2nd May 2023
International Journalism Festival 2023: Five tasks for the industry

International Journalism Festival 2023: Five tasks for the industry

Last month, Impress travelled to the beautiful hill-top city of Perugia, central Italy, to attend the 17th International Journalism Festival.

With over 400 speakers from around the world and a mass audience of journalists, business leaders, academics, policy makers, funders, students and tourists, the event lived up to its international festival billing.

Staged in stunning civic buildings such as Palazzo dei Priori and the elegant Hotel Brufani, with their renaissance frescoed ceilings, and continuing long into the night in the bars and restaurants of Perugia’s narrow cobbled streets, the heart of the festival was the stream of lively panel discussions and debates about the challenges facing journalism and the solutions it offers humankind as we move through the 2020’s.

In this blog, Impress takes a closer look at five key tasks the industry must undertake following the event.

Accept the trust crisis in journalism

With breaking news of Fox News’ landmark $787 million defamation settlement with Dominion Voting Systems reverberating around the Perugian streets, the topic of trust in journalism was, unsurprisingly, on the minds of many.

We were told that only 39% of Americans, the biggest democracy in the world, trust the media, a 6% loss over the past year. We asked what this tells us about the state of democracy in the world and were reminded that it’s not just an American, Trump and Fox problem and that trust in media declined in 19 countries last year.

In a session on legal threats facing journalists we debated the rise of popularist and authoritarian governments who were creating a hostile environment for journalists.

We heard how media funders such as Pluralis were fighting against media capture by investing in high quality, independent media and from funders such as the Oak Foundation who are finding new ways to work within charitable frameworks to invest in media plurality.

Increase help available to journalists

With journalism seemingly under attack on multiple fronts, several sessions focused on the tremendous pressure that journalists are under and the chilling effect of legal threats and intimidation designed to shut down truth telling and investigative reporting.

We learned how journalism can be a lonely and vulnerable occupation with insufficient attention given to the emotional cost of reporting from war zones and of coming under constant attack from powerful political and business interests and carefully orchestrated social media campaigns designed to undermine and intimidate.

Surprisingly, the role and function of press councils in providing independent frameworks to protect the integrity of high quality, public interest reporting was absent from many of the conversations. Throwing more money and resources at stronger legal defences was a solution proffered in a session on legal threats hampering media freedom.

The lesson here was clear, however. The industry must do more to help reporters and provide better international governance of journalism to defend it against legal threats. How that is achieved remains up for debate.

The Palazzo dei Priori, in the centre of Perugia that hosted a number of discussions at the International Journalism Festival.
The Palazzo dei Priori, in the centre of Perugia that hosted a number of discussions at the International Journalism Festival. (Photo: Marco Rubino)

Prepare for AI

The rise of Artificial Intelligence over the past 12 months has been impossible to ignore, with programmes such as Chat GPT increasing its influence on the industry with each passing day.

Earlier this year, Impress sought to the lead the way on this front, requiring member publications to ensure editorial oversight over any AI-produced content, and to flag it clearly to their audience too, in the latest edition of our Standards Code.

What we saw in Perugia was evidence of a conflicted industry. Some panels discussed the opportunities AI software could provide smaller newsrooms and how it could also allow journalists to partake in data journalism where they could not before.

But others expressed their fears of its potential for manipulation and consequent rise in fake news, including how it could impact creatives also working within the industry.

One thing is for sure. Artificial Intelligence is not going anywhere and the industry must be prepared to face any opportunities and threats that it may bring.

Appreciate local journalism’s value

It is no secret to journalists in the United Kingdom how much of a strangle hold London has over national publications and the biggest brands.

But thousands of local publishers continue to provide a crucial service to their communities up and down the land. In Perugia, a panel led by the Public Interest News Foundation (PINF) raised the importance of local reporting and how it ties local issues to those from around the globe.

Crucial as well is the importance of local publications when it comes to offering alternative routes into the industry. New York Times correspondent, Jane Bradley, spoke on a panel on working class journalism in the UK and heralded her early experience in regional roles when it became clear she would not be able to afford to move to London.

If we want a press that is truly representative of the population it serves, it is clear that these local outlets should be championed and uplifted moving forward.

The historic Hotel Brufani played host to talks at this year's International Journalism Festival in Perugia.
The historic Hotel Brufani played host to talks at this year's International Journalism Festival in Perugia. (Photo: Kristina Blokhin).

Be transparent

When it comes to trust, transparency has the potential to be an essential factor – our News Literacy Report of last year showed large swathes of the British public feel just that way.

Ros Atkins of the BBC spoke about his own efforts to offer insight into his reporting process, labelling it an integral part of his work. Similarly, Aaron Sankin, an investigative reporter from The Markup, explained how his data-heavy outlet would publish their methods alongside their stories so that they could be replicated by others.

While there was a general consensus among those we spoke to in Perugia that such transparency helps build trust, there was also a feeling that it would keep journalists on their toes and ultimately ensure standards don’t drop.

The final day of our Italian adventure saw Impress wake early to take in the stunning sight of the sun rising over the Umbrian countryside.

While looking out for miles over the iconic vantage point, it allowed a chance for reflection on the debates, discussions and workshops of the previous days.

Journalism is at another crucial crossroads. Many newsrooms and freelancers across the world will have big decisions to make regarding new technology, news literacy and how they progress on multiple fronts.

It is likely that without increased focus on truth, accountability and transparency, the freedoms it enjoys today could come under serious threat.

About Impress 

Impress is a champion for news that can be trusted. We are here to make sure news providers can publish with integrity; and the public can engage in an ever-changing media landscape with confidence. We set the highest regulatory standards for news, offer education to help people make informed choices and provide resolution when disputes arise.

Media enquiries

Louie Chandler: louie@impressreg.org.uk / 02033076778