The London venue known for hosting some of the most famous speakers worldwide including Nelson Mandela, Benazir Bhutto and Tony Blair has yet again held another successful event featuring chief editors and journalists from the biggest names in the newspaper industry. Yes that’s right, it was the annual Polis Journalism Conference 2014 at the London School of Economics. Many came with one key word in mind: journalism.
If you’d walked into the school, you’d have noticed three main features: the panel with the chairperson and one or more main speakers; the theatre that was so jam-packed you could even see people standing at the back and taking notes, and the hundreds of phones and laptop screens lighting up on social media sites, especially Twitter, as the audience constantly updated the Internet world with news, opinions and quotes from the event followed by ‘#Polis14’.
The list of confirmed speakers included the prominent Channel 4 presenter Cathy Newman; Tom Giles from BBC Panorama, chief editor of The Guardian Alan Rusbridger and many others whom student journalists like myself had the honour of meeting. After answering many questions about his trial over the publication of Snowden’s story leaks, during the question and answer session at the end of his talk Rusbridger raised some eyebrows and turned some heads with his words that: “journalists who promise security to sources don’t understand technology and are being irresponsible. No one is secure”. The Times’ James Dean expressed the same opinion in a different talk by admitting that “as much as you have filters on Twitter, the media is a filter of news.”
Journalism in the 21st century has been continually growing as technology and the Internet is evolving more and more by the day, which means a lot of journalism is done on the Internet rather than in print. When asked about this, Cathy Newman responded “there’s a lot of great journalism online but there’s also a lot of bile on there, and there’s no such thing as a shortcut in journalism.”
As true as her words were, there seemed to be some sort of shortcut to the venue though, as the event reached a record turnout of more than 500 attendees enjoying each of the talks where topics spanned a multitude of categories. Spread out in the Sheikh Zayed Theatre, the Wolfson Theatre and the Thai Theatre, there were multiple topics covered. Titles jumped from the art of interviewing to taking on the world to investigative journalism. However, all were linked together by one main aim: to discuss transparency and accountability of all types of journalism today. “Costs for investigative journalism are broken down into four things: people, time, equipment and travel,” Paul Bradshaw, a lecturer at City University, described this carefully in his own manner.
Each of the talks seemed to have a different mood and style to it. ‘The art of the interview’ was one of the most popular and inviting talks considered by the audience. The speakers Eleanor Mills and Camilla Long, who both work at the Sunday Times, were filling the lecture hall with interesting information, solid advice for anyone wishing to enhance their interviewing skills and funny anecdotes that left the attendees in smiles and laughter. It was an event in which the atmosphere was cosy yet professional at the same time, and many people were thankful to the organisers and supporters.
Being the fifth annual conference of its kind, this year’s Polis event was run by professor and former senior producer and programme editor at BBC News Charlie Beckett, and sponsored as per usual by the BBC Academy, the Knight Foundation, the European Broadcasting Union and Leuchtturm1917. The involvement of big educational media outlets and news agencies concerning funding, has helped spread the word as marketing audience rise with the popularity of each organisation whether it be based in the UK or worldwide.
Al Anstey, the Al Jazeera English Managing Director, spent ten minutes talking about the Al Jazeera staff and how journalists were detained in Egypt following the downfall of late president Mohammad Morsi. “Good journalism is about covering and challenging all sides of a story,” he explained, as he tried to raise awareness about the current state of the Al Jazeera staff. He then requested from everybody in the hall to hold up a paper with ‘#FreeAJStaff’ written on it, to take a picture. This immediately lightened the mood before launching straight into the controversial issues.
Being free of charge and open to all, Polis was the perfect opportunity not only for students to enhance and build a list of successful and famous contacts from the whole media landscape, but also for people already established in the industry to network with many others who shared a mutual interest – journalism. Funnily enough, I myself came across many people unrelated to journalism but inquisitive to find out more, and that’s exactly what journalism is supposed to do: draw people in. Attendees weren’t just left happy and inspired after the conference, but many had wished it lasted longer to gain more beneficial knowledge that could be applied to their everyday lives. Paul Bradshaw from City University ensured that the audience was aware of how to gain recognition from famous media outlets, which many people found useful. He advised, “Make yourself useful to those communities. It’s important to help sources find you, and persistence is important so keep doing the same thing over and over again”.
Eventually, the professional talks came to an end. But did the active vibe just disappear into thin air? Absolutely not. A free networking club was set up for everyone to socialise and meet and greet some of the famous guests, accompanied with refreshments and drinks being served for free. And let’s be honest –who doesn’t love a bit of free food? I’ll let you answer that.