Lessons Learned from News Summit 2011

What is News Summit 2011?

I attended Global Editors Network (GEN)’s inaugural three-day News World Summit (Nov. 27 – Nov. 29th, 2011) in Hong Kong last week. Based in Paris, GEN is a relatively new organization which was set up in March 2011.  I also live-tweeted most of the panels during the summit.  You can check my twitter feed.  Also, check the hashtag #news2011 on Twitter to find some of the interesting conversations during the summit.


Here is a screen grab of a tweet that summed up the keywords of the summit, tweeted from one of the #News2011 tweet peeps, Ilicco Elia, who is Head of Mobile at LBi:

After more than a dozen panel discussions and keynote speakers, I picked up on the following themes from the summit.

  • Social web and news curators
  • Data journalism
  • Visual journalism
  • “Fail fast” and learn from mistakes

Most panelists agree that we are in the social web era where social networks are the world’s new storytellers.  We trust the news that our peers curate for us.

Data journalism is processing massive amounts of data and analyzing them to give a meaningful value on a perspective. Paul Steiger from US-based ProPublicagave an example of how they use data in investigative stories. Steiger’s team included young engineers armed with digital skills who also wear the hat of journalists. ProPublica extracted data from seven US pharmaceutical companies to expose the relationship between them and doctors such as how much money the drug companies pay doctors. ProPublica’s media partners are then able to use the data to localize the story even down to each neighborhood by entering zip codes into the database. The valuable data helped ProPublica to transform the story.

One moment that struck me during the panel, “The Future of News: what to learn from Fukushima and the Arab Spring?” is when MIT Media Lab’s Joichi Ito said about the newsroom:

And my favorite tweet peep during the summit, Garrett Goodman from Citizenside, mentioned a good source for young journalists to learn to code: codeacademy.com.  Ito also suggested journalists should mentor data visualization students and programming students to think more like journalists or get interns to help journalists on data-driven projects.

Good news for programming students: Professor Ying Chan from the University of Hong Kong said the Journalism Media Studies Center is offering graduate scholarships for programmers to study journalism.

All data-journos out there, do you have a new data-journalism piece/product/service to show off? Here is your chance: GEN and Google teamed up to give out data journalism awards. Details are here. Good luck!

On the topic of visual journalism: Next Media’s CEO Jimmy Lai (黎智英) mentioned that news is becoming more visually driven by pictures and videos. I agree with this because with the help of Instagram. I find myself using more photos to tell stories in my posts. I sometimes use visuals as evidence or proof that an event has happened or as another way to say I witnessed it.  The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” never seems to get old.

Most panelists encourage all journalists and publishers to try new tools to tell stories.  I often heard the phrases “trial and error,” “fail fast,” and “learn from mistakes.”  Thomas Crampton of public relations agency Ogilvy said a golden quote that shocked the audience,

What Crampton meant in this quote is to find a way to undermine your own business before anyone else does. Crampton emphasized journalists should always be on the look for new tools and services to enhance their storytelling skills. It’s better to try it out first before someone takes the opportunity and owns it. Thomson Reuters’ Yolanda Ma also said social media experiments are free.

What’s next?

After all these talks on data journalism, it made me think of what I should work on next. Should journalists learn computer science? But not all journalists are programmers. What do you think? I know there are tech-savvy journalists out there who know basic coding, HTML, CSS and open-sourced applications. But should journalists put in more effort on programming? What about basic storytelling skills like writing, photographing, and shooting video?

Journalists should also understand the business side of a news outlet.  Most news organizations out there are for profit. Given all the layoffs in our industry, it’s beneficial to understand how to run a business to know how your company is operating. And who knows, you may be your own boss one day!

I recommend watching the presentation “A realistic roadmap for news media” by Jim Chisholm, who is an international consultant. Chisholm made some predictions about where the journalism industry is going.

‘A realistic roadmap for news media’ at the NEWS! Summit 2011 in Hong Kong. From European Journalism Centre on Vimeo.

I want to mention that this summit was my first time to live-tweet panel discussions.  I found the experience very rewarding for three reasons.

  1. I met some new friends via Twitter during the summit. I got to meet some like-minded Twitter peeps and to engage in conversations in the Twitterverse.
  2. People got to know me via Twitter before I met them in person. Because of my avid tweeting and commenting during the presentations, summit attendants learned to know my thoughts on different topics that were discussed. When I met people in person, they often said, “I’ve been reading your tweets” or “great tweets by the way.”  I’m grateful that people value my tweets.
  3. I got approached by an editor about a job opportunity. This is perhaps the most rewarding experience besides meeting new friends!!  One editor walked up to me after I identified myself during a Q&A session at a panel and asked if I was looking for any jobs – I felt very lucky when the opportunity was presented to me.

During the next conference, I’m going to work on my live tweeting and reporting skills.

Julian Assange also joined the summit via Skype. I’m not going to elaborate about his 60+ minute speech. You can read it here.

Otherwise, you can read the Storify curated by Citizenside’s Garrett Goodman:


I want to share with you a few new tools that I learned during the summit:

  1.  Taiwan-based Next Media Animation’s News Direct service. This service provides free animation for news outlets.  Next Media can recreate an event with animation as the story unfolds.  Pretty cool.
  2. News Republic: A daily personalized news app that only exists on the mobile platform: tablets and smartphones. It aggregates 10,000 news stories daily, and users can follow the news by topic on the designated homepage. The uniqueness of News Republic is the technology behind the app “semantic tag engine.”  This technology scans news stories to identify keywords in the text and users can read other articles related to the keywords or tags. Thereby providing a more meaningful way to consume news by following topics.
  3.  Citzenside: Are you looking for the next piece of citizen journalism for your media outlet? Check this site out: Citizenside. From breaking news to feature stories, you can find it all here. The good news is citizen journalists get paid for their work!! Hooray!



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