Advice from IFJ 2023 on building a future-proof editorial operation

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At the 2023 International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, thousands of journalists discussed everything from democracy to audience engagement. They also honed in on the future of journalism and The Fix has drawn up a list of five focuses for publishers that want to know how to future-proof their editorial operations.

Serve your audience

The more reader revenues factor in publishers’ earnings mix, the more important it is to serve their needs. Dmitry Shishkin worried that many newsrooms produce the wrong type of content. He thinks they produce too much ‘update’ content and not enough that puts news into context, creates emotional connections or explains how they can take action.

The idea of solutions journalism is key, with several Peruga panel members arguing that readers need information on how to solve the problems being reported, rather than always being treated as passive observers that problems happen to. Ruona Meyer, Africa initiative manager for the Solutions Journalism Network said: 

It’s important to say this is why the problem is happening, this is what you can do about it, or this is the solution.

Look after your staff

Threats and opportunities are often viewed as external, but several discussions at IJF 2023 focused on internal resources, especially staff. The Great Resignation sparked by pandemic pressures and online threats is impacting newsroom staff. Junior journalists are too often left without senior journalists to share their experience.

This means talent retention is crucial to protect editorial operations. Advice from IFJ 2023 included developing a focus on talent retention programmes. Publishers should also set targets and measures for inclusion to address the problem of  minority groups particularly affected by ‘career stumbling blocks’.

Cover the climate crisis

Covering the climate crisis is a challenge for publishers. It is one of the biggest issues facing the world, but it is a topic that can leave audiences cold.

A report by the EBU recommends minimizing the doom and gloom and amplifying explanatory journalism and solutions. It says impactful climate journalism must provide local context, and emphasize the benefits of change.

The lead author of the report, Alexandra Borchardt, told one panel that human voices are needed in climate reporting because people tend to learn more from their peers than the experts. She also said climate journalism needs to be everyone’s responsibility, not a distinct editorial role.

Pay attention to AI

There were at least five panels on the topic of AI in Perugia this year, responding to the hype that began with the introduction of ChatGPT in November 2022. The technology could be seen as the key to future-proofing editorial operations, but panelists urged caution.

There were regular warnings against adapting editorial operations to suit what AI can do. Instead, publishers were advised to focus on their own workflow requirements and goals and figure out how AI fits. Gina Chua, executive editor of Semafor, said:

AI won’t replace journalists, but it makes a really good assistant. We need to think about how journalists can use it in practical ways.

Be cautious, stay curious

Publishers can’t chase every new development in the media. Instead, they have to focus on their brand values and on the audiences they want to reach. The advice from innovation and inclusion consultant Shirish Kulkarni was that effective strategies are a better way to future-proof editorial than investing in every shiny new thing that comes along.

Jessica Davis, senior director of data initiatives and news automation at USA Today, believes it is an exciting time to be a journalist and experiment with new trends. She said:

I want journalists to be cautious, but curious.

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