Journalist Q&A: Chrystia Freeland, global editor-at-large, Thomson Reuters

Chrystia Freeland joined Thomson Reuters this year to manage its global coverage after serving as managing editor in the US for the Financial Times. She spoke to Lindsey Siegriest about the changing global media landscape

Name:Chrystia Freeland
Title: Global Editor at Large
Outlet: Thomson Reuters
E-mail: chrystia.freeland@thomsonreuters.com
Website:thomsonreuters.com

Chrystia Freeland joined Thomson Reuters this year to manage its global coverage after working as US managing editor, deputy editor in London, editor of the weekend edition, editor of FT.com, U.K. news editor, Moscow bureau chief and Eastern Europe correspondent for the Financial Times. She spoke to Lindsey Siegriest about the changing global media landscape

As a global editor what is the most difficult aspect of your job?

The hardest thing in journalism is having a really good understanding of what it is readers want. There is so much information out there it is easier than ever to report on so many different things around the world. We need to have an understanding of what is it we should be doing and what our audience is going to be interested in.

Also, connecting the dots globally is difficult. We're living in a world of globalization. Placing all our stories into that global web is incredibly important and valuable.

Media is one industry facing the very powerful and disruptive input of new technology that is really changing the way media works. Print based models are being challenged business wide as well as broadcast models. What's happening is a little bit like what has happened with the music business.

Journalists have the feeling of not knowing where the next cut is coming. And I think that is wrong. Journalism is in the process of reinventing itself and I think it's hard for a journalist to be caught in the middle of that.

But there are really exciting things that are happening. For example Thomson and Reuters are two companies that came together and have this incredible great track record of reinventing themselves and being at the cutting edge of where the news media needs to be.

How does the US media in general compare to other media throughout the globe?

Overall, I am a huge fan of the American tradition of journalism. There is a seriousness and a purpose in American journalism. In Fleet Street journalism in London there is a stronger emphasis on entertainment and being cheeky and fast. That has its charm, but I love the fact that American journalism has a higher mission to really figure out what is going on in the world and communicate that to our society. The biggest challenge is adjusting to the post-American world, which is a world where America is not the hyper power. I don't think that needs to be seen in a tragic way at all, but I do think it's a bigger psychological and professional adjustment for America than a lot of other countries.

In your opinion, how is social media affecting journalism?

It is having a huge impact and in ways that I don't think any of us fully understand. What is important to realize is that the high priest model of journalism as the sole model is over. The model in which editors and reporters are the ones who decided what news is and communicate that list of priorities to readers/viewers is over. At the level of a multiple choice test all of us get that, but understanding how that affects the way we practice journalism is a lot harder.

News editing is still important and more important than ever in some ways. Having really smart people whose job it is to constantly be surveying what's going on and to offer some idea on how to cut through all the information and offer some priorities is important. But the thing to remember is that era of having professional journalists with sole control over the news agenda is over and I think that's a great thing because that means more perspectives and more information is out there.

How do you balance the use of blogs and social media and traditional media?

I hope that readers will offer me some ideas because this is something I'm still figuring out. I'm trying to figure how to balance words and video and also trying to figure out the excitement of blogs and tweeting. As journalists we have a lot of things to say so it's quite thrilling to have access to the ability to express them. But at the same time there are a lot of brilliant people that have a lot of brilliant things to say while sitting in their pajamas at home, but I am not like that. I chiefly identify myself as a reporter. For reporters the core of what we do is reporting and going out and finding people to talk to, doing research so we have good questions to ask, and following the story up by talking to more people.

Do you see a difference between the way the US media uses social media and the way media in other regions use it?

America is really ahead in technology when it comes to the Internet. When you think of the big technology companies they are all American. Since so much of technology is invented here we're seeing a lot of ways in which it is influencing journalism happening here.

South Korea and Israel are really interesting to look at. There are lots of technology innovations happening there. In places where the society is poor or less free the mainstream media is weaker and because of that technology has an important and powerful impact.

In Russia, social media is very state controlled and used by the state to maintain control. But there is a really vibrant Internet base. The extent of Russian language Internet is really rich and flourishing.

In Africa, the adoption of mobile phone technology has been strikingly fast and we're going to start to see some real possibilities for some moves forward.

How have the cut backs and job cuts that have occurred in the journalism profession affected your job?

Cut backs have been really sad for all of us to see. Especially to see news organizations get smaller rather than bigger. But there are news organizations that are growing. Reuters is one of them.

Journalists need to be aware of the issue and not be too gloomy about it. We have so many more resources at our disposal than ten or 15 years ago. Our ability to work has been enhanced by the Internet. It is so much easier to do some of the routine stuff that used to take up so much time.

What global issues do you feel are not getting enough attention from the media? What do you wish you could have more of?

The triple economic revolution that we're living through right now. First the technology revolution, then globalization and now we're starting to see emerging market flows.

We live in such a New York, London, and Frankfurt centric world to think some of the big stories are going to be about deals done between Russia and India or China and Africa or Brazil that's very important to think about.

The fact that this is much faster and much more intense than the Industrial Revolution is really a big deal to be living through. That to me is the big story.

In the developed West we don't see its power quite as much as people who live in other parts of the world. Going from a landline phone to an iPhone is a pretty big shift, but going from no electricity to having a refrigerator is a really big shift, and going from walking to having a motorcycle is life changing in other societies.

What issues will you be watching develop over the next few months?

I think right now we need to follow the fact that there are winners, but there are also losers in the process of the triple economic revolution. There are a lot of losses that are happening with the Western middle class and a lot of what we are seeing in politics right now is about that. No one knows exactly what is happening, but these things are all connected. While it is true that opportunities are shrinking for the middle class it is not true for everybody. There are people because of certain opportunities that can surf the waves of the triple revolution. If you are the inventor of say, Facebook, that's amazing. Have we ever seen a company that has emerged so quickly to have such an impact? If you are involved in that process than there's no better time to be alive.

There is the issue of demographics and there is a lot of tension around that issue because of immigration. Right now there is still a feeling of over population. We're going to get to a place before too long where a lot of societies will feel that they don't have enough young people. We're seeing very low birth rates in all developing Western societies, some are even below replacement levels. We're seeing this in countries like Japan and Russia. China will also experience an aging society because of its policies. One day we will wake up and say “Oh my god where are the young people” and the dynamic around immigration will change.

There are also some real riveting factors in society that are involved in this issue. For example, how women that get richer have fewer children and how we haven't found very good ways in modern industrial society to accommodate families and work.

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