The Future of NEWS

By Carissa Tan and Crystal Neoh

The universe works in mysterious and wondrous ways, and blessings come in many forms. Imagine this: two young people who would never have had the chance to meet otherwise, flown halfway across the globe to join teens from other countries for a Young Journalists Conference, participating in master classes delivered by leading correspondents and editors and also being given hands-on training by top-notch journalists, all in the name of inspiring the next generation of young journalists.

It was an immense surprise for both of us to emerge as the winners of the Future News essay competition organised by the British Council and, as a reward, we were sent as representatives from Malaysia to attend the much anticipated Future NEWS Conference 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Held 100 days before the Commonwealth Games which will also be held in Glasgow this year, Future NEWS 2014 aims to open the eyes of aspiring young journalists to the wonders and impact of the world of journalism, and also introducing a specially designed  online newsroom, to encourage the participants to write and file stories about the Commonwealth Games even after they return home.

The trip to Scotland lasted 6 days, while the conference ran from the 14th to the 16th of April. Most of our time was spent at the impressive Mitchell Library, one of Europe’s largest public libraries, which was also a convenient 3-minute-walk away from the Charing Cross Inn where we stayed.

Prestigious speakers include editors, authors, journalists and even athletes were brought in not only to speak, but also to inspire the participants. On the 14th of April, Paul Ingrassia, Managing Editor of Reuters presented the keynote opening address of the conference. Describing his experience during the 911 incident in 2001, where he saw people jumping from the burning towers, he spoke to us about journalism as an occupation and calling. According to him, the key to being a good journalist is to maintain a childlike curiosity and delight in everything and every new discovery.

Next, the Sunday Herald Foreign Editor, David Pratt, was invited to give us a brief introduction to news. Pratt said that news should give a voice to the people and that it should be entertaining and also investigative. And when asked about his insights into the qualities of being a good journalist: accuracy, independence, timeliness and honesty topped his list.

We were also fortunate to learn about the basics of news writing (story structure, the angle of news etc) under the guidance of Julian Cavert from Glasgow Caledonian University, and even had the great opportunity to write and create videos under his guidance.

In addition, it was at this point where some of us were in for a real treat – a selected few participants were given special press passes to the world exhibition of Commonwealth medals and attire at the Calvin Grove Art Gallery and Museum. During the conference, a short film about the process of medal making and the origins of the skirt design for the Games was shown.

At the end of the day, we were treated to a reception at the remarkably posh Glasgow City Chambers, where we were all formally received by Allan Stewart, Deputy Lord Provost of Glasgow. He expressed his pride at the event’s success in bringing together delegates from all over the world. On 15th of April, BBC Live correspondent, Allan Little, spoke to us about the legal aspects of journalism. His advice to young journalists : Always be cynical, and be aware of how political landscapes operate, and also to never forget to check the background and laws about a certain topic before submitting a piece.

Journalism ethics were highlighted by Donald Martin, Editor-in-Chief of DC Thomson Newspapers, who spoke to us about the power of the press, and also the different types of restrictions placed on editors. We were also enlightened about the importance of protocol by participating in hypothetical real life dilemmas which featured famous figures and celebrities. Following that, Grant Gibson, the Herald & Times Groups’ Digital Innovation Manager spoke to us about the power of social media that can be a strong tool of empowerment to journalists.

After lunch, Donald John MacDoland from STV North gave a very informative speech about the basics of television news, much to the delight of the delegates interested in broadcasting. According to him, being a broadcaster includes fundamentals like being an articulate speaker and being comfortable in front of the camera. He also touched on how to package a story (pictures are more important than words!) and advised delegates to always dress well and look the part of the piece they are presenting.

In the evening, we embarked on a tour of Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games venues such as the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome and Celtic Park. The former will showcase the badminton, track and cycling competitions in July and the latter, being the second largest club stadium in the UK with a capacity of 40,000 spectators, will hold the opening and closing ceremonies of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. The Athletes Village, located right next to Celtic Park, will be home to 45,000 athletes and their trainers during the games. The action-packed day ended with visits to BBC Scotland, Capital FM, STV, and the Herald & Times Group print plant to learn about newspaper printing processes.

The final day of the Future News Conference was successfully kicked off by an ex-rugby star, John Beattle, ex-badminton star, Susan Egelstaff, and journalist, Dr. Norman Watson. Dr. Watson exposed the harsh reality of being a journalist, but also said "It (journalism) is not highly paid. It is hard work and it is not a jolly. But show me a more brilliant job. It’s the best job in the world." He also encouraged delegates by saying “talent is not what matters the most. What matters is the amount of hard work you put in.”

Led by Dr Douglas Chalmers of Glasgow Caledonian University, with lecturer and journalist, Nick Bevens, The Glasgow Charter session in the afternoon was an integral part of the conference. The Glasgow charter will serve as a guide to the 40 young journalists who will be reporting live from the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games in July.“Obeying the law while always getting the best outcome of the story” was what they stressed, while they agreed that successful journalists must be able to balance their emotions and practise impartiality, writing from a neutral point of view.

The conference drew to a close with BBC presenter James Naughtie delivered the closing keynote address and to motivate delegates in our journalism journey.

If there was one thing that we learnt during the conference is that we as journalists need to be proactive, curious, and possess a certain degree of hunger for the truth/information. The speakers could not have emphasized this more. In hindsight, the Future NEWS conference has not only benefitted us by giving us invaluable information from professionals regarding journalism, but also, by bringing together delegates from across the Commonwealth, to forge new friendships and by opening  our eyes to a whole new world of different cultures, understandings and beliefs. It is indeed astounding that despite our differences, we understood each other through a common interest-our passion for writing. A friend of ours, Twila Wheelan from Jamaica, says that we are connected through a common past, a common present and a common future. We cannot possibly agree more.

Whitney Johnson once said, “If you dare to dream, remarkable things will happen.” So we dream, and the results were indeed remarkable. We are both honored to have been a part of this amazing journey and thankful to the British Council and also The Star BRATS for making all of this possible.