FNW 2018 - EDINBURGH feature


Future News Worldwide 2018 was something I had never experienced before. 100 delegates from over 50 countries gathered in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and talked about the future of news, the media injustices, the legal rights and the thousand different details that constitute the beautiful mess that goes by the name of Journalism.

This conference was a huge challenge to me. I’m a self-imposed loner. I deal well with people, but I demand and value personal space more than anything -sometimes, in a not so gentle manner. I felt like I was thrown in a sea so strange, so differently blue than I had ever seen. And there, in the Scottish parliament, there were 50 shades of blue.

But let’s take it from the beginning, shall we?

I had lost my patience long before I got on the plane to Edinburgh. The baggage carousels for my flight broke down, my bag was slightly overweight, I went to the wrong gate and the cashier didn’t let me buy the tax-free cigarettes I so yearned for; they could be purchased only for flights outside the EU, and he didn’t seem to enjoy my Brexit joke. As my gate was closing, I sprinted through the duty-free shop and ended up buying “kourabiedes” as a Greek treat for my fellow delegates. We usually eat those cookies around Christmas -a perfect summer snack, is it not?

Victoria Street in central Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Castle.

After having established a bad first impression, I reached my gate two minutes before it closed. I got on the plane, sat next to Magdalene, my fellow Greek delegate, and lasered in on the first English words that would come out of my mouth. My English would be all Greek and rusty, and even a simple coffee order seemed dreadful at the moment. I trembled before the look on the air-hostess’ eyes, and at the same moment cringed at my frivolous thoughts.

My English were, in fact, rusty. I was disappointed in myself. You can do better than that, you must do better than that -phrases that I repeatedly say to myself. I’ve made a habit of being hard on myself -it’s a process that forces you to evolve quickly, but often has unimaginable repercussions. It is one of the things I’d like to change in myself; to get rid of my perfectionism, because nothing is ever perfect, and hopelessly trying to achieve perfection will make you reject everything imperfect -everything human, in that sense.

-Would you like milk in your coffee, sir? asked the air-hostess, putting an end to my philosophical assumptions.

-Yeah, milk would be nice.

When we landed in Edinburgh, I was, as usual, anxious. I was thinking about the series of unfortunate events that could have occurred, and I was worried that my suitcase could have landed, I don’t know, somewhere in Africa. As I was wondering how I could survive 6 days in Edinburgh without proper clothes and shoes, my suitcase turned up on the carousel. I picked it up and pretended that the anxiety loophole had never happened.

We met with Kate, a member of the British Council. She was holding a FNW placard and she greeted us with an accent that sounded German. A couple minutes later, Moises showed up. Moises is a guy from Colombia, and he’s distance-studying Journalism in his home town. He had a 20-something hour trip from home. He spent many hours in New York and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean carrying a big suitcase. He had a huge smile on his face because he was glad to be there -a smile that was carved on every delegate’s face, no matter how long and tiring their trip was.

That was the moment when I first realized that every delegate was attending a different conference. There were people from countries where it is profoundly hard to get a visa. When you have to travel for so many hours and withstand all kinds of resistance from different offices that don’t really want you to travel, you discover an inner strength so powerful and so independent that just won’t let you give up. I was amazed by my fellow delegates’ will to be there, and I was humbled by this heartfelt injustice. I realized that, no matter how difficult it was to some people to get to Edinburgh, there is nothing is this world that would persuade them that it’s also harder to thrive there. From what I’ve experienced, the people that had a hard time getting there, were actually the people who talked more, the people that engaged more, the people who socialized more, took more advantage of the opportunities and had the most fun. And that brings us to my favorite equation; the bigger the injustice, the bigger the will to thrive.

Our accommodation was Brae House, a student accommodation facility just by the Royal Mile. I checked in and got the key to the maze that was building block B. After getting lost a few times, I managed to find my way through and got to my room. We would meet up at 8am in the morning to climb Arthur’s Seat, a hill nearby that offered a great view of Edinburgh. I was tired, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity.

Well, guess what. I did.

I woke up at 9 am, all dizzy and slightly jet-lagged -it’s just a 2-hour difference but I like how “jet-lagged” comes across. I felt terrible. I felt like I would be the guy who didn’t climb Arthur’s seat with the others. I felt like I lost a train and I’d have to catch the next one, alone -a real loner, as usual. Then I checked out the WhatsApp group chat, where I found out that a few other people had missed the same train. It’s ok to miss the train, I guess. But be sure to have some people to catch the next one with.

Buses and a biker on Waverley Bridge in central Edinburgh.
Left to right: Chouaib, Salsabeel, Mehryne, Andrea, Sabrin, Helen and Chiara

I met Andrea, a guy from Malta, and Preethi, a girl from India. We went for a walk in the city center, saw the castle, visited Victoria Street and came across an expensive Lamborghini that made Andrea all excited. At some point, Preethi got a little cold and I gave her my jacket -it was hot in Edinburgh, but it was still Scotland, someone had to get cold. It amazes me how little people need to get to know each other. That bonding procedure works in such a discreet and human way. I’m a guy who hates small talk, to be honest. I find it somewhat inane. But when you ‘re so far away from home, you find little details in other people’s lives to be amazingly interesting. I loved Preethi’s talks about her home country, and I loved Andrea’s passion for football. We shared the same feeling, that punch in our stomach which reminded us that we didn’t belong there. But as for the train, if you must not belong somewhere, it’s nice to find someone to not belong with.

Later, we had to go to the Scottish Parliament for the arrival reception. I had already met some people, Nick from Holland, Sabrin from Finland who lives in Qatar, Chouaib from Tunisia, Helen from Lebanon and many more about whom I’ll talk down the road. Jackie Killeen, Mark Wood and Ben Macpherson delivered some opening remarks. I was busy walking about and taking pictures of the speakers, trying to catch a nice, tweetable phrase.

After the drinks reception and the dinner, we decided to visit a nearby pub, called Brewhemia. I was talking to 3 guys from the UK, two Jacks and a Dan. I heard one of them ordering a Blue Moon pint with a slice of orange. I did just the same, hoping to come across as a totally British lad -which failed tragically as I mispronounced the word “pint”. The way they spoke to each other had a Peaky Blinders feel to it and I absolutely adored it -the pronunciation, the expressions, the whole British vibe.

Bubble artist near the Scott Monument on Princes Street in Edinburgh. Can’t begin to describe the smiles on kids’ faces. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

They were discussing music, and I was stunned by their musical taste. David Bowie, Oasis, Morcheeba, the Arctic Monkeys, just to name a few. British people have so much to choose from when it comes to music. We have such different stimuli -all they have to do is switch their radio on and Way Out West pop up, while in Greece it’s a whole different story. Nevertheless, “proper music” does not exist. It’s subjective, as almost everything else in this world. I loved how we discussed about the last album from the Arctic Monkeys. I told them Alex Turner has had some serious Bowie influence, and they agreed with me in a way that showed that they understand what I’m talking about. One thing is certain; music is a universal language. And there, in a pub far away from home, I found common grounds kindly provided by his excellency, Alex Turner -who is going through mid-life crisis.

I went out for a smoke. I’m not used to that, because here in Greece one can smoke wherever one feels like it. Going out for a smoke makes you consider your actions. Do I really want to have a cigarette right now? Do I really want to miss out on the fun everybody’s having inside? Am I that obsessed? Who closes the door when the bus driver gets off (which has nothing to do with everything else, but come on, who closes that door?!)?

Outside, I met Mila. Mila is from Bulgaria, a country next to mine. The geographic proximity of our countries made me feel somewhat safe. It made me feel that we had something in common. That sentiment of false safety, that’s what I want to get rid of. And the reason I want to do so is that this particular sentiment makes us narrow-minded. Seeking proximity in all its forms (geographic, cultural, behavioral) makes us feel safe, but has an insidious effect; it makes us immune to change. We desperately seek a certain life model that works for us, and once we get our hands on it, we refuse to let go of it. Life works in mysterious ways though, and it’s a matter of time before our precious life model shatters before our eyes. The most heartbreaking thing for me is the fact that people live their entire lives under the erroneous impression that sealing themselves up keeps them safe. People consciously choose to stay the same by avoiding interaction with anything that could have an unpleasant effect to their life model.

For years, I kept myself from changing. I thought I had discovered the Holy Grail of decision-making and I wouldn’t change a thing about my perspective. This conference showed me the error of my ways. It revealed to me that, no matter how big my ego gets, it’s still miniscule compared to that huge, beautiful world out there. You can only benefit from change; it shows you that there are other, more beautiful corners in this world than the skimpy one you chose to spend your life in.

Reeti, Nick and Urooj walking towards the Three Sisters Pub.
David Pratt delivering his speech during the second day of FNW 2018 in the Scottish Parliament.

Back to my conversation with Mila, we talked about Social Media and how they seem to have transferred us to a whole new era of information that people can’t quite understand or control. I’ve thought to myself many times that Social Media make us seriously unhappy at times. They set unrealistic standards for our lives by feeding us with “pure moments of happiness” of other people. They make us question the very quality of our lives.

Nevertheless, there’s a saying I like which states that, when a statue points at the sky, only fools look at the finger -and I believe we ‘ve been looking at the finger for some time now. Our lives are not that dull. We just watch the so-called peak of other people’s lives and we subconsciously compare it to our mundane everyday life. We both agreed that Social Media can be used for much more meaningful ways of communication -we just have to stop looking at that finger.

The next two days were the main days of the conference. Amazing and inspiring speakers, interesting workshops and long talks. I can’t state everything I listened to or learned in the conference because it wouldn’t matter; what truly matters is how I choose to act upon this recent change of heart.

Every speaker (including David Pratt who was my personal favorite) told us that we should engage more with our audiences and reach out to people. That’s what I choose to keep from this wonderful experience: the value of people. Not data, not User Generated Content, not Facebook Insights or Google Tools (which are very interesting and useful, but that’s a story for another post). The story lies in people.

That’s what I thought to myself after the sessions had ended. A team of delegates teamed up and set out to find a pub and watch a World Cup game -Brazil versus Belgium. Mila, Cleo and I went to the Pear Tree, a beautiful open-air pub nearby. We stood in line and waited patiently to get in. We could hear the screams and the celebrations behind the fence but couldn’t get a proper look at the screen -the football equivalent of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

When we finally got in, we got our beers from a stand and watched the football game. Another group of delegates joined us; Reeti from Nepal, Malebogo from Botswana, Shang from China, Nick from Holland, Urooj from Pakistan, Yusuf from South Africa, Mingu from Korea, Marta and Allende from Spain. Even the security guards from the Scottish Parliament joined us after they finished their shift. They were actually twins, which blew my mind, because for the last 3 days I thought they were one guy who was moving mind-bendingly quickly.

Top row, left to right: Shang, Reeti, Urooj, Mingu, Malebogo, Allende and Marta. Mid row, left to right: Cleo, Yusuf, Nick and Mila on her knees. We 're at the Pear Tree pub watching a World Cup game (Brazil vs Belgium).
The colorful arches on top of the anti-terror barriers on the Royal Mile in central Edinburgh.

This diverse group of people had me thinking; people don’t really need much to connect with each other. They just need a beer, a huge screen and a good mood.

That night, I had a great time. And it made me realize one thing; to write a proper story, you must live it first.

In this conference, I met some truly delightful people. Sadly, I can’t mention every single one of them, due to word and time restrictions. But I ‘ll have to thank each one of them, because they taught me that being people-oriented is not an option -it’s the only option. Good journalism must be balanced between the facts and the audience, but we must never lose the human element from our stories. Journalism is made from people for people.

Journalism that is not people oriented is journalism sentenced to death.

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