The future of the media is in collaboration

by Vincenzo Marino – translated by Roberta Aiello

The Egyptian journalist arrested – and released – in Germany


Last Saturday, Al Jazeera Egyptian journalist Ahmed Mansour was arrested in Germany while he was embarking on a flight to Qatar from Berlin. The journalist was stopped because of an international arrest warrant, delivered by the Egyptian authorities, after being sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison by the Cairo court in 2014. Mansour has been accused of torture during the protests in Tahrir Square in 2011. The journalist has rejected the accusations, also thanks to some filmed testimonies.

According to Al Jazeera, the charges against Mansour are absurd, unfounded and based on political motivations. The newspaper has subsequently launched a petition addressed to Chancellor Merkel to free the journalist, collecting more than 21 thousand signatures. The detention of Mansour happened just before the official visit of Egyptian President Al Sisi in Germany. During the meeting, Merkel expressed concerns about the state of human rights in Egypt, but also stressed the need for an opening towards the country, considered a crucial partner for the fight against terrorism. The arrest of the journalist, however, provoked strong criticism.

This week Mansour was freed by German authorities. According to a state prosecutor’s spokesman, there were “political and diplomatic concerns that could not be ignored,” that would lead to the dissolution of the restrictive order.

The Egyptian government has long accused Al Jazeera and Qatar – the country in which the outlet has its base – to support the Muslim Brotherhood who are hostile to President Al Sisi and considered by local authorities as a terrorist organization, following the deposition of former President Morsi in 2013. In recent months, Al Jazeera journalists have been forced into detention by Egyptian authorities for more than 400 days.

Freedom of the press in Egypt is currently being sorely tested by the Al Sisi government Nowadays, national media seems to resemble more a propaganda structure of a military state than a representation of a healthy media industry in a democracy. Censorship and intimidation against journalists bases its strength on an alleged and vaunted “national interest,” which tries to stifle any news of problems and tensions in the country. Almost all killed or imprisoned journalists in the post-Morsi phase, in fact, were stopped while recounting protests. At least six journalists were killed during the rise to power of Al Sisi.

Google News Lab and the battle for videos


The news of the week, in the world of digital media, is definitely the launch of News Lab by Google. With News Lab, the aim  – as stated in the launch post – is “to collaborate with journalists and entrepreneurs to help build the future of media.” How can this be done? In three ways: by ensuring the availability of all Google tools to newsrooms, explaining how best to use them; producing data and content to work on; working on a network of programs focusing on the future of the profession and professional ethics issues.

To get to these points some concrete projects have been created. There is, for example, the First Draft Coalition, formed by a group of agencies specialized in crowdsourced journalism such as Storyful, Bellingcat and, which contribute to the creation of a news analysis website and the sharing of fact-checking techniques.

There is The Witness Media Lab, which will produce a number of human rights projects. There is also YouTube Newswire, a joint venture between Storyful and the Google video platform, which will specialize in the verification and dissemination of amateur content from social media, and will act as an agency that will recommend these products – potential news items already verified by them – to news outlets.

In essence, Google promises to provide data and content through its apps (Fusion Table, Earth, Map, YouTube and Search) in order to facilitate journalistic work, proposing itself as the best digital ally “in the field” for new media. In this context, it is interesting to note the launch of the new Google Trend, which should help journalists (and non-journalists) to understand what are the keywords and the most searched news items on Google. In practice, as summarized by Ruth Reader of VentureBeat, “Google wants to teach journalists how to use its online tools” and more.

“Facebook, Apple, Snapchat, and Twitter are all knee-deep in competition to shape the future of digital news, from article creation to consumption,” writes Alyson Shontell of Business Insider. “Now Google is entering the race with News Lab.” The idea of creating this partnership with Storyful, acquired at the end of 2013 by NewsCorp, is a clear sign of how the Mountain View company wants to become an active part in the scenario of journalism, answering the collaborations created by Storyful with Facebook (FB Newswire), and recently with Youku, a video-sharing platform very popular in China. All projects are not very different but united by one particular element: videos.

As already seen, the video industry seems destined to take a very large slice of online (and mobile) news consumption, animating an entire market. A few weeks ago, the figure of the strong growth of Facebook as a platform for viewing and sharing online videos emerged. Those numbers are confirmed by a search of Ampere Analysis, which estimates for Facebook in 2015 an amount of video views equal to two thirds of the total of those of YouTube.

This week, Dylan Tweney of VentureBeat has written on this issue. According to Ampere, in 10 thousand respondents from Europe and North America, 15 percent of users have seen video on Facebook last month – and among these, a sixth had never opened YouTube in the same analyzed period. Here begins the urgency by Google to rethink its strategies for its own video platform.

“In Other News”: Talent Network, Atlas, Circa

Among the projects launched this week, there is also Talent Network of the Washington Post, a “part social network and part job board” platform provided by the outlet, as reported by NiemanLab. The idea is to facilitate the process of assigning articles to freelancers and sending their proposals to the newsroom, creating a common place where the editor and potential collaborators can meet, evaluate and propose ideas to each other.

This week, Quartz, which is part of The Atlantic Group, has launched Atlas, dedicated exclusively to charts and tables. “Charts are our cat photos,” explained the Executive Editor Zachary M. Seward, introducing the project. The aim of Quartz, however, is not only to act as storage for all the infographics of the group – which amount to almost half of the content produced so far. The feature of Atlas will be the possibility to search content categorized by topics, to find immediately in chart terms the data required, and instantly enrich a discussion or an article with an interactive and embeddable table.

After a short period of silence, Circa – whose crisis we mentioned a few weeks ago – has decided to interrupt its service indefinitely. It provided updates and reviews of the main events of the day, mainly for mobile. In a farewell post on Medium, the CEO and co-founder of Circa Matt Galligan said that the absence of adequate financial resources was ruinous to the fate of the project. The editor-in-chief Anthony De Rosa, on his website, thanked all the newsroom employees – sharing their business contacts for new opportunities – for trying to “build a product that spawned a whole new category,” until “the money ran out.”