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Rest of World’s Leo Schwartz on the Challenges of Independent Journalism

Rest of World’s Leo Schwartz on the Challenges of Independent Journalism

Aug 30, 2021

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"The nature of news is changing," said Leo Schwartz, a reporter for international nonprofit media organization Rest of World. He was speaking to Orchid's Derek Silva on this week's episode of the Priv8 Podcast.

Leo, who studied journalism and Latin America to prepare to be a reporter, spoke of the risks that government-operated spyware can pose to journalists. "There are so many surveillance technologies that are being used around the world," he said.

In Mexico, there's evidence that some of the journalists who have been murdered in the past few years had [spyware] on their phones and were having their locations tracked," Leo said. "Of course, this is something that hasn't been directly proven...[but it] is highly suspect."

Media publications are innovating to fend off threats and develop business models that allow them to remain independent of the influence from the people and institutions they cover.

"It's an exciting time to be a journalist and try and figure out how to change the way we're telling stories," said Leo, whose publication focuses on global tech stories, including cryptocurrencies . However, while many positive developments are happening in the journalism sphere, reporters are still facing some significant challenges--particularly if they operate independently, he said.

"There's a lot of precarity for journalists and outlets in terms of funding models," Leo said. But the industry is working to adapt--"novel ways are emerging to create more sustainable types of publications that have more direct connections to their readers," he said, including various kinds of non-profit and community-driven models.

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Sustainable ways to fund independent media isn't just good for the industry--it can also improve the quality of reporting. "It helps [journalists] have the freedom to tell the stories they want to tell in the way they want to tell them," Leo continued. This is particularly important in regions where journalists' salaries are low and they can face threats for their reporting.

Beyond finding ways to fund their work, journalists also face the challenge of effectively reaching readers. "It's really important to meet readers where they are, [and] to think of different avenues where we can share articles--whether it's something Telegram or WhatsApp, or even TikTok."

But even though social media is a powerful tool for connecting with audiences, it can also be used for destructive purposes. In some areas of the world, authoritarian governments use Facebook to manipulate the public. For example, "[politicians can use fake profiles] to spread disinformation," Leo explained.

These kinds of insidious maneuvers effectively amount to political advertising. "And the big problem with a platform like Facebook is that they're largely indifferent to the countries [where this happens.] They don't act there ... they don't devote the resources necessary to be able to handle the local conditions of every country they operate in."

Check out Derek's entire conversation with Leo. And don't forget to subscribe to Priv8 Podcast on your favorite streaming service.

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