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Florence School of Transnational Governance

Leading Greek Journalist Alexis Papahelas reflects on journalism during a crisis

Alexis Papahelas, a seasoned journalist with over three decades of experience, provided insights into the challenges faced by media in navigating the digital era and the enduring importance of journalism to democracy in a Florence STG event on 5 April 2024.

15 April 2024 | Event

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On 5 April 2024, we welcomed Alexis Papahelas, investigative journalist and Executive Editor of the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, to discuss the role of the media in times of crisis.

During the talk he spoke of the ever-evolving role of journalism in our democracies, the responsibility of journalists to speak truth to power, and ways for traditional media to adapt to emerging techniques, approaches, and technologies.

The Greek case

Alexis Papahelas has dedicated his career to holding power accountable with interviews with the world’s most influential and controversial leaders including Bashar al-Assad, George Soros, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Yasser Arafat, and George H. W. Bush. While at the helm of Kathimerini, the Greek newspaper emerged as a pro-European voice during Greece's bailout saga, a pillar of rational discourse in times of upheaval.

Joined in the talk by Florence STG Acting Director Georgios Papakonstantinou, former Greek Minister of Finance (2009 - 2011), Papahelas offered a detailed picture of the tumultuous times of Greece's financial crisis.

While recounting the immense pressure and criticism journalists faced between 2007 and 2008 in Greece, Papahelas highlighted the importance of media being resilient and rational in the face of a crisis, a principle that Kathimerini staunchly upheld despite facing significant backlash:

"All hell broke loose. A lot of times, I felt like [...] the captain of the boat right before the big wave takes over."

Papahelas suggested that Greece served as a testing ground for journalism due to the unique circumstances surrounding the Greek financial crisis including loss of advertising revenue, decline in print media, the rise of social media, and proliferation of conspiracy theories. Ultimately, he credited journalism for keeping the boat afloat in the storm: “Without good and healthy journalism, democracy is at risk. I’m convinced of that.”

A fragmented media landscape

Reflecting on the seismic shift brought about by the digital era, Papahelas emphasised the need for reliable reporting in a fragmented media landscape. He attributed this fragmentation to the rise of social media, polarisation, news fatigue and the creation of information bubbles:

“You now have people who get their information only through X or some right-wing websites. [..] I think many of these people are so trapped into their own bubble and the way they see the world, they just refuse to go and get their news from, you know, a legitimate or a mainstream organisation."

Discussing the challenges of reaching audiences, Papahelas also acknowledged the younger generation's changing consumption patterns, particularly with a preference for shorter, easier-to-digest content:

"What we can do, I guess, as traditional media, is try to use these techniques in a more legitimate way. It's not easy. Because it's very difficult to do like a 30-second TikTok story, which has some sort of in-depth analysis or serious reporting."

Still, Papahelas remains adamant on the need for traditional media to adapt to a new information paradigm, with no possibility of us ever going back to consuming the news like we once used to: “​​We're trying because, obviously, that's the only way we can communicate with younger people.”

AI and journalism

Papahelas also raised concerns over the decline of print media on one side and the rise of digital platforms on the other. He cautioned against overreliance on AI and the proliferation of misinformation in the digital information space:

"The important question is, who is going to curate the content that informs AI? Is it going to be Google? Microsoft? or a community of wise men?”

He stressed the importance of human judgment in news curation to mitigate risks associated with the new technologies and the dire need for regulation.

Papahelas concluded his talk with a message of hope highlighting the pivotal role of journalists as witnesses to historic events unfolding worldwide. Despite the challenges posed by evolving technologies and shifting consumer habits, he underscored the enduring importance of robust, principled journalism in safeguarding democratic values and fostering informed discourse in an increasingly complex world.

Watch the full lecture here and our student’s takeaway from the discussion here.

Last update: 15 April 2024

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