By Myat Moe Khaing

06 November 2018 - 16:48

On 4 July 2018, I hastily woke up in a bright room only to realise the sun was up at two in the morning.  As I tried to go back to sleep, I felt the same way I did on 3 April 2018 when I received my mail of acceptance at Future News Worldwide 2018. But this time it was more intense and real - I was finally in Edinburgh to learn from the best journalists.

The program kicked off with Catherine Gicheru asking “What is your one little thing?” - A question that reminded everybody of the purposes of the gathering. According to her, citizens are an integral part of the news cycle, and this makes an exciting time for young journalists who can reach more people. The country lead for Code for Kenya highlighted the power of media by giving an example of exposing unregistered quacks in Kenya. When I raised my concern about ways to personalise hard news, she taught me that real-life implications were more effective even if the news came in hard numbers.

One criticism I had always received as a journalist was with newspapers being focused either on entertainment or real hard news. Thankfully, Melissa Bell from Vox Media brought it up in her four WTF problems concerning journalists’ intimacy issues, trust, worth and sense of entertainment. She drew a whole picture as she provided alternatives to each question, an eye-opening for all. 

As most journalists remain helpless in the face of risks their profession brings them, Lucy Freemen rightfully addressed the safety concerns often overlooked by stakeholders. She educated the audience on preventive and reactive response to threats. Legal, digital, physical, mental securities were her major vital areas. She was asked very context specific questions (Paris and South Korea), to which she showed the way to strike the right balance.

Matt Cooke from Google News Lab potentially made work more accessible for participants as he introduced us Google software, photo verification methods and Google pro and map for journalism. On the other hand, Sian Cox-Brooker spoke about Facebook’s work on integrity to tackle fake news in the media landscape.

Carrie Grace from BBC stressed the importance of storytelling on the second day. In her opinion, the job of a journalist doesn’t change, only the essence does. Interestingly, her point of view on reality incorporates a compass and a map. While the former indicates truth-telling, the latter means educating the audience on context and analysis, informing them about who, what, when and where, and entertaining them for engagement. The job often becomes tough, but keeping truth magnetic north will generally lead to the right place. She empathised with us by addressing our position as significant hurdles. When asked for advice for foreign correspondents, Carrie couldn’t help emphasising on language skills that translate among cultures, histories and worldviews.

Coming across inspiring journalists made the young audience overwhelmed and nervous. Sensing the air, David Pratt reaffirmed our confidence by mentioning the success of an alumnus of FNW17 from Zimbabwe.  Growing up with an obsession with storytelling, the foreign correspondent from Herald Scotland described his career as unconventional. He recalled his first overseas assignment during which he took a loan and went to Nicaragua in 1979. He had further covered stories in Afghanistan, Somalia, West Africa, Rwanda, Colombia. A participant asked him how he found approached interviewees. He responded it was essential to build a trustworthy persona to build mutual trust.

Donald Martin decided to stir the participants a little as he unexpectedly put us in the position to determine if we would publish specific news or not. And at that moment we realised, how different our perspectives were and what each of us could see in stories that others didn’t. For an hour, I realised making the wrong calls could snatch away the title of an editor.

Mary Hockaday, the controller of BBC World Service, hit the bull’s eye when she said many don’t want us to do our job. She was very meticulous with warning us about different forms of fake news. 

I came to learn about one of the most innovative impactful ideas from Omar Yusuf. He came up with the idea to help rape victims speak out while using Snapchat filters to hide their identity. His opinion is the difference between television and mobile is gradually decreasing. Indeed the internet is becoming tangible. The mobile journalist told us about the tools we could use to create video reports and now we no longer have an excuse to complain about our shortcomings, He went live and later even created a video about lack of representation of red-haired individuals.

I was looking forward to attending the session on interviewing traumatised victims by Professor Stephen Jukes and Gillian Moreton. My personal work is based on interviewing indigenous communities vastly marginalised through generations. The speakers gave brilliant points on how to create a comfortable aura while talking. Personally, I was taken aback by how much Professor Steve knew about Bangladesh when we spoke at the Hub.

But the most exciting part was meeting people my age with similar aspirations from all over the world. We hiked to Arthur’s seat during the day, danced our hearts away at night. But these same people would ask the smartest questions and debate on the most demanding answers.

When I started my journalism career, I wasn’t sure what I was signing up for. I was just thrilled to work at a newsroom. Fast forward two months, I would come home and cry to sleep every night. Publishing news of rape, murders, ethnic cleansing made me helpless and afraid of desensitisation.

At Future News Worldwide I met journalists who would describe the horrible conditions, risks and fear they conquer every day. Today when I work on an issue, their stories remind me of Horace Greeley’s quote “Journalism will kill you, but it will keep you alive while you’re at it.”