Eight Emerson students and two faculty members met students, scholars, and researchers from around the world in Salzburg, Austria, this summer to “reimagine journalism” amid a climate of fake news and political polarization.
The 12th Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, which Emerson offers as a Global Pathways program, entailed three intensive weeks of lectures, workshops, seminars, salons, screenings, reading groups, and excursions that focused on ways to combat hostility and distrust toward the media.
The Academy culminated in a multimedia publication titled Persist: New Ideas for Journalism in an Age of Distrust. The publication features six chapters, each of which offers new ideas for storytelling and journalism that inspire community, and offers apps, games, platforms, and the like that “collectively ask us to reinsert the ‘human’ in our media systems,” said Paul Mihailidis, associate professor of journalism and director of the Salzburg Academy.
“The term ‘persist,’” Mihailidis wrote of the program, referring to the title of the digital publication, “signifies both the effort of the group process that resulted in this publication and the effort that it will take to combat the culture of distrust within and across our online networks.”
One of the chapters, “Journalism of Care,” offers an interactive guide to reporting on communities in a way that puts the people in those communities first. A chapter called “Action Beyond Headlines” introduces readers to a prototype of a newsroom that practices “radical transparency”—opening up editorial meetings to the public via video. The “Virality Workshop” chapter offers ways for legitimate news organizations to harness social media to make legitimate news go viral. For instance, an app lets users create memes using only content from verifiable and credible sources, such as the Associated Press.
Mihailidis was joined by Visual and Media Arts Professor Eric Gordon, director of the Emerson Engagement Lab, as well as award-winning Mexican journalist, filmmaker, and activist Daniela Rea; Google senior research scientist Dan Russell; Ryan Broderick, deputy global news editor at BuzzFeed; and Naja Nielsen, chief journalism officer at Orb Media.
Communication Studies major Lindsey Goldin ’19 said despite the long days and 12-hour discussions about serious topics, the program still managed to be fun and forced participants to get to know each other on a very personal level.
“I love my sleep, but I’d be up until two in the morning talking about politics and our homes and families,” she said.
Goldin said it’s all too easy to look at someone and see the aspect of their identity that is most apparent, but through the long days and sleepless nights, everyone learned to see beyond that.
“That was the most beautiful thing,” she said, “when you came down to it, none of your identities had to matter because you were just a person that the other person wanted to get to know.”
Stephanie Ross, a graduate student in Integrated Marketing Communication, called the Academy “intense and inspiring,” and that the work her Salzburg colleagues were doing gave her “hope in our future.”
“I met film students working on topics like feminism and LGBTQ+ issues in India, as well as humanitarian workers [who] see the faces of Syrian refugees every day at work,” Ross said. “It really made me check my privilege as an American and help[ed] me better understand that yes, we are a broken country and there are a lot of issues we’re still trying to untangle, but it can be so much worse.”
After weeks of looking at global issues from all sides and hearing the points of view of people from around the world, Ross said she left Salzburg with a new perspective, but not just on journalism, communication, and civic engagement.
“I’m also walking away knowing myself a little bit better,” she said. “When you’re put in a foreign country with dozens of people you don’t know, it can be unnerving and uncomfortable. But those are the moments where you learn more and more about who you are and what you can handle, which I think is priceless.”