimes. Just because we have a VR camera isn’t going to make it a good story.” Robert Hernandez, Associate professor, USC Annenberg School of Journalism

Disruption was put under scrutiny at talks such as “Digital disruption — A roadmap for reinvention and That’s so medieval! News disruption, then & now” and “That’s so medieval! News disruption, then & now” and one of the clear outcomes was that the task at hand will be to balance the digital journalistic imperative with a functional revenue model.

The Reuters institute provided three necessary approaches to the ongoing digital disruption: Leadership clarity, cultural acceptance within the staff and structural flexibility.

“We put a man on the moon before we put wheels on luggage. We do not always have to aim for the saving shot, but go for the things in front of us,” Martin Baron, Executive Editor, The Washington Post said.

“Long-term strategic goals are often highjacked by short-term innovation projects” and “The best solutions are found when everyone in the news organization is involved” Lucy Kueng, Senior Research Fellow, Reuters Institute told the Summit.

Dmitry Shishkin from the BBC, Clemens Pig from APA, Lucy Kung from the Reuters Institute, and Catalina Albeanu from

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Mixed Reality (MR) had presentations and analyses from several angles most obviously in “Mixed reality, machine learning and AI for journalists” and “It’s raining bots: Four best practices to make the most of automation”.

Successful examples of automation integration in the newsroom for example in the shape of Facebook bots and a Mixed Reality demonstration of a nature documentary by Microsoft gave the concepts a more tangible feel.

There was overwhelming reassurance from the experts that while it is absolutely possible to cut costs by replacing journalists with robots, it will be more beneficial to automate low impact tasks where possible and augment the work of the journalists who now have more time to focus on areas that computers can’t touch such as creativity.

Francesco Marconi from the Associated Press, David Alandete from El País, Robert Unsworth from News Republic and Noriko Takiguchi from

“A journalist is never replaceable, but distribution can be automated,” said David Alandete, Managing Editor, El País.

“Projects we once had to plan two years in advance, we can now have running in two months,” according to Tony Emerson, Managing Director, Microsoft, Media and Cable

“Future journalists will be data informed, not data driven,” said Jon Wilks, Chief Content Officer, Content Insights.

“The successful business in the future will be those who manage to empower people instead of making them obsolete,” Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, General Director, MAK — Austrian Museum of Applied Arts reported.

“Through automation, we were able to free up about 20% of reporters time on the business desk,” said Francesco Marconi, Manager of Strategy and Corporate Development, The Associated Press.

Adam Thomas from the European Journalism Centre, Leanne von Oostende and Tony Emerson from Microsoft for the panel ‘Mixed reality, machine learning and AI for journalism’

The first social event of the summit covered the topic of man’s relationship with machines to its full extent at at the MAK exhibition, “Hello, Robot. Design between Human and Machine” introduced by Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, General Director, MAK. Featuring several stages of art installations it explores levels of past, current and possible future human/machine interaction, relationships and integration.

The GEN Summit Welcome buffet at MAK, Austrian Museum for Applied Arts/Contemporary Art

The concept of what a newsroom or business actually is anymore was picked apart and put together in new ways in for example “Rebooting your newsroom for the smartphone age” and “How can regional newspapers survive the mobile age?” Besides mobile continuing to grow in importance, the consensus was clear that news organisations will have to rethink all the traditional aspects of what providing content and engaging with their audience mean.

“Sending news to mobile is sending it directly to peoples’ lives, it’s a very personal engagement,” said David Ho, Vice President and Executive Editor, Hearst Newspapers
 “The intensity and dependency on the use of mobile phones grows,” according to the 2017 Reuters Institute Digital News Report.

“We are in the visual age,” added Scott McKiernan, Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Zuma Press

“The challenge is how to make a bundle of news that punch through on social media,” Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief, BuzzFeed told delegates

Jim Friedlich from the Institute for Journalism in New Media, Fernando Belzunce from Vocento and Matt Kelly from Archant Group for the panel ‘How can regional newspapers survive the mobile age?’

The past and present of media were mined for solutions in “With the benefit of hindsight (or our biggest mistakes)” and “Toward a healthy future for news. Where we are today. Where we should be going tomorrow.” By comparing experience from last year we found out that most mistakes boil down to timing, being too early or too late can both be devastating for projects. And to stay competitive in the future every organisational strategy must implement a balanced amount of experimenting with new concepts.

“In the dotcom bubble it’s not first mover advantage, it is first arrival advantage,” Madhav Chinnappa, Head of Strategic Relations News & Publishers at Google said.

“We’re living a renaissance in journalism creativity,” but we must “Keep the web ecosystem open and healthy!” added Richard Gringas, Head of News, Google

Google’s Richard Gingras

The sixth Data Journalism Award (DJA) was bigger, better and bolder than ever. This year’s competition was the largest and most internationally represented with 573 submissions from 51 countries.

Ranging from the political to the criminal, covering medicine and musicals, these best examples of data journalism from 2016–2017 proved that the field is becoming ever more powerful and sophisticated every year.

Simon Rogers, DJA Director (Google News Lab) summed up the event: “This was a record year, not only for numbers of entries but also for their quality. Data journalism is now a force to be reckoned with across the globe.”

Winners and presenters at the Data Journalism Awards Ceremony and Gala dinner
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