Future News Worldwide Delegates at the opening reception.

Neil Hanna

We recently held our 2018 Future News Worldwide conference at the Scottish Parliament. 100 aspiring journalists travelled from over 50 countries to network, attend workshops and learn from leaders in the field. Jonathan Peters, one of five Scottish delegates in attendance, reflects on his experience.

I didn’t know what to expect when I applied for Future News Worldwide. It sounded interesting, and I’m a student, so I would never turn down free room and board. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the prospect of the same old lectures and awkward networking didn’t fill me with excitement. The reality of Future News, I’m happy to tell you, is far from the usual event.

Not long after arriving in Edinburgh I found myself in a room filled with other young journalists from over 50 different countries. It took me 1 hour to get to this conference by train, some people travelled for days! And there we were, with politicians, editors and professional journalists, sipping wine and fixing name tags.

Networking isn’t easy. Sometimes, it’s awful (I’ve seen people queue for business cards before). Maybe it’s the length of time this conference is on for, and the amount of opportunities you have to speak to everyone, but this felt a lot more natural. Which is how networking is supposed to be – meeting people who share the same interests, learning new things and helping each other. Future News made me realise that very quickly.

Did I mention the 50 different countries? As a Scottish person, this is big news. 93% of the people living here were born in Britain. Our immigrant population is lower than Denmark’s. Glasgow is one of the only areas that sees net increases in migration, and even living there I don’t often meet people from other countries. At Future News you get to meet journalists from places you may never get the chance to visit. Now, if I need a source in South Africa, Canada, China or Ghana, I know exactly who to ask. And that is really important.

The speakers were amazing. We had editors from Reuters, Newsquest and the BBC, publishers like Melissa Bell from Vox and technology pioneers like Yusuf Omar. Workshops addressed topics as diverse as fact checking, social media journalism and interviewing victims of trauma.

For me, the standout speaker of the conference was Catherine Gicheru, a journalist and editor from Kenya. What made this talk special was not only learning about her career, which includes being the first woman to hold two major editorships in Kenya, but how she spoke about technology. Gicheru didn’t so much tell us about the ways technology is transforming journalism, she showed us. Project after project was presented on screens as she explained how this platform helps citizens contextualise national budgets, this one local budgets, this project lets people verify doctors and medicines, and so on. Most of these projects are developed under Code for Africa, a federation operating in 12 African countries, but what struck me about this talk was realising just how useful these tools would be in the UK. I know other people in the room thought the same thing.

Another highlight came during the Q & A with David Pratt, a multi-award winning foreign correspondent. One of the delegates asked how he maintains objectivity in situations of war and conflict, and you might find his answer surprising. He explained that journalism doesn’t have to be neutral, it can take a stance, and when faced with human tragedies such as Apartheid, it must: “How can you be a journalist and not recognise fundamental injustice?” We couldn’t help but applaud.

Future News is a unique experience. I’ve met dozens of people from all over the world, as well as a few industry contacts. I feel really lucky to have been at Future News. Lucky because I know that someone I can rely on in Bangladesh, Pakistan or Brazil is just a phone call away. Lucky because we visited Edinburgh for four days in glorious sunshine (not fake news, it really happened). Lucky because I sat at the same table as the former editor of Reuters and I’m just Scottish enough to know something about golf. Lucky to have been selected in the first place.

I can’t recommend Future News enough, it’s a great experience. And if you’re Scottish, you should definitely apply. We don’t often get the chance to meet people from other cultures, so this is important for us.

It’s not too late to experience Future News Worldwide for yourself. Visit the British Council Scotland Facebook page where you can still watch Jonathan’s highlight Catherine Gicheru, as well as sessions by Lucy Freeman, Carrie Gracie and Mary Hockaday.

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