Global Editors Network: A new hope for journalism?

“Energised, motivated, encouraged, hopeful, excited.”

When journalism legend Martin ‘Marty’ Baron, Editor of the Washington Post speaks that way about the future of his title it’s difficult not to get swept up in the enthusiasm, despite the oft rocky path ahead that faces the industry.

Mr Baron was delivering the keynote speech at this year’s GEN Summit 2017 in Vienna, the annual conference of the Global Editors Network.

And his words echoed the buzz of the expo and the conference, which was unashamedly tech focused, with virtual reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning among the topics discussed by speakers from around the world.

‘Disruption, Innovation and Co-operation’ were the theme of the three days of the GEN Summit and Mr Baron’s keynote touched on all three areas.

Tackling ‘Disruption’, new technology and new platforms represent a formidable challenge said Mr Baron, but ‘difficult is not the same as impossible’ he told delegates.

Inspiring to listen to a print legend whose four decades of excellence are the stuff of Hollywood, espouse optimism in his title’s ability to continue winning with ‘journalism that makes a difference’ in the digital age.

Under his tenure in the editor’s chair, combined with Jeff Bezos’ ownership, the Washington Post has enjoyed a renaissance with growing audiences and a revitalised vision of how to navigate the evolving media landscape.

Indeed he told the conference: “Our gains have not come at the expense of quality journalism.

“I don’t accept that you can’t do both at the same time,” he said, saying his title had focused on being ‘smart and popular’ with story telling tailored to the different platforms. Headlines had changed from being stuffy to being engaging, but he challenged any notion of this being dumbing down or clickbait, saying it was ‘just good headline writing’.

“Our goal is to be everywhere, to go where people are,” said the 40 year veteran as he spoke about ‘Innovation’ and the need to customise journalism to platforms such as digital video, Snapchat or Amazon Echo to name a few.

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Coming to ‘Co-operation’ Mr Baron spoke about how the newsroom and the engineering department at the Washington Post now worked closely together, describing those engineers as a ‘creative force’ for journalism.

He spoke about speeding up the website, the mobile site, about the Washington Post becoming a technology company and about the need to work smarter.

“We put a man on the moon before we put wheels on luggage,” he told amused delegates: “Sometimes you don’t need to dream of the moonshot’.

Of course trust in the media, a recurring topic in the era of ‘fake news’, and Donald Trump’s aggression towards journalists, figured much in Mr Baron’s speech. While the Washington Post had seen an increase in subscribers due to what some commentators call the ‘Trump bump’ Mr Baron said that long term he did not think that it was good for society, saying that while Trump may have gone to war with the press, his journalists had not gone to war, they were just doing their job.

The former of the editor of the Boston Globe (featured in the movie Spotlight) delivered a keynote speech that should be required reading for any senior editorial leader who still complains about journalism in the digital age.

If print ‘royalty’ like Martin Baron can embrace it, evolve with it and espouse it, then so can the rest of us in the editor’s chair.





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