Media Academy

“Media Literacy is the Front Line of the New Cold War” in Misinformation
This is a US protest image. A man holds up a large handpainted sign which reads, I wish this were fake news. There are other protesters holding signs behind him.Image: Kayla Velasquez/Unsplash
“Media Literacy is the Front Line of the New Cold War” in Misinformation
By: Josh Wilde 

Latest Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change workshop considers the value of truth, transparency, and media literacy in combatting misinformation and declining public trust

Misinformation has created and accentuated divides between communities. Global protests in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are indicative of wider social unrest and declining public trust, fueled by a dangerous misrepresentation of facts and fiction that threatens the future of truth itself.

The last workshop in an online series designed to investigate the impact of protest and pandemic, entitled, Has Misinformation Undermined Public Trust and Democracy?, considered citizens and institutions’ roles in safeguarding democracy.

Roman Gerodimos, associate professor of global current affairs, Bournemouth University, UK, explained how information had been strategically weaponized by governments, intelligence services, and rogue actors to exploit fault lines between communities. 

He referenced the coordinated digital misinformation campaign after the 2018 Salisbury poisoning of former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Gerodimos termed this hybrid threat “the New Cold War.”

He said, “Now we know it was three high-ranking officers of the Russian military intelligence service, but at the time RT, Sputnik, and other Russian media produced 46 different theories. Some of them were quite absurd. 

“What it teaches us is the point of misinformation. It’s not to promote one version of the truth. The point is to be so confused about what is truthful that you ultimately abandon the idea that truth is attainable and important.

“We need dissent and dialogue, which is about the pursuit of truth and the role of citizens as stakeholders. What we’re seeing through misinformation is the exact opposite. It’s called power politics, and it is disempowering citizens from being critical thinkers. The fastest way to shut down a democracy is to shut down dissent”.

Gerodimos also introduced his new Deterrence documentary series that explores these issues and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) role in European security. The project was co-created by staff and students from Bournemouth University and can be viewed for free here:  

Pablo Martinez Zarate, professor of documentary film and digital narrative, Iberoamericana University, Mexico, highlighted the difficulty of responding to misinformation in a partisan environment, where traditional narrative strategies are blocked by the opposition and media organizations may be viewed cynically.

He proposed the need for counterstrategies to reach across fragmented communities, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic has widened these divisions. Zarate also discussed political polarization, characterized by US President Donald Trump.

Zarate said, “We have to stare at the face of difference. Sometimes it’s really hard to share political views that under our perspective are the right views when there is political discourse or legitimization of this cynical, alternative view.

“In other words, how can we build narratives that convince people who do not agree with the narratives we are sharing, and not only [reach] people that already agree with our world views?

“We have enormous challenges today after the pandemic that can push us to alternative solutions that we didn’t necessarily anticipate before.

“In order to escape this huge vortex, we need to question centers of power and meaning. We need to recognize that it takes sacrifice, a way of sacrificing our own view in order to recognize alternative and difference.”

Zarate shared the interactive documentary Forensic Landscapes, which explores the complex issue of forced disappearances in Latin America through innovative virtual storytelling. Zarate and Anne Huffschmid directed the project. It can be viewed for free here: 

Paul Mihailidis, the program director of the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change, then encouraged open dialogue in a half-hour discussion between speakers and participants.

Gerodimos explained the need for a pluralism of news sources and some method of regulation to preserve freedom. Zarate described the importance of shared experience as a source of truth. Both speakers agreed that critical thinking, fostered by media literacy, is crucial in combatting misinformation and rebuilding public trust.

Gerodimos said: “If we agree that we want ‘these’ consequences over ‘those’ ones, and we also agree that we want people to be participants in that process, essentially you’re talking about the construction of democracy, more or less, then I think media literacy or that type of engagement is indispensable.”

Zarate added: “Media literacy, I totally agree, has to go beyond a set of skills … the skills will change in 10 years, they might change in 20, so if we focus more on ideas like self-realization, I think that could boost media literacy further.” 

Mihailidis ended the session by thanking everyone who attended this workshop series.

He concluded, “We’re all really excited by the level of engagement that went beyond our expectations. That’s the power of our community and what we can do, even in this time of protest and pandemic.”

Protest and Pandemic: Researchers Leading the Way
Work from home image. There is a laptop on a wooden table next to a blue mug. The laptop screen shows a group Zoom video call with the participants faces slightly blurred.Image: Chris Montgomery/Unsplash
Protest and Pandemic: Researchers Leading the Way
By: Josh Wilde 

Researchers present pioneering projects in second Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change online workshop 

COVID-19 and global protests continue to affect our media and civic systems. As more people spend longer periods working and learning in an online environment, Salzburg Global Seminar recently explored if this pandemic is changing the way people interact with each other and the media.

The second of three Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change workshops created to examine the dual impact of protest and pandemic considered, How can Researchers Document Unrest on the Front Line? Three distinguished researchers presented innovative projects to 75 participants in the online public session before dividing into groups for open discussion.

Program Director Paul Mihailidis began by dedicating the event to Academy faculty member and friend Moses Shumow on the first anniversary of his death.

Stephen Reese, Jesse H. Jones professor of journalism, Moody College of Communication, The University of Texas at Austin, USA, introduced the three panelists and described how the pandemic had shone a light on existing practices.

He said, "COVID has not so much caused but revealed some of these structural issues in the global community: adequacy of health care, the social safety net, political institutions, press performance, and networks of information. All the things which are so close to our subject matter with the Academy. The question then is how can we conduct research that takes into account these global connections which have been highlighted by the pandemic".

Sangita Shresthova, director of research, @CivicPaths, University of Southern California, USA, explained the importance of protecting researchers who themselves are experiencing the pandemic they wish to study. The Civic Imagination Project analyzes 'people's vision for a better world tomorrow. Forced to move workshops online due to COVID-19, Shresthova described the adaption process.

She said, “We were confronted with a situation that filled us with fear, the opposite of imagination. We wanted to do something that would inspire the imagination … we made a very strong conceptual and theoretical commitment to thinking of ourselves as participants. Our research really needed to contribute somehow to the participants' lives”.

Participants in this workshop shared their thoughts through virtual word clouds on what values should shape the world of 2060 and the stories that inspire them when they imagine this future. Shresthova noted the difference between answers after conducting the same exercise at Salzburg Global Seminar in 2019, highlighting how today's world may not be adequately described by past stories and people are instead reaching for new ways to explain the current situation.

Claudia Kozman, assistant professor of multimedia journalism, Lebanese American University, Lebanon, conducted research with fellow Academy faculty Jad Melki into selection bias and political participation around the October 2019 Lebanese protests. She described how a tax-rise for online messaging service WhatsApp sparked widespread demonstrations, nicknamed 'The WhatsApp 'Revolution', and illustrated growing resentment against the government.

A representative survey of 1,000 people in Lebanon found respondents who felt strongly either for or against the protests chose media that aligned with their views and demonstrated selective avoidance. Protest supporters dominated selective sharing on social media while those opposing the demonstrations were not as active in promoting anti-protest news. Kozman asked the workshop’s participants to think about why selection bias matters.

She said, "If we live in a place where we feel strongly about something that we believe is our own right as citizens, does it mean we have no room for the opposite view? 'Isn't it important for us to be part of political deliberation because that is basically the backdrop of democracy, or do we want to close off everything and just listen to what we want to?"

Susan Moeller, director of the international center for media and the public agenda and professor, College of Journalism and the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, USA, gave special insight into a survey of 'students' media consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from this research project is currently being analyzed. The results will be available once the study is complete.

Participants were then allowed to share their own experiences and ask questions during smaller breakout sessions before Mihailidis closed the event, thanking everyone for their contribution.

He said, "We are once again super humbled that this community can come together in the numbers that it does. I encourage you to reach out to Sangita, Claudia and Susan to ask more about their research and follow-up questions The goal here is to spark community and invite everyone to continue the discussions”.

Registration for the third workshop on Thursday, November 19, 2020, entitled, Protest and Pandemic: Has Misinformation Undermined Public Trust and Democracy?, is free and open to the public, sign up here.

Protest and Pandemic: A Polarized Picture
Person with film camera at protestPhoto by Etienne Godiard on Unsplash
Protest and Pandemic: A Polarized Picture
By: Josh Wilde 

More than 90 people attend first online Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change workshop

People will remember 2020 for global protests and the devastating impact of COVID-19. With these challenges in mind, and the opportunity to “build back better,” what role can media literacy play in response?

In the first of three workshops designed to explore the dual impact of protest and pandemic, Paul Mihailidis, program director of the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, asked, “What is the role and potential for media literacy?”

Clare Shine, Salzburg Global’s vice president and chief program officer, welcomed more than 90 international participants, speakers, and Fellows to the online public event.

Five Academy faculty shared short reflections detailing the impact of protest and pandemic on their media and civic systems.

Roman Gerodimos, associate professor of global current affairs, Bournemouth University, UK, urged caution when defining protests as inherently good or bad, instead advocating that judgment should depend on values, ideology, and context.

Gerodimos praised the wave of voluntary activism across the UK, with hundreds of thousands of people mobilizing for the common good. He did, however, highlight the issue of fragmentation between many local initiatives and asked how media literacy can “bridge the divide” to ensure help reaches those who most need it, not just those who are most engaged.

Claudia Kozman, assistant professor of multimedia journalism, Lebanese American University, Lebanon, reflected on whether journalists should be objective during anti-government protests and police brutality incidents in Lebanon.

Kozman described a polarized media where framing is heavily influenced by an organization’s affiliation to the government, to the extent that reports appeared to be describing two different events. She asked when obvious violence is not covered as such, what is the thought process of those reporters?

Donna Chu, associate professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong, spoke about the important role digital media plays as an information source for anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

Chu addressed disinformation, sharing survey results of 2,259 local secondary school students where over one in three would consider sharing “fake news” favorable to their side. She asked how media literacy can teach one to value truth in an environment where edited photos and altered narratives are commonplace.

Pablo Martinez Zarate, professor of documentary film and digital narrative, Iberoamericana University, Mexico, believes the pandemic has highlighted pre-existing divisions that offer media makers challenges and opportunities.

Zarate referred to filmmakers in Mexico as an example of alternative civic protest. They collaborated to ensure a fairer spread of government financial resources in their sector, thus recognizing a wider range of diverse projects. Zarate underlines the chance to reshape horizons and transform communities.

Susan Moeller, professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism and School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, USA, divided events in the US into three categories: the Black Lives Matter protests and counter-violence; COVID-19 and natural disasters; and political crisis following the death of Supreme Court Justice and Salzburg Global Fellow Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Moeller asked how the media can cover a crisis while also signaling its importance and the role social media can play.

Participants were then divided into seven virtual breakout rooms to share their own experiences.

Two of the discussions’ key themes were the value of truth in building trust through transparency and media literacy’s ability to create a listening space for empathy across polarized ideological and generational borders.

It was reasoned that with trust in authority and media declining, teaching must focus on approaches to reporting news and ways to verify information.

Participants see social media as an opportunity to increase awareness through unfiltered bystander videos while also contributing to polarization.

There were calls for greater action by social media companies to tackle “fake news” and give users the ability to report misleading content directly.

Mihailidis praised how the workshop explored the impact of protest and pandemic on communities. He said, “It was wonderful to see familiar faces and learn more about how this time is impacting media and civic systems in places like Hong Kong, Mexico City, Beirut, London, and beyond. Participants were able to share experiences and learn from each other, which is what the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change is all about.”

Mihailidis encouraged everyone to join the conversation with the second workshop on Thursday, October 22, 2020, titled: “Protest and Pandemic: How can Researchers Document Unrest on the Front Line?

Registration is free, and you can sign up here.

Feeling at Home
Mira Luce Hamdan (left) at Salzburg Global SeminarMira Luce Hamdan (left) at Salzburg Global Seminar
Feeling at Home
By: Mira Luce Hamdan 

In July 2019, Mira Luce Hamdan traveled from Lebanon to Austria to attend the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. When they arrived, they rediscovered their passion for media – and set out on a new life path

I don’t know how to explain in a few short sentences what the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change means to me. It sounds silly, but the Academy is more a feeling than a place: it is friendship, love, acceptance, validation, passion, enlightenment, home.

I felt truly at home for the first time ever when I was at Schloss Leopoldskron. I met the most interesting people, made friendships and connections, and I found something that I thought I had lost: I found my passion.

I struggled a lot when getting my bachelor’s degree. Somewhere along the way, I forgot why I liked media and media studies. However, the three weeks I spent in Parker Hall with the amazing instructors and my brilliant colleagues, the conversations we had with each other and with guest speakers, and the field trips around Austria reminded me of my love for media. One of the most amazing things is that everybody made sure to let me know and to remind me naturally and genuinely, that I’m actually good at what I’m doing.

The amount of validation, love, and acceptance that I felt in the Schloss and in those halls will forever fill my heart and push me further. I will always remember every kind thing and every encouraging word I heard from every person in that place because it all pushed me towards a better future. Before attending the Salzburg Academy, I had planned to get a Ph.D. in social work (and I’m sure I would have been great at it). But the Academy and the people there reminded me that my love and my future is media.

The part that still amazes me is that I almost didn’t attend the program. Initially, I wasn’t going to apply for the Salzburg Academy. Financially I was just not going to make it. Then, my professor told me that I could apply for a scholarship. I could barely believe it when I got the email telling me I was accepted into the program with a 50% scholarship. It was Christmas and my birthday all at once.

There is a Welsh word that loosely translates to yearning for home: “hiraeth.” I guess if I had to put it in one word, “hiraeth” is what the Salzburg Academy will always be to me.

New Symposium to Explore Intersection of Social Justice and Media
The inaugural Social Justice and Media Symposium has been organized by Paul Mihailidis, program director of the Salzburg Media Academy on Media and Global Change
New Symposium to Explore Intersection of Social Justice and Media
By: Oscar Tollast 

The inaugural one-day event will take place in memory of Salzburg Global Fellow Moses Shumow

An inaugural symposium on Social Justice and Media will be held in memory of Salzburg Global Fellow Moses Shumow next month.

The one-day event will take place in Boston, MA, on Friday, February 28, between 10 am and 4 pm at Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theater, Emerson College.

Activists, scholars, students, and storytellers will convene to explore how media pedagogy and practice can persist in light of a transactional, shallow, and fractured media infrastructure.

Shumow, a multi-time faculty member at the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, passed away in a train accident outside of Boston, MA, on October 22, 2019.

Staff at Salzburg Global and Fellows who worked with Shumow were left devastated by his sudden death. His keen mind, infectious personality, and warm smile made him a firm favorite at the Media Academy.

The Social Justice and Media Symposium, held in Shumow's memory, will feature a keynote presentation, a panel discussion, a student work showcase, a screening of “Liberty Square Rising,” and a roundtable work share activity.

Paul Mihailidis, program director of the Salzburg Media Academy on Media and Global Change, is responsible for organizing this year’s symposium. He’ll be joined at the event by fellow Media Academy faculty Chris Harris and Sanjeev Chatterjee.

During the roundtable work share activity, organizers will announce the first recipient of the Transformative Media Literacy Scholar Award. This award will go to a young academic or graduate student who is doing exceptional work at the intersection of journalism education, participatory media, media literacy, community activism, and social justice. The recipient will also attend this year’s program of the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change.

The award celebrates the life of Shumow, a man who worked tirelessly to tell the stories of transnational and underserved communities. The call for nominations is still open, and responses should be sent to Mihailidis at

Mihailidis, who has helped organize the symposium, said, “This symposium is happening to both honor the work that Moses did with such passion and joy, but to also bring together communities of activists, practitioners, scholars, and students to continue the work of advocating for communities marginalized, and underserved.

“Our goal is to build capacity and community of our own, anchored by the theme of persistence: persistence in the face of loss, of challenge, and of structures that divide. We know that this is what Moses fought for in the classroom and the community, and it's something we will continue to fight for a long time to come."

To learn more about the event and register, please visit

Salzburg Global Devastated by Sudden Death of Media Academy Faculty Moses Shumow
Moses Shumow, June 27, 1977 – October 22, 2019Moses Shumow, June 27, 1977 – October 22, 2019
Salzburg Global Devastated by Sudden Death of Media Academy Faculty Moses Shumow
By: Salzburg Global Seminar 

Family, friends, colleagues, and students pay tribute to Moses who died after being hit while cycling near Boston by a commuter train

Staff at Salzburg Global Seminar are devastated to learn of the sudden death of Moses Shumow, a several-time faculty member at the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change.

Moses died after being hit while cycling near Boston by a commuter train on the morning of October 22. Transit police are continuing their investigation.

Moses, who recently joined Emerson College's journalism faculty from Florida International University, was a beloved teacher, friend, husband, and father. Moses' keen mind, infectious personality, and warm smile made him a favorite among participants and faculty alike.

He is survived by his wife, Rose, and three children. Two funds have been established to help support the education and other needs of his children.

A service for Moses was held on Sunday, October 27 at the First Baptist Church, in Beverly, Massachusetts, led by the Rev. Julie Flowers and by Rabbi Alison Adler. Faculty from the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, on which Moses served, gathered from across the world to pay tribute to their colleague, joined by Academy co-founders Susan Moeller and Stephen Salyer. 

Speaking with Emerson Today, Paul Mihailidis, director of the Salzburg Academy, said, “Moses was my best friend and a colleague. We traveled the world working in communities, collaborating on dynamic pedagogies, research papers, and book projects. He was one of the most dedicated and passionate humans, who lived his work.”

Stephen Salyer, President of Salzburg Global Seminar, said: “Moses was a man as full of love for his family, students, colleagues and friends as anyone I have ever known.  It is clear from the stories told during and after Sunday’s service that his spirit will live on through the witness of those who share Moses’ devotion to the power of truthful information to change lives.”

We welcome your contribution of tributes and memories of Moses. With your permission, we would like to include them as part of his obituary as we remember and honor him on our website.


"My memories of Moses are very fond ones, taking me all the way back to the 2016 Media Academy where he passionately spoke against the harmful practices towards our climate. His speech was absolutely inspiring and got everyone actively thinking about how they can help the climate. In the hallways, he always held a wide smile on his face, and his spirit shone unlike any other. I had the pleasure of having him as my guide in the piece I’d contributed for the MOVE publication, as he was always encouraging us to find unique ways to express ourselves. My thoughts and prayers go out to all those who have been affected by his tragic loss."

Nour Hassoun

“Moses was a clear-thinking man with a beautiful mind. For me, he showed me how to be the best person I could be by helping me to remove some of my own fears. He was warm, open and moments spent with him are so vividly memorable now, years later, that I feel as if it was just yesterday when we last spoke. I know he loved his family and friends profoundly, and his light, love, and energy will be found in the stories of everyone who was blessed to meet him. Thank you, Moses.”

Skyler Shah

"My favorite memory of Moses was during the 2016 Media Academy at Salzburg Global Seminar. We had a short coffee break in between sessions, and while standing in the courtyard among other participants, Moses and I got on the topic of different styles of dance, like the waltz. We were talking about the style and the steps, and in a moment of silliness, Moses and I started to waltz around the courtyard, pretending to sing some sort of stereotypical waltz tune and laughing while trying to keep [an] upright posture and look prim and proper. It was the first memory I thought of when I read this heartbreaking news. I’m lucky I had a chance to meet such a kind, brilliant, and incredible human while in Salzburg, and I’m sad that he’s gone."

Stephanie Quon

Below is an obituary first published by Campbell Funeral Home, where memories, photos, videos, candles, and mementos can also be shared. 


Moses Augustin Bradberry Stamler Shumow June 27, 1977 – October 22, 2019

Moses Augustín Shumow, born on June 27, 1977, in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, died in Beverly, MA, on October 22, 2019. Moses was a resident of Beverly, Massachusetts.

Moses was raised in Gila, New Mexico, and grew up with a loving family and community. It was during his upbringing in the mountains of New Mexico that Moses cultivated a love of land and the outdoors and realized the importance and interconnectedness of geography, community and storytelling. He pursued these passions through higher education. He completed a BA in Communication at New Mexico State University, then went on to earn his MA in Broadcast Journalism at Emerson College. He spent the following decade pursuing his passion for film, working as a documentary filmmaker for local and national networks, including PBS, National Geographic, History Channel and Discovery. He received numerous awards for his work including the duPont-Columbia Gold Baton Award and a Rocky Mountain Emmy for Cultural Programming.

In 2007, Moses turned to academia, completing his PhD at the University of Miami in 2010 and beginning a teaching career at Florida International University. He taught at FIU for nine years, earning college-wide honors for teaching excellence and community engagement. In addition to his passionate teaching, Moses worked tirelessly to tell the stories of transnational and underserved communities in urban Miami. His documentary Liberty City Rising, produced with his students, screened around the United States and received national attention and accolades. Moses was incredibly proud of documenting the rich and often untold history of marginalized communities and believed in the power of storytelling to shift perspectives, challenge stereotypes, and create positive narratives. As a result of this work, Moses was awarded fellowships from the Miami Urban Future Initiative and Images of Voices and Hope.

In addition to his filmmaking, Moses was the editor of Mediated Communities: Civic Voices, Empowerment and Media Literacy in the Digital Age and co-author of News, Neoliberalism, and Miami’s Fragmented Urban Space. He authored numerous articles on media literacy, journalism and civic participation. In 2008, Moses joined the faculty of the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change, where he was able to find global avenues for his work, traveling to places like Cyprus, Beirut, Lebanon and Salzburg, Austria.

After teaching for nine years at Florida International University, Moses and his family returned to Boston in Fall 2019 to Emerson College, where Moses began a job as a tenured associate professor in the Department of Journalism. In his short time at Emerson, Moses taught courses in Community Participation and Digital Storytelling, quickly becoming a favorite of students. He volunteered to oversee the student-run News Service and was working to develop new courses for the graduate program in Media Design. Moses was also working on his latest book project about media literacy and community engagement.

Moses met his wife, Rose Mary Compagine, during an internship with WGBH Boston in 2002. They married in 2005 and moved to Miami, Florida to begin their family. Moses was a passionate and committed partner and husband who loved his family above all else, and he and Rose were overjoyed to welcome three beautiful children, Lola (11), Gus (9), and Rubén (2), into their lives. The family equally enjoyed the thriving multiculturalism of Miami as a city and the natural beauty of its coastline. Moses enjoyed traveling, running, dancing, playing music with friends, and was a basketball fan. He was a stalwart member of his Biscayne Park community and loved spending weekends with neighbors swimming, camping and making memories with the children. Yet his love for New Mexico endured, and he made sure that his family returned regularly to the beautiful mountains and rivers that he held in his heart.

Moses is survived by his wife, Rose Mary Shumow, daughter Lola Belle Shumow, sons Harry Augustin “Gus” Shumow and Rubén Emmanuel Shumow, his parents Emmanuel and Gail Stamler, brother Rio Stamler, his mother in-law Marta Compagine, sister and brother-in-law, Anna and Joel Cohen, nephews Maxemilio, Frederick and Nathaniel, and an extended network of cousins, aunts, uncles and loved ones.

Memorial services for Moses will take place on Sunday, October 27, at 2 p.m., at the First Baptist Church, in Beverly, MA. The address is 221 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA. The church is non-denominational, and services will be presided over by Reverend Julie Flowers and Rabbi Alison Adler.

Moses will always be remembered for his big, boisterous laugh, his conviction to making the world better by living his truths and his loyalty to family and friends. We remember him as the big guy who loved his children more than life and always wore his heart on his sleeve.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the education and care of Moses’s children, Lola, Gus and Rubén, by addressing checks to the Shumow Family, and sending them to the following address:

D’Ambrosio Brown LLP
Shumow Family Memorial Fund
185 Devonshire Street, 10th Floor
Boston, MA 02110.

Additional donations can be made at the following link:

Please direct inquiries to the Campbell Funeral Services, 525 Cabot St, Beverly, MA, 01915.
(978) 922-1113. To send flowers to the family of Moses Augustin Bradberry Stamler Shumow, please visit Tribute Store.

Journalism is Full of Choices – It’s Not Easy
Naja Nielsen at the 2018 Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change (Credit: Katrin Kerschbaumer/Salzburg Global Seminar)
Journalism is Full of Choices – It’s Not Easy
By: Mirabelle Morah 

Naja Nielsen, digital director of BBC News, reflects on her new role, the importance of the BBC, and tips for spotting fake news

“Journalism looks so easy, but it's difficult. It's very difficult because it's full of choices,” says Naja Nielsen, digital director of BBC News. “You learn about something, [then] you have to decide first of all who to research… what to exclude, what to include in the story and then afterwards how to communicate it, and how to produce it. There are all these choices that can be criticized.”

Attending the 13th program of the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change: The Cost of Disbelief: Fracturing Societies and the Erosion of Trust, Nielsen spoke about the importance of impartiality, and the role the BBC has to play.

Nielsen made the choice to work for the BBC, leaving Orb Media, a global journalism start-up in Washington, D.C, specialized in data-informed stories. Having been appointed in April, she has since been responsible for the digital strategy and development of the BBC portfolio of digital news services. For BBC News to have a “great future,” Nielsen says it needs to excel digitally.

“That means that we have to find a balance between sticking to our core values and keep doing what we do best, but in ways that work for people that use their media digitally, primarily on their mobile phones,” Nielsen says. “Which means everything from the content selection to the way we tell the stories, to the way we publish the stories and when we publish the stories has to be reconsidered.”

This is a daunting task for any media company, but that does not deter Nielsen. “I just think people need knowledge, and I think we have an important part to play there. But I also do believe that we have to innovate and renew ourselves quite a lot to be able to do that in the future,” she says.

Tracing her thoughts back to her statement on the importance of the BBC staying true to its core values, Nielsen says that being impartial and trustworthy are the two most important things about the BBC.

“That means that we have taken no sides, we do not push a specific agenda, we are not led by economic or political interests, and we are not bought into pressure.

“We always go to lengths to make sure that whatever we are reporting is actually accurate, and both of those two things are very difficult to get right all the time. Well, it is maybe the most important reason for us [as the BBC] to exist,” Nielsen said.

However, in recent times, convincing people of the BBC’s impartiality has not been “very easy to achieve,” according to Nielsen. “For instance, if it is about Brexit, the same story can be criticized for being pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit. And to those two different groups of audience that are reading the story, we just seem like partial or biased. And it's not very easy to solve… If we just did the stories like one side wanted, then the other side would just think we were even more partial…

“I find it very interesting, and I thought this was a great opportunity for me to talk to young people from around the world [at the Media Academy] about this too to get – to be honest – a bit of help to figure out how to modernize our way of showing our impartiality,” Nielsen says.

To detect fake news, Nielsen emphasizes people need to “get into the habit of making certain questions every time they read something.” They have to ask themselves if a story is “too good to be true,” and if there is anything strange about it. If the story seems plausible, “then look at how many different sources there are,” Nielsen says. She expressed the importance of investigating the source and origin of a story, especially when one isn’t satisfied with the credibility of the news or its source.

“If there are many others that are reporting the same thing and you can see it is exactly the same wording, it's not vetted,” she notes.

“It's not enough that all media is carrying the [same] story because often, it goes so fast that it can just be the same - garbage in, garbage out. But if they have slightly different ways of covering the story but the basic facts are the same, it is often true.”

Nielsen is 51. As well as working for the BBC and Orb Media, she led editorial development in many different roles at DR, Danish Broadcasting, including as head of news. She has also been a visiting scholar at Stanford University where she wrote the paper “Journalism in the Digital Age: What Legacy Media should Learn, Embrace and Fear from Silicon Valley.” With this experience behind her, what message would she give to her younger self?

“Oh. That’s funny,” says Nielsen. She pauses. “It took me many years actually to take up leadership positions and managing positions. The first many years, I tried to work a little less, but also I think there was … me being a coward at it where I had all these ideas about how things should be, but I did not want to like take on the responsibility, and I think maybe I could have done that a bit before… If you can see solutions, you also have some responsibility…

“But on the other hand I think it has maybe later on helped me that I did not become a manager very early on, that I had many years like a normal staff member because I think maybe that made me learn how it is to be led as well… So I think it has influenced my leadership style a lot to try to empower people a lot. All leaders say they want opposition, but I genuinely want opposition because I do remember myself as [someone] young.”

And on her advice to journalists, especially young and upcoming journalists, Nielsen says it’s important to know the craft very well “and to be a little humble when you learn that because it is difficult… [so] I think it's good to practice a lot.”

Naja Nielsen is a guest scholar at the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. The Salzburg Global program, The Cost of Disbelief: Fracturing Societies and Erosion of Trust, is part of the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change.