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Journalism in and despite of the crisis The crisis of journalism and professional media

Digitization & Media Last update: Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Tags: journalism, medianetz, media studies, day of media studies, Ute Schaeffer

"The crisis of journalism" – this was the topic of this year's day of media studies. Why do people risk becoming journalists despite the crisis? And what do the findings from the crises in the Ukraine, Syria and Iraq mean for professional media?

Keynote of Ute Schaeffer: "Share, post, rule? – Professional media between digital jihad and hybrid war"

Poster of the day of media studies 2014
Medianetz celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2014

An important part of each day of media studies is the keynote, directly out of the world of media. This year, Ute Schaeffer, deputy director and head of media development at the Deutsche Welle Akademie in Cologne, travelled to Trier. Her keynote had the interest provoking title "Share, post, rule? – Professional media between digital jihad and hybrid war" – and this showed the range of topics she covered pretty well.

How social media is used as a weapon

The point of departure was the question of how the net is used by lobbyists and extremists. Examples were the crises in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine, where social media play a new role. Two thirds of young Russians use social media as their primary means of information, not traditional media. They look at their smartphones about 150 times a day. This is used for targeted persuasion:

  • The rules of the medium are followed: Twitter is flooded with hashtags in order to get into the trending topics. On ask.fm, questions are answered. YouTube videos are created in different versions – clean for the West, daunting for the local people.
  • The work is done in a highly professional manner by media agencies.
  • The demand for critical content in Russia (by the German radio Deutsche Welle, for example) is declining – people feel adequately informed by the state media.
  • Thus, media are becoming weapons in order to directly recruit and disorientate people.

What does this mean for professional media?

The central question of Ute Schaeffer was: If "nobody needs traditional media in 20 years in order to get news" – how should professional media react? Not by focusing on mere news, possibly even copied from news agencies. Ute Schaeffer calls for joy of experimenting and an awareness of quality without compromises: "We are only one voice of many. In the competition of these voices, we can only stand our ground based on quality."

Ute Schaeffer during her keynote
Ute Schaeffer talks about the digital jihad and the hybrid war

Some of her theses:

  • We should value the medial public relations – in this regard, she saw huge deficits. While there were only three media targeting foreign countries in the 90s, the number is now about two dozens. The budget of the Deutsche Welle is still on the level of the mid 90s, while the Kreml is investing several hundreds of millions in media targeting foreign countries, for example.
  • Professional media have to design the digital change. Quality and courage is key, in order to invent formats and storytelling in a new way.
  • Good journalism has to be at the place, where the crisis happens – ideally, even in advance.
  • Agenda setting should be done by the users: Deepening and integrating topics instead of mere news. Journalists have to know their users, making their questions the main points of their stories.

A further, interesting aspect was developed during dinner: Besides calling for a digital re-invention of journalism, the question of new digital business models is not asked often enough. This could maybe be a topic for the day of media studies 2015? We will keep investigating.

Impulses of 10 years Medianetz Trier

Logo of medianetz Trier
medianetz Trier organizes events of and for media scholars

In my role as chairman of Medianetz Trier, I had the pleasure of giving a short presentation about the aims of our alumni and students association. Topics were how we want to strengthen the networking of media scholars by means of regular events, how we want to take our knowledge back into education and how we want to give a helping hand to young students – and there has also been a greeting of the first chairman.

Panel discussion: journalism despite the crisis?

Journalism is in a crisis – but why do people still choose this job? At the panel discussion (moderated by Michael Harnischmacher), three young journalists with a range of background took part:

  • Nelly Theobald, who is still studying in a master program, but has been working as a freelance journalist for a long time, and was also awarded a grant of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung
  • Bileam Bader of the channel WDR
  • Nathalie Stüben of the Deutsche Journalistenschule on the phone

All participants stressed the importance of the journalistic trainee programs, which are still the save way, often also prerequisites for a permanent position. Media scholars have advantages thanks to their knowledge and courage regarding journalistic formats and the media change – this is a "huge plus" (Bileam Bader). Nelly Theobald also pointed out there is a possible risk: There is not always a demand for specialists of media, because journalists with an economic, legal, or scientific background are also needed – experts in their fields.

Nelly Theobald, Bileam Bader and Michael Harnischmacher during the discussion
Nelly Theobald and Bileam Bader talk to Michael Harnischmacher

Bileam Bader said that a permanent position does not have to be the ultimate goal: The work of an editor is different from the work of a freelancer, meaning that not everyone even wants a permanent position. But the business of a freelance journalist is not simple. You should create a good network – quality alone is not enough. Additionally, a lot of students are already working as freelance journalists, taking considerable lower wages. All three agreed that journalism is a very interesting field of work – diversified, demanding, perfect for curious people. But all participants also stressed the difficulties – you have to be willing to work a lot (especially during unattractive working hours), start to get a foot in the door during studies, have a broad knowledge and focus on modern formats. However, there was also a positive summary: If you want to become a journalist, you will find your way.

Finally, we payed homage to this year's alumni.

Photos of the day of media studies 2014