Lebanese American University students tackle “fake news” in Salzburg, Austria

By Stephanie Quon, Salzburg Global Seminar

In an age where advanced technology can manipulate or fabricate almost everything to produce false information and social media platforms’ algorithms create echo chambers that drown out more accurate information and moderate voices, the public appears to have lost trust in the media. How can this trend be reversed?

For three weeks this summer, 20 students from LAU joined more than 70 students from around the world at Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg to take on this challenge by producing interactive stories and creating new tools for engagement at the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change.

Over the course of the program – entitled Re-Imaging Journalism: News and Storytelling in an Age of Distrust – university undergraduate and graduate students took part in plenary sessions, workshops, reading groups and hands-on exercises that challenged their perspectives, provided opportunities for thinking outside the box, and transformed their ideas into action. Topics covered included critical media making, the intersection of civic imagination and civic media, the bridging of cultural divides, journalism ethics, and media literacy.

Participants from Lebanese American University included Mai Al Khouri, Wehbe (Alex) El Dahdah, Abir El Danaf, Lynn El Jbeily, Sally Farhat, Jad Fawaz, Sabah Haidar, Yara Issa, Jena Karam, Mohamad Khoudari, Emilio Mounsef, Sary Sader, Hiba Shaaban, Rana Tabbara, Rawad Taha, Sara Taha, Moustafa Wehbe, Samer Wehb.

Besides LAU, participants at this year’s Salzburg Academy included students from universities in Argentina, Austria, China, Colombia, Denmark, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Palestine, Sudan, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela, and Viet Nam. Together, this global cohort produced the online publication Persist: New Ideas for Journalism in an Age of Distrust, which can be viewed on the platform, Medium.

Persist aims to refocus journalism around meaningful, unbiased, and inclusive content consumption as a response to the current state of media. This online publication features include new approaches and models for storytelling, conceptual platforms, games, prototypes, and creative materials. All examples showcase the values that need to reemerge and are essential to creating better journalism and storytelling on a global scale.

The intent of the projects is to promote active engagement and facilitate dialogue to create content that will create an inclusive community and enable individuals to seek out and contribute to informative and non-biased media sources.

The students were led by an expert faculty of both academics and practitioners including award-winning journalist, Daniela Rea, Google tech lead, Dan Russell, Global News Director for Buzzfeed News, Ryan Broderick, and LAU’s Jad Melki, Chair of the Department of Communication and Claudia Kozman, assistant professor of multimedia journalism in the Department of Communication Arts.

LAU student and Salzburg Academy Fellow Sally Farhat says: “Every person who ever has a chance [to attend the Salzburg Academy] should take it. It is life changing, because it’s not only about what you learn - you start thinking about things differently, you discuss topics you didn’t think you would discuss with different people with different backgrounds - you also get to create prototypes about projects that might change the journalism field.”

Launched in 2007 by Salzburg Global Seminar and now counting nearly 1000 students and faculty in its alumni and with university partners on five continents, the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change has taken a pioneering lead in media education with a focus on media literacy and civic engagement. Academy alumni have been inspired to become change-makers and leaders, taking pro-active positions in education, media, technology and politics.

“What impressed me most [about this year’s program] was the engagement and sensitivity of such a diverse group of students to the cultural and social nuances that make the concept of trust so complex,” says Paul Mihailidis, program director of the Salzburg Academy and associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, USA.

“They found ways to educate and inspire each other, faculty, and the outside world through their own storytelling. The energy was palpable and the result is that not only are we forging new avenues for journalism, but also for those involved in the experience themselves.”

“The Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change continues to be a leader in creating active media networks and ideas that will positively benefit communities and societies around the world.”

Group photos and general snapshots of the Salzburg Academy are available online for download and publication:

(credited to Salzburg Global Seminar/Katrin Kerschbaumer)

A video of students’ testimonials is available on YouTube and Facebook for sharing and embedding:

Credits: Shot and edited by Jamie Cohen, video graphics by Phil Robibero, music by

General Information

Salzburg Global Seminar is an independent non-profit organization founded in 1947 to challenge current and future leaders to shape a better world. Our multi-year series of programs aim to bridge divides, expand collaboration and transform systems.

Salzburg Global convenes outstanding talent across generations, cultures and sectors to inspire new thinking and action, and to connect local innovators with global resources. We foster lasting networks and partnerships for creative, just and sustainable change.

Over 36,000 Fellows from more than 170 countries have come together through our work, with many rising to senior leadership positions. Our historic home at Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, Austria – now also an award-winning hotel – allows us to welcome all participants in conditions of trust and openness.

For more information, please visit this page.  

Re-Imagining Journalism: News and Storytelling in an Age of Distrust is part of Salzburg Global Seminar’s long-running multi-year series, the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. More information on this year’s program can be found here.