Head of Storytelling, NZZ

21 takeaways from the 2015 Journalism Festival in Perugia

April 19, 2015

5 days, 17 locations, more panels, talks and workshops than a single journalist can attend in a lifetime: The International Journalism Festival in Perugia offers a wealth of input on the present future of journalism. It also forces you to be highly selective, so please don’t take this post as the definitive wrap-up (if you’ve been there, too, add your own takeaways in the comments and let me know about other summaries of the Festival).

So here goes: 21 highly selective takeaways, in no particular order (same number as last year, that’s either a coincidence or the maximum number of takeaways my brain can store).

1. Perugia FTW

2. It’s millennials all the way down.

You couldn’t escape millennials this year. Several panels dedicated to them, mentions everywhere. So who are millennials and what’s problem anyway? Felix Salmon has you covered.

If there was consensus about one thing, it was this: You can only reach millennials by going to where they are, they won’t come to you.

Some ventures to check out: AJ+, Fusion, 4newswall, Fanpage.it, 3nz.it, L’OBS.

3. The importance of stickers for the future of journalism.

4. Facebook is dead serious about fixing mobile news, whether news organisations want it or not.

The reasoning in Andy Mitchell’s keynote, as paraphrased by me (share it).

  1. «News content is the slowest loading content in Facebook’s newsfeed.»
  2. Users (who we, btw, call people) want news, but only if it loads fast.
  3. You can’t deliver, so we will.
  4. Just give us your content already.
  5. We see you have some issues, let’s not talk about them and keep in mind that this is all about giving users what they want.

Then again, as Raju Narisetti correctly noted:

5. We should keep an eye on AJ+.

Other interesting takeaways from the session with Jigar Mehta, AJ+’s engagement lead:

  • AJ+ makes sure all their videos work even if sound is off, because that’s often the case in mobile usage.
  • «We’re trying to make sure everyone in the company thinks about data every day.»
  • AJ+ tells stories in a way that they always lead users into a conversation.
  • AJ+ produces content specifically for each social platform. What works on Facebook doesn’t necessarily work on YouTube or Twitter.

6. We can, and must do so much better with analytics.

Nobody described the problem better than Aron Pilhofer: «We throw our content online and just hope it works well. That’s not a strategy, that’s a prayer.»

Nobody had better solutions to offer than Stijn Debrouwere (whose classic essay «Cargo cult analytics» you should read).

Key takeaways from his talk:

  • Metrics are for doing. Your metrics are pointless when you haven’t determined what you intend to achieve in the first place.
  • Fix the basic flaws of your site before even thinking about analytics.
  • Ratios are great (I happen to agree)
  • Narrow it down: Make sure outliers like viral stories don’t interfere with your metrics (e.g. measure number of articles per visit for regular users, not all users).
  • Tech companies usually approach analytics by asking «How can we grow more, faster?», news organisations by asking «What’s the best metric?».
  • Idea for qualitative analytics: After a story has been published, ask the author a) to rate how good s/he thought it was, b) how well it was received, c) how it could have been improved.

7. Mobile video is flipping by 90 degrees.

Great job, internet. Finally everyone had learned it, now it’s wrong again.

8. Virtual Reality is coming to journalism (probably, maybe)

9. We need more good news.

10. Snapchat was a big absentee in the programme, but…

Rumour has it that it has been used excessively by a group of journalists to communicate and instacomment on panels and talks. I can’t prove it, though. It’s all gone.

11. Tear down those walls (between teams)

The problem:

The solution (as suggested by Aron Pilhofer in his keynote):
If you want to produce rich stories for the web, bring the people you need together in one team. That’s why he created Guardian Visuals, a new team that includes photography, interactive, graphics, multimedia and design.

12. An image you cannot unsee.

(yes, sorry about that, but it’s Aron Pilhofer’s fault, really)

13. This.

14. And this.


Jeff Jarvis agrees: People can talk about #TheDress without us.

15. Jeff Jarvis’ case against mass media

From his keynote, paraphrased by myself:

  1. News organisations are used to addressing their audience as a mass, since for a long time, this has been the only way possible. You had one product for everyone.
  2. To succeed today, you need to address your audience as individuals.
  3. To do so, you need to know them.
  4. They need to learn from Google and Facebook, who know so much more about their users than news organisations do. Create an identity layer and then build products for specific usecases on top of that: «I’ve got 2 minutes, update me.», «I’ve got 30 minutes, I want to learn something new.», etc.

Then again:

16. Who’s paying? A smart answer from Rasmus Nielsen.

17. Tell people what they can do.

This has been mentioned in multiple contexts: with regard to the Guardian’s Keep it in the ground campaign, as one area in which data journalism can make money, and – of course – as something that appeals to millennials. Journalism should not stop at reporting and laying out all the facts. It should help people make decisions and tell them how they can take action.

18. Felix Salmon spoilt the party (at least he wore pink pants when he did)

To a room full of journalists: «If anyone’s getting rich here, it’s not going to be you. Sorry.» His 15-minute talk was basically a live-performance of this article of his, so go read it.

19. Reported.ly will get a website, kind of.

20. Five days of input = system overload.

Went to Assisi on Sunday instead. 20 minutes from Perugia by train, highly recommended. The pope approved of us skipping the festival’s last day.

21. Coming back in 2016 is probably a good idea.

Or, for that matter, coming for the first time, if you’ve never been there. The 2016 edition will take place April 6-11, follow the Festival on Twitter to stay in the loop. Also, videos of most sessions are available on the Festival’s website, check what you’ve missed.

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