One of the visits the study abroad team completed in England was to the CNN London headquarters. To be honest, the visit would have been worth it just for the opportunity to snap this photo behind the news desk. Luckily, it was worthwhile beyond that, as well.
There are a lot of things that I hear said about a career in journalism. That the hours are crazy, that it can run you a little ragged and that you have to be ready to change course on a dime. This visit gave me the opportunity to hear journalists who have really made it in the industry talk about their work, and it confirmed each of these notions. The people at CNN London are dedicated to and passionate about their work, even when it means last-minute international travel to places they don’t have the right wardrobe for (in terms of weather, not style!).
This visit also clued me in to the extent to which newsrooms monitor one another. While at CNN, we visited a room that was just filled with television screens. On these screens were the broadcasts from other news stations around the world. CNN London used this as a tool to stay vigilant and make sure they were reporting on each topic they should be.
We also learned a little about their relationship to accusations of bias in the British market. It was not what I expected. In the states, we traditionally associate CNN with a left-wing bias. The accusations of bias CNN London receives, however, have lately tended to be about a perceived excess of sympathy for Donald Trump. In true, dedicated-journalist fashion, however, the team we met with said that these accusations merely make them even more dedicated in their quest for truth.
One of the most interesting things we were able to do on this trip was meet with Bryan Pirolli, who is both an established travel writer and a lecturer for the London College of Communication. It was an opportunity to learn about two things I knew relatively little about. First, the field of travel writing, and second, the approach to mass communication education in the British context.
Travel writing is not a field I have much knowledge about apart from the fact that, point blank, it is a hard industry to crack. After hearing Pirolli’s talk, however, I left with a much more nuanced view of the field. Like many areas of work, the internet has had a massive impact on travel writers. Blogs and review sites have eaten up a lot of the market because there is a degree to which writing in these venues is seen as more genuine by consumers. Furthermore, I had never really engaged the fine line that travel writing has to walk between being purely factual and engaging on a more narrative, not traditionally-journalistic manner.
The real highlight of this visit, however, was getting a brief glimpse into how British education in the mass communication field is structured. This was by no means the subject of the talk, but it did come up and it was what I honed in on. Pirolli told us, the students in the program, to appreciate the way our education is structured because we get to build wide sets of skills. We may concentrate on advertising, for example, but we nonetheless are still able to receive training in journalism, public relations, or digital media. By contrast, British students, in his words, receive a much more siloed education. I left feeling quite lucky to be in a program that allows for the type of exploration that, I feel, is necessary for success in an ever-shifting, unpredictable landscape.
When our team visited global PR agency Weber Shandwick and their London headquarters, they pulled out all of the stops. We were treated to presentations from, I believe, 7 people in total, each with different expertise and experience within the company. This setup mirrored what was, for me, the most important take away of this visit: be able to do, and be the best at, everything.
The public relations field is rapidly evolving as the lines between advertising, public relations, and marketing continue to become fuzzier. A full-service agency has to be able to draw upon a wide range of internal expertise to be able to ensure that they will be able to provide a client with everything that they need. At Weber Shandwick, we saw what it looks like when an agency has a roster of talent that runs both deep and wide.
We heard from people who create video content, create digital content, specialize in social media management and listening, those who create big ideas, and those who work to tie it all together. Weber Shandwick seeks to make what they referred to as “thumb-stopping content” because they are acutely aware that in a manic world the primary currency is attention. They have to be able to generate creative ideas and pull together the right set of expertise to bring those ideas to fruition or people will scroll right past their content. Luckily for them, however, they can do exactly that, so people stop. The number of awards they have won stand as a testimony to their capabilities.
Visting RAI, Italy’s state-owned media organization, was a fascinating experience for our team. Before leaving, the students taking the study abroad program’s international communication course learned that Italy’s media was effectively a duopoly between RAI and another major organization. Doubts were cast upon the status of RAI’s reporting as fully-legitimate because it was state owned and the issues with state-owned media are well documented.
In light of this, I was very interested to hear how the people at RAI would talk about their job. I asked them, in light of their funding from the state, if they considered themselves to be working for the state or the people. The answer I received was an emphatic declaration that they were working for the public. They espoused traditional journalistic values, like public trust and service. I wondered what those values meant in Italy, to what extent this might have been said because it is expected/compelled by their arrangement, and, generally, to what extent the state meddles in the organizations operations.
We had also learned, in advance of our trip, that there is a tendency in Italian reporting to be very focused on domestic issues. Italian interest in world news was framed for us as minimal in our advance readings, and the visit did not undo this perception. The RAI team said they had roughly 20 people covering world news and it furthered seemed as though a lot of those people were primarily stationed in Italy. To us, that figure and state of affairs seems paltry, but they seemed quite proud of it. It appeared that they were quite pleased to have that many people reporting world news and I could not help but think it was because public interest had set the bar low.
While in Italy, we were able to visit a smaller organization of journalists who exist outside of the Italian duopoly, Il Fatto Quotidiano. They are a younger organization who has just launched a new magazine and continues to work on their digital presence. Their paper’s circulation is around 30,000 people, which seems like a very low number but is actually quite an accomplishment for them given the online-centric environment for news consumption and their status as an organization operating decidedly outside of the mainstream.
This group of journalists is, if your hosts were any indication, very dedicated to their work. They are clearly working hard to establish a presence for their publication and have a genuine mission to be a distinct voice in the media landscape. This came through when I asked them whether or not they had people on their staff who had worked for RAI. They said they had, and that most of them had been so eager to get away and work in a more independent environment.
The vibe I got from this visit was that Il Fatto Quotidiano definitely holds themselves up as an oppositional force to RAI. They seemed to have serious doubts about their organization’s credibility, independence from the state, and, by implication, their respect for the profession. It was apparent to me that it is their goal to be an Italian journalistic group whose work rises to a standard which they feel is not commonly met.