Top quotes and takeaways from the Turin World Editors Forum

When journalists and editors from around the globe met in Torino for the 21st World Editors forum this month, the key themes of discussion were: the onward progression of the digital transformation of newsrooms and story-telling; the impact of the Snowden-effect; abuses of press freedom; the increasingly important role of video stories; the boundary crossing of globalised journalism; and the evolving role of the editor.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | June 25, 2014

Here, Julie Posetti curates the top quotes and take-aways from the Forum:

1. On the ongoing transformation of the newsroom

  • “Stories under 500 words do well. Stories longer than 800 words work well. And in the middle there’s a deadzone.” – Gabriel Kahn, Professor of Professional Practice; Co-Director, Media, Economics and Entrepreneurship; Director, Future of Journalism at the Annenberg Innovation Lab, USA
  • “Every long investigative piece we do, we accompany with a 6-paragraph summary in order to capture readers’ attention.” – David Callaway, Editor-in-Chief, USA Today.
  • “When we charge people for our content, we had better make sure it’s worth paying for.” – Robert Shrimsley, Managing Editor,, UK.
  • “We still get people saying ‘we should hold this for print’ and I say ‘why not just throw it in the trash?’ Convergence is the only way forward. You cannot keep print and digital separate. It won’t work, not even in developing contexts.” – David Callaway.
  • “Journalists don’t generally like experiments, they tend to ‘punish’ innovators, but experimentation’s essential.” – George Brock, Professor and Head of Journalism, City University London, UK.
  • “The advertising rates on video are one of the only ones holding up as other ad revenue slides,” – Robert Shrimsley.
  • “You need to get EVERYONE – even the most grizzled old print editor – engaged in trying new things. The new blood is coming from the J-schools in the US. We almost exclusively hire J-school grads.” – David Callaway.

2. On Press Freedom

  • “This Golden Pen is more important than food, medicine and water. It materializes the support and shows that he is not forgotten. That he is one of us. That an attack on one journalist is an attack on us all and that jailing a journalist is a crime against humanity.” – Swedish journalist Martin Schibbye, accepting the 2014 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), on behalf of imprisoned Ethiopian publisher, journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega.
  • “It is fairly easy to report when a journalist is killed, but the real story is this impunity question, the killers getting away scot free. That requires more reporting and investigation – or at least nominating a reporter in the newsroom to monitor the issue.” – Guy Berger, Director, Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, UNESCO, Paris.

3. On national security, liberty, regulation and the role of a free press in the post-Snowden era

  • New technological advances mean that never before has the Big Brother envisioned by George Orwell been so tangible – Claudio Paolillo, Chairman, Press Freedom and Information Committee, Inter American Press Association, Director Semanario Búsqueda, Uruguay.
  • The biggest impact is arguably on the capacity for journalists to access confidential sources in the post-Snowden era.
  • “It’s created a very real chilling effect among our sources. They’ve become nervous about talking with us. They don’t want their phone numbers associated with us. And government employees who previously routinely talked to us, now won’t.” – Gary Pruitt, President & CEO, The Associated Press, USA.
  • “Journalism may have to be moved ‘off shore” to avoid creeping surveillance” – Janine Gibson, Editor-in-Chief, and Deputy Editor of Guardian News and Media, UK.

4. On the evolving role of the editor

  • “Editors need to BE the change in their newsrooms. You need to know what Buzzfeed is doing in order to compete.” – Aron Pilhofer, incoming Executive Editor for Digital, The Guardian (Formerly of The New York Times)
  • “The (African) editor has to manage the business sector, the government, audiences & new technology while defending democracy,” – Joseph Odindo, Group Editorial Director, Nation Media Group, Kenya. The African Editor must also manage risk on a daily basis, Odindo observed: “We have made flak jackets standard issue for editors & journalists in our newsrooms. We are under threat as a breed, but also under threat as human beings.”
  • The role of the editor is also to be an agent for social change and education within communities. “We must use our resources and knowledge for debate and education.” – Editor-in-Chief of Italy’s La StampaMario Calabresi told the conference. His paper is partnering with schools to produce youth-engaged content. And the paper has also had success with special editions built on social justice themes “We sold 50k copies more than normal when we did a special Africa issue,” he said.
  • The editor needs to be editorially strategic and lead the news agenda. “Sensationalism and soft news have been trends that amount to a long-term disaster for US newsrooms…Journalists need to know more to analyse complex issues – there’s a knowledge deficiency among journalists.” – Thomas Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, USA.

5. On pushing the boundaries of global journalism

  • “I believe we are at the beginning of a major movement in cross-border, collaborative investigative journalism.” – Rosental Alves, Professor, Knight Chair of Journalism, University of Texas, Austin, USA.
  • “Although we were born in a world of paper, we are trying to link ourselves to a new ecosystem and the results are good.” – Roberto Bernabò, Editor-in-Chief, Il Tirreno, Italy.
  • “In Australia, The Guardian Australia (a website-only entry to an increasingly pluralistic media market) has already achieved audience engagement levels rivalling those in the UK.” – Janine Gibson.

6. On digital storytelling

  • “Stories that are deep, solid, important, those that have emotional impact get a ‘viral lift’ according to research.” – Thomas Patterson.
  • “Geography in the newsroom is the most important: having coders, designers, product people in the same room.” – Aron Pilhofer.
  • “Consistent revenue comes from a combination of both short, sharp video and long, evergreen content.” – Marie-Noëlle Vallès, Head of Video, AFP, France.
  • “Younger generations are increasingly interested in news but increasingly cynical about sources of news.” – Jason Mojica, Editor-in-Chief, Vice News, USA.
  • Digital first means putting content production at the centre, regardless of the platform for which it is created. – Roberto Bernabò.
  • Africa-check is causing political parties to be more factual, they’re afraid of being found out. – Anton Harber, Caxton Professor of Journalism and Media Studies, Director of Journalism, University of the Witwatersrand; Advisor, AfricaCheck, South Africa.

*Picture: Cherilyn Ireton

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