On future journalism, from the viewpoint of the future of events.
(Please scroll to the end of the article the YouTube link to the LinkedIn live interview on the future of events and beyond, with Simon Poulter, London, formerly at Nokia, Alcatel Lucent and Philips, with Filiberto Amati, Warsaw).
Democracy as we know it is indebted to Enlightenment, that remains -for good and for bad- one of the ideological platforms that shaped the world as we know it. And the Enlightenment would not have been such without cafes as intellectual circles and the free press as their medium of choice. In Milan like in Paris, ideas like Beccaria’s reframing of justice or the ideals of the French Revolution, spread in ways that we could define today as “viral”, although of slower than today’s social media, through ink on paper and printed pages shared in front of hot tea and tasty parties. Even nowadays, on one hand, a simple urban experience like a coffee in an ordinary chain store is a moment of significance that incorporates the very notion of “design” as spatial organization, system of signs and codes, and a plastic translation of social hierarchies and cultural conventions, at a given moment in time. And especially nowadays, on the other hand, journalism is a crucial crossroads to understand our society, and our future. From the rise of the digital society, in the 1990’s, journalism entered into a fundamental crisis, where advertising budgets increasingly switched to online venues and business models changed as reshaped by digital connectivity. In 2021, when I happen to speak with Millennials, I realise that the difference between professional journalism in printed newspapers and the free flow of unattributed posts in social media has been increasingly blurring, to the point of no distinction in terms of credibility and reliability. So, how does this complex and contradictory context determines potential futures of journalism as a profession, with particular focus to technology-focused trade journalism? Here, historically, corporate communications, media relations, and actual editorial and research skills uniquely converge; how will they do so, in the future?
As one of the semi structured interviews in a wider research program about the future of business events and beyond, designed for and executed with Amati and Associates, Warsaw, I have recently engaged in a dialog from the viewpoint of corporate communications and media relations with Simon Poulter, industry veteran with a blue chip portfolio of experiences at Vodafone, Nokia, Alcatel Lucent, Philips, and more. With a natural British flair and unique sense of style, that reminds of the best tradition of English icons Paul-“Cappuccino Kid”-Weller, Simon started his professional career as journalist, and -through the years- writing about rock music remained his “secret-not-so-secret” passion. So did I, although in the fine arts publishing. Yes, I also enjoy professional “not-so-secret” roots in journalism, as I spent my very first formative year after graduating in Humanities as Editor-in-Chief of an Italian national lifestyle and cultural magazine, with Giancarlo Politi and Helena Kontova as directors and publishers, the founders of Flash Art International. My time as a journalist, across the Spring Summer 1996, was electrifying and energizing for a decade and longer, with unique opportunities like meeting the likes of Maurizio Cattelan or Francesco Bonami, and interviewing Miuccia Prada or Dr. Carl Rohde, founder of Sign of the Times, one of the first trends agencies in the world, and the future 2011 “Professor of Applied Sciences of the Year” in Tilburg, The Netherlands. My time as a full time Editor-in-Chief was short, it was actually pretty wild, from nighttime calls from Giancarlo from the New York desk to plenty of lunches and parties, and my legacy was minimal, if any, with Andrea Bellini, then a world reputed museum director in Rivoli and Geneva taking over my job, as I made the decision to pursue commercial writing in advertising and strategic design, at Philips. But that is a different story, for a different article. Being 25 years ahead of my 1996 decision and after my conversation with Simon, I realized that I followed exactly the same path he described, where professional journalists switch to corporate careers. However, my very presence on Medium to report the insightful highlights of our dialog about the future of events, and beyond, is the best testimony that — in spite I did change jobs or cities or even countries and basically everything in my life since 1996: “Once a writer, always a writer”.
As former journalist myself, I remain a firm believer in the power of personal drive and deeper inquiry through interviewing. As Giancarlo Politi used to repeat, surely citing an unattributed source: “A bad interview is better than any good article”. This is a mindset I took with me from my Milanese Summer in 1996 and therefore, of course, my dialog with Simon touched upon snapshots of major fairs and trade shows like Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven or CEBIT in Hannover or CES in Las Vegas in the light of Covid-19 pandemic impact but it also went “beyond just” events and building snapshots of their ecosystems. Therefore, Simon, Filiberto and I touched engaged in discussing a few points related to press relations, journalism, and the inevitable changes that the future will bring to both. For sake of full disclosure and somehow as a disclaimer, I must scholarly state that a comprehensive analysis of the topic would require scientific focus, as expressed by scholars like Dr. Danielle Arets, Associate Professor in Journalism and Innovation in Tilburg, The Netherlands, who engages in structural design research projects about this topic. Here, however, I would like to I share some valuable insights from my conversation with Simon. Furthermore, I integrate them with a strong “weak signal” I observed in my networks, namely that of “slow journalism”.
Firstly, we must start with a provocation. In the contemporary media landscape, trade journalist might not miss intercontinental traveling to big events that are key on industry agendas, as one might logically expect. This has to do with the increasing organisational rationalisation in the media world, that possibly transformed the everyday life of journalists according to parameters of efficiency and effectiveness. This somehow reminded me of the organisational change that impacted advertising agencies in the late 1990’s. Until then, the traditional working structure of the “creative team” entailed one copywriter and one art director who worked in symbiosis, sometimes for life. Then, this somehow mystical union of art and copy was reframed from the viewpoint workload, hence copywriters in major advertising networks started to flow across projects as based on workload, beyond any structural affiliation with their art director. Likewise, contemporary news corporations restructured their editorial teams, leading to more and more multitasking, multifocus, and flexibility across topics and themes. Within this new organisational setting, saving time on travels might be a positive factor for the quality of life of trade journalists, who are anyway welcome to reach out to press offices, remotely.
Secondly, consistently with this time management challenges, even before Covid-19 hit us all, moments of interaction between corporate and media shifted to online platforms, from annual financial reporting to product launches. This proved effective for one directional, text-based communication, effectively combined with press releases and press kits. The conversion of physical experiences into online portfolios will only consolidate, from business school to the actual aesthetics of the very TV news experience, that shifted itself from the semiotic excellence of studio pictures to the low fi aesthetics of Zoom-channeled reporting. The transition seems irreversible, from business models to art direction and aesthetics .However, what gets lost in an online experience, is the possibility for inquisitive talents to form their own judgement. This is where a product launch in High Tech industries or the tasting of a new cocktail or the intensity of a new perfume do and will require journalists to be in presence. Because the core of journalistic talent goes of course beyond editing press releases into articles and it demands the actual testing, tasting, feeling, smelling, and experiencing “the” product. In view of this, the question is whether smaller events for product introduction or even for pure profiling purpose will come back, after Covid-19 and after the cost-cutting restructuring of both business and media? Namely, will site-specific, corporate-sponsored gatherings of thought leaders, industry “stars”, and journalists in a more dialectic mindset and posture come back? Personally, this is how both Simon and I worked in the late 1990’s and in the 2000’s, at Philips in our respective roles of press officer and corporate speaker, partnering up with the design media, press authors, and publishers in order to translate innovation themes and concepts into appealing events and attractive seminars. In particular, Philips Design events, be it internal or at public conferences, triggered interest because of the quality of their content in articulating visions of the future. On the one hand, these formats of deeper intellectual exchange, blessed by careful curation from location to catering, are now impossible because of Covid-19 prevention but on the other hand, economic enablers and cost structures of both media and business might limit their future feasibility, e.g. within luxury and premium niches.
Ultimately, the future “everyday” of corporate communication and press relations officers might not be very different than their past everyday, as the post-Covid-19 world ahead of us will likely see a return to the personal relationships, informal encounters and the “handshake culture” that traditionally drives business relationships in most of our world. As a matter of a fact, the difference at enterprise side will be made by CFO’s, who will determine, on the basis of their strategic sensibility and the finacial performance of their companies, On the other hand, what will be the future of journalism, beyond trade publications and industry researching and reporting, as discussed above? As our current research program focuses on the future of events, I am afraid that it was not our purpose to define a coherent and consistent answer to this question. However, I would like to offer a “weak signal”, however a strong one, namely the emergence of “slow journalism”. Massimiliano Sfregola, an Italian journalist living in The Hague and Amsterdam, coined such definition, attributing to journalism the vernacular qualities of “slow food”.
Sfregola is an accomplished reporter for Italian national TV RAI channels and for various Italian national newspapers, Sfregola is also the founder and ldriving force behind Italia- language, Dutch news website, www.31mag.nl. Sfregola’s grassroots project was self initiated without any sponsorship or major investor. In this civic “stickiness” and deep social media understanding, Sfregola found the roots to define his notion of community-based “slow” reporting, thanks to his ability to mobilize talents and networks, in a participatory model that already raised the interest of academic research in Italy. Through the years, he also gave dignity to www.31mag.nl well beyond a service to the Italian network of knowledge workers and talents in the country. With his strong drive towards “classic” research, Sfregola conceived journalistic campaigns of great civic and political relevance, challenging the powers-that-be in the context of the Italian official representation in the Kingdom of The Netherlands. Besides articulating political acumen and having his heart at the very heart of human rights movements, Sfregola developed a hybrid media model, combining national quality level reporting with hyperlocal focus. If the future of journalism might (also) lie in Sfregola’s “slowness”, it might be an interesting future indeed.
Please click here below for the YouTube link to the LinkedIn live interview on the future of events and beyond, with Simon Poulter, London, Vodafone, formerly at Nokia, Alcatel Lucent and Philips, with Filiberto Amati, Warsaw: