Category Archives: Talks and presentations

Hacks and spooks – journalism and the intelligence services

January 11, we launched John Lloyd most recent book “Journalism in an Age of Terror“, which focuses on the relationship between journalists (hacks) and the intelligence services (spooks) across the US, the UK, and France.

I had the pleasure of chairing a discussion of the book at the Institute of Government with a great (if rather male) panel including John, Andrew Dorman (Professor of International Security, Kings College London), Stephen Grey (Security Correspondent, Reuters), and Sir David Omand (former head of GCHQ).

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Hacks and spooks are two very different professions, and have for decades viewed each other with suspicion, even enmity, one aiming to publicize and to inform the public, the other necessarily often operating in secrecy and primarily informing government.

And yet they are also in some ways similar, trying to find truth and report it, often in real time, often at least in part on the basis of sifting through many different sources with many different motives (whether journalists’ sources or “comint” for spies).

They are also two professions that are considerably more interested in sharing their findings than being transparent about how they found out. The model is often “this is what we found, trust us”.

In his book, John focus on the central tension between journalists’ ambition to publish, and the secret services ambition to remain, well, secret. As he writes

The threat of terrorism and the increasing power of terrorist groups have prompted rapid growth of the security services and changes in legislation permitting collection of communications data. This provides journalism with acute dilemmas. The media claims the responsibility of holding power to account: but cannot know more than superficial details about the newly empowered secret services. At the heart of the state are agencies with sweeping powers to legitimately examine private correspondence – which by definition must remain secret.

Chapter one of the book is available for free download here, and John wrote a long article in the Financial Times on President Trump’s approach to both the press and the secret services based in large part on the book that you can find here.

Platforms and publishers – video

I’ve had the opportunity to present about the work Sarah Ganter and I have been doing on the relationship between platforms (large technology companies like Facebook and Google) and publishers (news media organizations) at a range of very different forums over the last month or so.

All over the world, search engines and social media are increasingly important for the distribution of news. In our research, we examine how news media have responded to this development, how they handle their relations with the new powerful digital intermediaries that they are simultaneously increasingly empowered by and dependent upon, and how these platform companies in turn handle their role in the wider news media ecosystem.

It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to discuss our work with very different groups of people–

  1. In November first at ECREA in Prague, where I was honored to give a keynote lecture, and had great questions from a range of people including Des Freedman and Nick Couldry.
  2. Later that month at AsCOR in Amsterdam, a very different crowd with Claes de Vreese, Natali Helberger, and their colleagues.
  3. Then in December at the PSA Media and Politics Group’s annual general conference, good discussion, especially with Andrew Chadwick and Cristian Vaccari

Each lecture draws on the same project and a set of core ideas we are developing, with some variation depending on context and occasion. The ECREA one is available as video (below) for those interested.

I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to discuss this project and our work-in-progress with so many different people and get so much useful and constructive input.The abstract of the ECREA lecture is re-posted below, and the slides are here.

Now, to the writing!

Publishers and platforms

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, keynote lecture at ECREA 2016 in Prague

What does the continued, global rise of platforms like Google and Facebook mean for public communication in a new digital media environment, and for how we research and understand public communication? That is one of the central questions facing the field of communication research today. In this lecture, I examine the relationship between publishers and platforms as one key part of how the rise of digital intermediaries is playing out, and show how news media—like many others—are becoming simultaneously increasingly empowered by and dependent upon a small number of centrally placed and powerful platforms beyond their control (and with whom they compete for attention and advertising). I develop the notion of “platform power” to begin to capture key aspects of the enabling, generative, and productive power of platforms that set them apart from other actors. As a range of different intermediaries including search engines, social media, and messaging apps become more and more important in terms of how people access and find information online, and in turn restructure the digital media environment itself, communication research is faced with a set of interlocking questions concerning both our intellectual work and our public role. The intellectual questions include the need to understand how people use these platforms to engage with public communication, but also institutional questions including how different platforms engage with other players (like publishers) and how these other players in turn adapt to the rise of platforms, as well as political questions concerning the implications of their rise. The question concerning our public role concerns how existing ways of doing and communicating communication research fits with our ability to understand—and help others understand—an opaque and rapidly-evolving set of processes profoundly reshaping our media environments.

How can collaboration enable investigative journalism?

Today, we hosted a workshop at the Reuters Institute organized by Richard Sambrook and myself on how collaboration can enable more investigative journalism.

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As more traditional sources of funding are under pressure, different kinds of collaborative projects, whether anchored by legacy news media like the Guardian (with collaborations around the NSA/Snowden revelations and many others examples), digital-born players like BuzzFeed (working with, for example, the BBC), or non-profits like the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism (of Panama Papers fame, based on documents initially leaked to Süddeutsche Zeitung), have shown they can deliver important forms of accountability journalism in new ways.

The topics discussed included where collaboration can work, where not, what enables and what hinders collaboration (competition, habit, practical obstacles), as well as how collaborations can be funded.

The workshop included a diverse group of international participants with considerable experience across investigative journalism, editing, media law, technology, and included both people from private, public service, and non-profit media. It’s just a real privilege to get a chance to learn from all the interesting and important work people are doing.

Participants included Brigitte Alfter (Editor Europe, Journalismfund.eu), Ceri Thomas (Former editor BBC Panorama), Chuck Lewis (Founder, The Center for Public Integrity), Eliot Higgins (Founder, Bellingcat), Gerard Ryle (Director, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists), Jan Clements (Media lawyer and editorial consultant), Javier Moreno Barber (Director, El Pais), Mar Cabra (Head of Data & Research Unit, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists), Nicolas Kayser Brill (Co-founder and CEO, Journalism++), Rachel Oldroyd (Managing editor, Bureau of Investigative Journalism), Sylke Gruhnwald (Chairwoman of Journalismfund.eu and Reporter) and Tom Warren (Investigations correspondent, Buzzfeed).

 

New report for the Council of Europe

The Reuters Institute has just published a report that Alessio Cornia, Antonis Kalogeropoulos and I wrote for the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee on Media and Information Society reviewing challenges and opportunities for news media and journalism in today’s changing media environment.

I presented the report Dec 1 in Strasbourg at the CDMSI Workshop: ‘The Future of News: media and journalism in the age of digital convergence’.

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It was a day of interesting discussions with participants from member state governments and the other speakers, including Nabil Wakim (Director of Editorial Innovation, Le Monde), Matt Rogerson (Head of Public Policy of Guardian News & Media), Pierre France, Founder of Rue 89 Strasbourg, Renate Schroeder (Director of the European Federation of Journalists), Wout van Wijk (Executive Director of News Media Europe), Benedicte Autret from Google’s Digital News Initiative, Alexandre Brachet (Founder of Upian), and Gabriele Bertolli (Team Leader – Future of the Media, Media Freedom and Media Pluralism, European Commission).

Key take-aways from the report (pp.6-7)–

The precise nature of change in the media environment varies in important ways from country to country, but there are some clear, high–level commonalities that represent both opportunities and challenges for journalism, media organisations, and public debate. The three most important developments driven by technological and market forces today are—

 

  1. The move to an increasingly digital, mobile, and social media environment with increasingly intense competition for attention where legacy media like broadcasters and especially newspapers, while remaining very important news producers are becoming relatively less important as distributors of news and are under growing pressure to develop new digital business models as their existing operations decline or stagnate.

  2. The growing importance of a limited number of large technology companies that enable billions of users across the world to navigate and use digital media in easy and attractive ways through services like search, social networking, video sharing, messaging, etc. and who as a consequence play a more and more important role in terms of (a) the distribution of news and (b) digital advertising.

  3. The development of a high–choice media environment where internet users have access to more and more information in convenient formats and often for free, across a range of increasingly sophisticated personal and mobile devices, and in ways that enable new forms of participation—an environment where those most interested in news embrace these new opportunities to get, share, and comment on news, but a larger number of people opt for more casual and passive forms of use.

Medientage München 2016 take-aways

I spoke at Medientage München 2016 (Munich Media Days 2016) in October as part of a day-long program organized by the Media Lab Bayern.

Here I am, looking characteristically serious. (I sometimes smile, photographic evidence to the contrary.)

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Foto: Medientage München 2016

It was really interesting, with lots of people from a new generation trying to do new things. There is a good summary (in German) of the day here, more on Twitter under #mtm16.

Three take-aways for me–

  1. Good to see more examples of people combining clear creative vision with data-informed decision-making: try, test, learn, repeat.
  2. As is often the case, professional/industry events tend to involve national speakers+speakers from US and UK. What about EU neighbors? Can’t we learn from each other across a continent with markets much smaller than Global, English-language market?(Looking forward to IJF in Perugia as always.)
  3. Discussion of relation between media companies, government, and large (US-based) technology companies are much more explicit and have a much harder tone in Germany than in the UK, let alone the US.

Blavatnik School discussion of 2016 US election

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November 16, I was part of a good discussion of the 2016 US elections and its potential implications at the Blavatnik School of Government with Bill Emmott (former editor of the Economist, Visiting Fellow of Practice at the Blavatnik School of Government), Sohrab Ahmari (columnist, Wall Street Journal), Sarah Churchwell (Professor at the University of London) and Pepper Culpepper (Professor of Politics and Public Policy, Blavatnik School of Government). It was a good debate with lot’s of great questions from the floor. Full video here.

2014 Tietgen Award

20140527_235111(1)At a splendid event Tuesday May 27, I was the proud recipient of the 2014 Tietgen Award.

It is awarded annually by DSEB in recognition of a significant contribution to by young researchers in the field of business-oriented humanities and social science. It has been awarded since 1829 and is the oldest prize in the social sciences in Denmark.

The award is accompanied by the splendid Tietgen Gold Medal, funds to support international research work, and was celebrated in style with a very nice dinner in central Copenhagen where HRH Prince Joachim presented me with the award.