CNN Academy director on first breaking-news simulation and future of journalism in a tech-driven world

CNN Academy director on first breaking-news simulation and future of journalism in a tech-driven world
CNN Academy simulation week group
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Updated 29 December 2022

CNN Academy director on first breaking-news simulation and future of journalism in a tech-driven world

CNN Academy director on first breaking-news simulation and future of journalism in a tech-driven world
  • The simulation saw 88 students from the network’s various academy programs participate to refine and use their skills at the twofour54 Yas Creative Hub in Abu Dhabi
  • Participants worked in teams to explore a fictional scenario that allowed them to act as reporters, news writers and content producers

DUBAI: Earlier this month, CNN added a simulation to its academy training program for the first time.
Held over five days, the simulation saw 88 students from the network’s various academy programs participate to refine and use their skills at the twofour54 Yas Creative Hub in Abu Dhabi.
Arab News spoke to CNN Academy director Alireza Hajihosseini to learn more about the initiative and how this and other CNN Academy programs are designed to prepare students for journalism in an increasingly tech-driven environment.
“At CNN Academy, we’re always thinking of new ways to enable our students to apply the journalism skills we empower them within a real-life setting,” Hajihosseini said.




Alireza Hajihosseini CNN Academy Director. (Supplied)


In the past, the academy has sent out students with CNN photojournalists to shoot and edit a story or allowed a select few to shadow CNN teams as they put a news broadcast together.
“This year, we wanted to take that experience one step further and tapped into CNN’s legacy of innovation to create an industry-first opportunity that allows every single one of our program participants to refine and test their skills as journalists and storytellers,” he said.
During the five days, participants worked in teams to explore a fictional scenario that allowed them to act as reporters, news writers and content producers.
They were required to verify sources, attend mock press conferences, conduct mock interviews, respond to email updates, and decipher documents.

There were multiple factors to be considered when designing the fictional simulation to ensure that the scenario “was rich enough and complex enough to provide participants with multiple alternative angles they could pursue,” Hajihosseini said.




CNN Academy Logo. (Supplied)

It was also critical that the mock press conferences, interviews, etc were inter-connected to fill out the story as it developed.
“Above all, we had to recreate the pressures of a real-life breaking news environment while building in ethical and storytelling challenges with the narrative to achieve our pedagogical objectives,” he said.
To ensure this, CNN journalists partnered with Prof. Rex Brynen, from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and Jim Wallman, director of game design company Stone Paper Scissors.
Both are “thought leaders in their field and have worked with global organizations and governments across the world to design and deliver simulations that help players map out strategies and get a real-life sense of the impact of their decision-making,” Hajihosseini said.
But for him, there was also a personal reason, having studied at McGill University where he took some of Brynen’s courses. He remembers one in particular, peacebuilding simulation, which was one of the “most memorable and intense learning experiences” of his academic career.
“So, when we started thinking about designing an industry-first journalism simulation I knew I had to reach out to Rex and see if we could collaborate together, as I wanted to recreate that experience for CNN Academy participants,” he said.
The program is aimed at helping students walk away with journalism as well as life experiences, but also developing soft skills that only come with experience. The best-performing teams, said Hajihosseini, weren’t necessarily the ones with the sharpest journalistic members, but they “knew how to read an interviewee and the way in which they should conduct themselves in the field or in a press conference to unlock more information.”




CNN Academy simulation week masterclass. (Supplied)


“Those are skills that you can only pick up when you do something and cannot be developed by simply sitting in a workshop or in a lecture theater,” he said.
Participants also had to navigate a custom-made social media platform, which was updated throughout and included evidence, bots, decoys and news.
Hajihosseini explained: “When news breaks today, it often breaks on social media and platforms like Twitter. So, we wanted to recreate a platform that emulates that, and which combines text and multimedia content.”
Prior to the simulation, CNN had created fictional characters on its social media platform, with backstories and a pre-set series of posts. Some of these were helpful to the overall scenario and some were just noise.
The platform also featured accounts for the role players the participants met in real-life as well as troll accounts that were designed to flood the space with noise in a breaking news setting.
“Throughout the five days, the social media (platform) was updated with pre-written posts as well as posts that we wrote and content we produced to feed the scenario as it developed,” he said.




CNN Academy simulation group working. (Supplied)


The inclusion of the custom social media platform is critical at a time when social media is the primary news source for many people.
“The past 15 years have seen a profound change in the way newsrooms operate, and social media has played a central role in that,” Hajihosseini said.
Much has changed in that period, from the rise of citizen journalism to the establishment of social discovery teams, to forensic open-source analysis that plays a key role in many investigations now, he said.
What has not changed is the need for accuracy, especially when social media is pervaded by false news and misinformation.
False or misleading stories have become “an enormously problematic aspect of not only the media but also society in general,” which is worsened by the social media platforms encouraging the spread of such stories and creating echo chambers, Hajihosseini said.
“The difficulty in this area for journalists and news organizations is not only to push back on these false narratives, but also to break through to people who receive their news from unreliable or deliberately misleading sources,” he said.
“Fake news,” on the other hand, is used by certain people or organizations, particularly governments and politicians, to try and discredit reporting that is true but which they don’t like, Hajihosseini said.
“This is particularly dangerous and challenging; it undermines the vitally important role of journalism in holding the powerful to account and can even present safety issues for journalists who are going about important work legitimately,” he said.
His vision for CNN Academy is to help “seed professional skills and ethics in more new journalists, all of whom we hope will ultimately help to address this issue in the real world.”
 


TikTok promises to ramp up fight against disinformation in EU

TikTok promises to ramp up fight against disinformation in EU
Updated 8 sec ago

TikTok promises to ramp up fight against disinformation in EU

TikTok promises to ramp up fight against disinformation in EU
  • TikTok plead to expand its state-controlled media labels, fact-checking program, scale up volume of claims
BRUSSELS: Chinese social media company TikTok on Thursday pledged to do more to tackle disinformation on its platform by adding more safety features and broadening its fact-checking measures, spurred by the role played by state-controlled media and the war in Ukraine.
Presenting its progress report on what it did to live up to a beefed-up EU code of practice on disinformation in the past six months, the company acknowledged the need to step up its efforts.
“While we’re proud to be providing this level of granular detail for the first time, we recognize that there is more work to be done. In the coming months, we’re investing in a number of initiatives,” Caroline Greer, director of public policy and government relations, said in a blogpost.
TikTok would expand its state-controlled media labels, ramp up action against disinformation linked to Ukraine, expand its fact-checking program across Europe to include more language coverage, and scale up the volume of claims it fact-checked, she said.
The company would also strengthen its approach to disinformation in its advertising policies.
TikTok said in the past six months it removed 191 adverts that breached its ban on political actors placing advertising on its platform, and connected people to authoritative sources of information on COVID-19, the Holocaust, the war in Ukraine and other topics.

UK newspaper The Sun raises £500,000 for quake-hit nations

UK newspaper The Sun raises £500,000 for quake-hit nations
Updated 7 min 42 sec ago

UK newspaper The Sun raises £500,000 for quake-hit nations

UK newspaper The Sun raises £500,000 for quake-hit nations
  • Money will go to British Red Cross providing emergency support in Turkiye, Syria

LONDON: British tabloid newspaper The Sun announced on Thursday that it had raised more than £500,000 in aid for areas in and around Turkiye and Syria hit by deadly earthquakes.

The red-top paper said contributions to its special appeal had come from readers and UK companies.

Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s was reported to have pledged £250,000 and frozen food chain store Iceland donated £50,000.

Tesco, and Marks and Spencer together gave £150,000 within hours of the fund being launched, the newspaper added.

Other notable food chains and retail shops have also made generous contributions.

All money from The Sun’s aid plea is being given to the British Red Cross organization that is providing on-the-ground relief in the wake of the disaster in Turkiye and Syria.

British Red Cross Chief Executive Officer Mike Adamson said: “The scale of destruction caused by these earthquakes has been devastating. Donations will help search-and-rescue missions on the ground and provide vital aid to those who need it most.”


Twitter’s efforts against disinformation lagging behind, EU says

Twitter’s efforts against disinformation lagging behind, EU says
Updated 13 min 16 sec ago

Twitter’s efforts against disinformation lagging behind, EU says

Twitter’s efforts against disinformation lagging behind, EU says
  • Twitter's progress report presented on Thursday lacked data, information

BRUSSELS: Elon Musk’s Twitter lagged behind Alphabet’s Google, Meta Platforms, Microsoft and TikTok in the fight against disinformation in the last six months, the European Commission said on Thursday and urged Twitter to step up its efforts.
The companies on Thursday presented progress reports on compliance with a beefed up European Union (EU) code of practice on disinformation in the last six months.
The reports included data on how much advertising revenue the companies had averted from disinformation actors, the number or value of political advertisements accepted or rejected and instances of manipulative behaviors detected.
The Commission last year strengthened the code by linking it to new online content rules known as the Digital Services Act which allows regulators to fine companies as much as 6 percent of their global turnover for breaches. Independent digital services coordinators enforce the act and decide on penalties.
Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova singled out Twitter for criticism.
“I am disappointed to see that Twitter’s report lags behind others and I expect a more serious commitment to their obligations stemming from the Code,” she said in a statement.
The EU executive said Twitter’s report lacked data and did not contain information on commitments to empower fact checkers.
The next reports are due in July. The signatories to the code on Thursday launched a transparency center allowing EU citizens, researchers and NGOs to access online information about their efforts combating disinformation.


UK to launch TV charity appeal after quakes in Syria, Turkiye

UK to launch TV charity appeal after quakes in Syria, Turkiye
Thousands have been left homeless after the massive quake ripped through the border area between Turkiye and Syria. (AFP)
Updated 49 min 59 sec ago

UK to launch TV charity appeal after quakes in Syria, Turkiye

UK to launch TV charity appeal after quakes in Syria, Turkiye
  • British government pledges to match first £5m in donations by public
  • 14 organizations to receive money to use in devastated areas for water, food, shelter, medicine 

LONDON: The UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee is to launch an emergency appeal for funds following the earthquakes that hit Turkiye and Syria on Monday.

It will be broadcast on all major TV channels in the UK on Thursday Feb. 9, with the government pledging to match the first £5 million ($6 million) in donations, and the Scottish government giving another £500,000.

Any funds raised will be distributed across 14 organizations currently operating in or deploying to the area — including the British Red Cross, Oxfam and ActionAid — to purchase things such as clean water, food, temporary shelters and medical equipment.

At least 15,000 people have already died since the earthquakes struck, with the toll expected to climb on account of the vast number of injuries and poor conditions in the region.

Many thousands of buildings in both countries have been destroyed, leaving survivors without shelter, and weather conditions frequently dip into sub-zero temperatures.

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “When disasters like these terrible earthquakes strike, we know the British people want to help. They have shown time and again that few are more generous and compassionate.

“That is why we are match-funding public donations to DEC’s appeal to provide urgent humanitarian assistance, as part of a wider package of support from the UK that will be used to provide lifesaving interventions to those who need it most in the region.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “This earthquake has caused a huge amount of damage and significant loss of life that will be felt for some time to come.”

She added that her government would “support those affected with medical care, shelter, food and clean water.”

DEC CEO Saleh Saeed told the BBC: “In Turkiye alone, 6,000 buildings including schools and health centres have collapsed, with infrastructure vital to everyday life such as sanitation and water supplies badly damaged.

“Funds are urgently needed to support families with medical aid, emergency shelter, food and clean water in freezing, snowy conditions.”

He added: “We know that money is tight for many people here in the UK as the cost of living crisis continues but, if you can, please do donate to support people caught up in this deadly disaster.”

He said despite the crisis on the ground, British charities were working relatively well in Syria due to already being established there as a result of the conflict in the country over the past decade. 

“Despite the challenges they are all experiencing now ... aid is getting through and they are scaling up,” he added.

Islamic Relief aid worker Salah Aboulgasem told the BBC: “The priority right now is saving lives by clearing the rubble. The next priority is supporting people who have lost their homes and gone through huge trauma.

“People need medicines and warmth. There is a lot of screaming, people are trying to find relatives. A lot of people are sleeping in cars because they are scared to go back into the buildings due to aftershocks.”

Fears are mounting for survivors still trapped in the rubble as searches continue into a fourth day and rescue efforts continue to be hampered by damage caused to infrastructure and snowy conditions.

The World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, Dr. Hans Kluge, told the BBC that just 22 percent of people trapped in rubble survive 72 hours after an earthquake, adding: “Every minute counts now because the window to save lives is fast running out.”


Disney to cut 7,000 jobs in Iger’s company ‘transformation’

Disney to cut 7,000 jobs in Iger’s company ‘transformation’
Updated 09 February 2023

Disney to cut 7,000 jobs in Iger’s company ‘transformation’

Disney to cut 7,000 jobs in Iger’s company ‘transformation’
  • Iger said Disney is embarking on a “significant transformation” that management believes will lead to improved profitability at the company’s streaming business

LOS ANGELES: The Walt Disney Co. will cut about 7,000 jobs as part of an ambitious companywide cost-savings plan and “strategic reorganization” announced Wednesday by CEO Bob Iger.
The job cuts amount to about 3 percent of the entertainment giant’s global workforce and were unveiled after Disney reported quarterly results that topped Wall Street’s forecasts.
Iger returned as CEO in November following a challenging two-year tenure by his handpicked successor, Bob Chapek. The company said the job reductions are part of a targeted $5.5 billion cost savings across the company. As of Oct. 1, Disney employed 220,000 people, of which about 166,000 worked in the US and 54,000 internationally.
In a statement, Iger said Disney is embarking on a “significant transformation” that management believes will lead to improved profitability at the company’s streaming business.
The company, which owns Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar, will focus more on its core brands and franchises, Iger said.
The executive also announced changes to how executives will operate Disney’s various divisions. Specifically, creative executives will now be responsible for determining what movies, TV series or other content to produce, as well as the marketing and distribution.
“Our new structure is aimed at returning greater authority to our creative leaders and making them accountable for how their content performs financially,” Iger said during a call with Wall Street analysts.
In its latest results, solid growth at Disney’s theme parks helped offset tepid performance in its video streaming and movie business.
Disney said Wednesday that it earned $1.28 billion, or 70 cents per share, in the three months through Dec. 31. That compares with net income of $1.1 billion, or 60 cents per share, a year earlier.
Excluding one-time items, Disney earned 99 cents per share. Analysts, on average, were expecting adjusted earnings of 78 cents per share, according to FactSet.
Revenue grew 8 percent to $23.51 billion from $21.82 billion a year earlier. Analysts were expecting revenue of $23.44 billion.
Disney said sales at its parks, experiences and products segment grew 21 percent to $8.74 billion, from $7.23 billion a year earlier. While revenue for the segment that includes Disney’s movie business edged up 1 percent to $14.78 billion from $14.59 billion a year earlier.
The company’s direct-to-consumer business, which includes its streaming services, posted a $1.1 billion operating loss amid higher programming and production costs at Disney+ and Hulu.
Disney+ ended the quarter with 161.8 million subscribers, down 1 percent from since Oct. 1. Hulu and ESPN+ each posted a 2 percent increase in paid subscribers during the quarter.
The company rolled out new price tiers for its US Disney+ service in December that raised the monthly price for ad-free viewing from $7.99 to $10.99 and created a new basic Disney+ service with ads that costs $7.99 a month.
Management said Wednesday that Disney+ plus will achieve profitability by the end of its next fiscal year in September 2024.
The latest results marked the first quarterly snapshot since Iger’s return as CEO.
The move to revamp the company and slash costs comes as Disney is under pressure to turn its business around.
Activist investor Nelson Peltz, CEO of Trian Fund Management, is vying for a seat on Disney’s board of directors, arguing that the company’s recent operating performance has been disappointing and the result of self-inflected problems stemming from failed succession planning efforts, a flawed direct-to-consumer strategy and “over-the-top” compensation practices, among other concerns.
Disney has urged shareholders to vote against Peltz and last month named board member Mark Parker as its chairman. Parker, who also serves as executive chairman at Nike Inc., has been tapped to head Disney’s newly created succession planning committee, which will advise the board on CEO succession planning.
Iger also announced Wednesday that he intends to ask the board to approve the reinstatement of a “modest” dividend by the end of this year. The company suspended its dividend in the spring of 2020, in the early days of the pandemic.
Shares in Disney, which is based in Burbank, California, rose almost 6 percent in after-hours trading.