Sofia, June 13 (BTA) - News agencies from around the world are meeting in Sofia Thursday for their sixth congress to discuss the future of news-making. In his opening remarks, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said that the Congress offers a chance to discuss the current trends, challenges and opportunities for news agencies.
He said that the motto of the forum, The Future of News, is actually about the future of mankind. "Digitalization has already changed our perception of the world because information is in abundant supply, but in reality it is the most scarce commodity," the President said.
The social media boom has destroyed the previously established algorithms for acquiring, collecting, processing, analyzing and disseminating information, said the President, adding that professional news agencies and media outlets face growing financial issues, which lead to political and economic dependence and the undermining of professional and ethical standards.
"Today the truth is often drowned in fake news as speed [of reporting] takes precedence over credibility. The destructive effect of information now has the potential to be more dangerous than bombs and missiles", warned Radev.
He went on to thank BTA for its hard work in organizing and hosting the forum.
The Director General of the Bulgarian News Agency (BTA), Maxim Minchev, welcomed the participants to what he argued is the largest media event of the year in this country. He said that news journalism is one of the last bastions of real and double-checked news, and it needs sources of inspiration as much as it needs sources of financing.
Discussions during the forum will focus on fake news, artificial intelligence, the new models of ownership of news agencies and the new sources of information.
Participating in the congress between June 13 and 15 are over 200 delegates from 100 countries, including the heads of leading news agencies from the five continents, prominent journalists and figures from the social media.
Press Association (PA) Chief Executive Clive Marshall said that news agencies are charged with the difficult task of protecting legitimate news by remaining impartial. In recent years, challenges faced by news agencies have further increased due to declines in newspaper sales and an increased appetite for social media, he added.
Aslan Aslanov, the President of Azerbaijan's State News Agency AZERTAC and President of the News Agencies World Congress, said that modern technologies and the rapidly changing environment have influenced strongly the development of journalism. The expansion of social media and online media outlets poses new challenges and one of them is fake news, Aslanov added. He believes the future of news is in the hands of the news agencies.
The impact of fake news on democracy was central in the remarks of Bulgarian Culture Minister Boil Banov. "You are the people who fight for our freedom and we rely on you," said the Culture Minister, addressing the participants in the congress.
Addressing the discussion on current issues and challenges for modern media, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) CEO and European Alliance of News Agencies President Peter Kropsch said that he considers balanced news to be the main pillar of today's democratic society, pointing out that today's news agencies face a whole new set of challenges. "It is our duty to preserve media freedom for future generations," he said.
According to Kropsch, news media is currently under siege. Institutions are constantly trying to skip over the media by using social media platforms. Media outlets are often owned by politically or economically bound individuals. "We should be careful about fighting fake news through legislation, because the state should not interfere and decide what is okay to talk about and what is not," he stressed. According to him, the role of the state is becoming more comprehensive, namely by creating a favourable environment for the development of independent journalism and a legislative structure that supports it. The state should also create equalizing opportunities and legislative support in order for national media to be able to compete fairly with major platforms like Google and Facebook. The media's financial situation is also a key factor, Kropsch said, as only media, which can still exist without subsidies, is truly independent.
Director of the Reuters Institute for he Study of Journalism Rasmus Nielsen said that everyone is aware of how politically significant the news is and that there is a financial aspect of news coverage. He referred to a report published on Wednesday by his Institute, according to which the desire for online subscription is limited to certain countries and brands. As a result of the disinformation crisis, people rely more and more on well-known brands which have cultivated a good image, Nielsen said. In addition, people's confidence in news and news coverage continues to decline. People believe that online news are framed negatively. Fewer people spend time on Facebook and other social networks, as a new media outlet is shaping up in the use of Podcasts, especially among younger users, added Nielsen.
Executive Director and CEO of the International News Media Association Earl Wilkinson noted that there has been a rebirth of marketing in the news industry and that there is a process of transition from the art of marketing to marketing science. He spoke about paid content and commented that the paywall model did not work. Wilkinson, like other participants in the congress, pointed out that social media has had a toxic impact on its audience and that the Internet is becoming increasingly polluted. Therefore, he said, the main topic is how publishers can clean up the ecosystem and make it less toxic. "What is most important is gaining trust, trust and more trust," he added. Wilkinson considers success to be a result of three main factors: talent attraction and retention, repositioning of human resources and a culture of constant learning. "In the digital age, it is not about being good, it is about being unique," added Wilkinson.
The ownership and funding models of news agencies were also discussed at the Congress.
According to Bruce Davidson, CEO of Australian Associated Press, who moderated the discussion, in the mid-term many news agencies will change their ownership models and will have to change their way of working.
The African News Agency is part of a holding company, said its CEO Grant Fredericks. He explained that all African news platforms are part of this holding. The South African News Agency is an association of several media organizations that fund content, Fredericks added.
Jonas Eriksson, CEO of TT, the Swedish National News Agency, said that when he started working at the agency in 2010, it had several owners. Since then, the owners began buying out each other's shares and are currently down to three and soon will be down just one. Eriksson believes that in order for an agency to succeed, it must have freedom. "This can happen through financial freedom, and it is achieved by generating profits," said Eriksson.
"Most news agencies are old, created 80-100 years ago, and are used to planning long-term, unlike our customers," said Jiri Majstr, CEO of the Czech News Agency. "That's why we prefer long-term relationships because we want to survive for another 100 years," he added. Agencies' revenue is fluctuating permanently, but the overall trend is a customer decline," he noted.
Hempi Prajudi, Commercial Director of the Indonesian News Agency ANTARA, explained that their government pays the Agency subsidies of about 35 per cent, which are used for media coverage of state affairs. Prajudi said that about 45 percent of their revenue is generated from partnerships with Reuters and Bloomberg, with a trend for these revenues to increase their share.
Portuguese News Agency LUSA's CEO and Board of Directors President Nicolau Santos said that 35 per cent of LUSA's revenue comes from news services, 65 per cent comes from media clients, and the rest comes from banks and other private institutions. "LUSA acts as a public agency and its journalists are completely independent," Santos said.