Mx3 HQ Top Stories
6 mins read

“Using AI you need to be super open but super cynical”: Lisbon Web Summit 2023 review

Despite the controversy swirling around this year’s summit in Lisbon, a record 70,236 people came from 153 countries to discuss and evaluate the latest developments in tech. Yet there was really only one game in town: Artificial Intelligence.

Without raking over cinder-hot coals, this year’s Web Summit was overshadowed by ex-CEO Paddy Cosgrave’s ill-advised comments prior to the event which saw a swathe of corporate titans pull their support. A spectacular own goal, the controversy also saw numerous attendees boycott the event including the vast Israel delegation – an integral part of any tech conference.

That the event survived the controversy at all was helped in no small matter by the new Web Summit CEO’s carefully considered opening remarks which were well received by those who had invested the time and money to visit Lisbon – 72,000, an event record. The accountability came across as sincere.

Mx3 attended the entire ten sessions belonging to the Fourth Estate stage, the specialist day devoted to media, and whilst space negates a detailed breakdown of each and every one, here are a few key TL;DR takeaways:

Journalists who use AI will replace journalists who don’t

The unanimous opinion across most of the sessions was that AI will make a lousy pilot but a terrific co-pilot, freeing journalists up from numerous mundane daily tasks.

Indeed, the prevalent thought was not only would AI free journalists up to do what they do best – i.e., report on events – but that human written content within trusted media would become a precious commodity. These views dovetail with the findings contained within our recent free-to-download report on AI.

Athan Stephanopoulos, Chief Digital Officer, CNN, said, “90% of the content of the internet within 5 years will have some element of AI in them. Media companies need to set the standards more than ever before and AI raises the bar. But there are also opportunities and trusted news sources should rise to the top.”

Will AI replace journalists? No, but journalists who use AI will replace journalists who don’t.

Athan Stephanopoulos, Chief Digital Officer, CNN

Ed Fraser, Managing Editor, Channel 4 News waded in on the debate saying that Channel Four had already seen unforeseen benefits with the technology, “AI has massive potential to enhance data journalism, which enriches investigative journalism too. We’ve already combined multiple datasets to uncover stories we might otherwise have missed.”

“We use AI for transcription of interviews, we also have a tool to help us with spelling mistakes, and we’re leveraging AI to help journalists with other mundane tasks.”

Fraser, however, served up a warning about the balance needed with AI, “You have to be super open but also super cynical – AI needs massive supervision and content origin should always be traceable.”

He added, “We need to recognise the biases within AI and we must always have humans in the mix, we can’t get it wrong ever. Next year will be pivotal as there are elections in the U.S., UK and Portugal and the need for accuracy is more important than ever.”

This is a challenging era but one which we will work to overcome. Professional journalism will stand out as we move forwards.

Ed Fraser, Managing Editor, Channel 4 News

The hidden advantage of podcasts: community building

In the final session before lunch, Dino Sofos, Founder and CEO of Persephonica – creator of The News Agents, one of the most successful daily podcasts in the UK with 45M downloads – said that whilst the podcast space was consolidating there was still room for new entrants, “People are shifting from news to social media and podcasts. We are not at peak podcast, there is still plenty of space.”

He added, however, that many larger media companies made the mistake of thinking that all they needed was a microphone, a guest and a host, with success only a matter of time, “It’s not so. You now need a clear gap in the market, and if not, a clear fresh angle and remit – you need a clear strategy otherwise you will fail.”

He continued, “Creating The News Agents wasn’t easy. We had a PR strategy, a distribution strategy, and editorial strategy before we launched. We also ensured we had strong production values.”

In the same session, Stefano Fallaha, Founder & CEO of Podeo, added that podcasts had one huge hidden advantage – they were exceptional at building community, “In the Middle East & Africa you had less than a 1,000 podcasts ten years ago, now there are 60,000, reaching millions and building communities. Sexual education and religion are the two biggest topics in this area of the world.”

As a medium, podcasts are exceptional at building loyal audiences and creating close communities of avid listeners. Some listeners in our part of the world even have a tattoo of their favourite podcast on their arm, which should give you some sense of the loyalty they can generate.

Stefano Fallaha, Founder & CEO of Podeo

Why diversity is key to getting the news right

In perhaps the most inspiring session of the day, The Intercept Brasil’s Cecilia Olliveira outlined why diversity was crucial in ensuring that news coverage was both accurate and truly representative of a publisher’s audience.

The session clearly struck a note with attendees, with the session full to overflowing, adding weight to the sense that younger generations value DEI as a key component of any media group’s frame of reference, as we saw in our London publishing tour last year.

In Brasil, 84% of journalists are white, double that of the population in general. It’s a neglect if your newsroom doesn’t reflect the views of the population. If a newspaper is diverse, it will truly reflect the views of the population, and will be better for it.

Cecilia Olliveira, Co-Founder, The Intercept Brasil

Olliveira highlighted an example of when, in a previous company, she told her editor about the huge protests in Brasil against police violence. His response was a shrug of the shoulders and questioning the relevance of the story. Olliveira says, “My editor hadn’t been affected by the police violence so to him it wasn’t an issue, even a story. It’s an example of why you have to have a diverse newsroom to reflect the views of all society and the issues facing it.”

Journalism is here to serve a society, but some newspapers don’t want this. We need affirmative action to make these changes in the newsroom.

Cecilia Olliveira, Co-Founder, The Intercept Brasil

Journalist safety in a time of war

With the world afflicted by two very serious conflicts, two of the sessions looked at the subject of journalist safety as well as accurate coverage at a time of war. Bohdan Nahaylo, Editor in Chief of the Kyiv Post commented, “We are more interested in providing thoughtful, accurate journalism and analyses rather than news in real time. The war in Ukraine is not just the battlefield of war, but also cyber warfare, disinformation and the battle for human minds – accurate analysis is essential.”

The biggest issue in war is the lack of coverage, lack of information, as opposed to too much information.

Bohdan Nahaylo, Editor in Chief of the Kyiv Post

The theme of journalist safety was then taken up by Sean Murray of Sean Murray TV and Andrew Fishman of the Intercept Brasil. In a powerful yet controversial session which saw a few people get up and leave, Fishman said, “39 journalists have already been killed in Gaza, which is a huge amount. Governments aren’t protecting journalists, and sometimes conspiring against them – it leads to a culture of violence.”

In Brasil we have twelve active lawsuits, people trying to scare us off stories – we’d prefer to fight to the end and close shop rather than change the way we do things.

Andrew Fishman, President, Intercept Brasil

Sean Murray simply added, “Many journalists are morally bankrupt in the way they protect vested interests and fail to report the truth of what is happening.”

What is clear, is that in this time in world history, many journalists are putting their lives in danger in order to bring us the facts of what is happening on the ground, be it Ukraine, Gaza, or the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. I salute you and can only marvel at your bravery.