The vision from Europe

Continuing a string of visionary statements from European media bosses (see the Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger here, Reuters’ Tom Glocer here and here, the BBC’s Mark Thompson here, and Burda’s Hubert Burda here), now add this interview with Gruner + Jahr boss Bernd Kundrun. It’s in German in the Frankfurter Allegemeine Sonntagszeitung (sadly and ironically not free) and I’ll try to translate and paraphrase the good bits (please do correct me):

The journalistic skill in the future wil be the moderation of ‘user-generated content,’ exactly like earlier information and data bases in the internet….

Note that he didn’t say that they’d be a gatekeeper. They’d moderate. I think that’s nearly right: Journalists point you to the good stuff as part of their job (along with reporting).

I believe that journalism must find a new definition. But we are standing just at the beginning. I can’t conclusively describe the job description of journalists today…

Imagine his own journalists reading that. And compare that with American editors still trying to circle their wagons around thier newsrooms.

The journalist stays on the ball, he observes… He will be an approachable partner for the reader, he carries a responsibility to perhaps moderate the discussion that follows. It’s in this context that the merger of the online and print newsrooms is occurring…. That is still a frightening vision for many colleagues. We at Gruner + Jahr are trying to get our journalists excited about this, that this opportunity is a challenge.

He talks about the relationship of blogs and big media and says that “the revolutionary attitude of the first bloggers… is understandable but is not a mass phenomenon.” He doesn’t attack blogs, as others do, but he does say that just as magazines have to get readers to give them their trust, so do new online brands — and blogs — need to earn trust. So he says his company has an “expand your brand” program to reach out into all the trends we know, which he says are not really about technology but sociology: blogs, MySpace, Wikipedia, and so on. He says they should not dread them but find possibilities in them.

The interviewer asks whether a big journalism award (a Pulitzer, of sorts, I think) will be awarded to a blogger. “Not yet, but I wouldn’t exclude that in the future.” He says the prize should reward the essence of journalism. By implication, that can include blogs.

All the European media bosses linked above talk the good game but they all have great challenges still to change the cultures of their empires and find new business success. But at least they’re playing.

  • I absolutely agree that journalism has to find a new definition for itself (if there ever has been a clear one before). That is a very important task, not only theoretically, but practically as well because it will have implications for freedom of speech protections, access, and interaction between old msm and new open-source interpersonal/mass media.

  • Jeff, what really is the difference between “point you to the good stuff” and “gatekeeping”? How is this really so different from the old model of publishing where media companies controlled what gets attention? You can put a blog in every pot, but there’s not enough attention to go around.

    I know you’ll say progress is slow, but at least its progress. Still, “visionary statements” from media execs trying to prevent shareholder revolts are getting to be a dime a dozen.

  • Scott,
    Fair point. In some hands, there’s no difference. But I think that up until now, news organizations have never been generous with pointing to other sources; they gave you what they created. So pointing out to others is itself a big change. Then, you’ll say, pointing out to some and not others is gatekeeping. Well, it’s a glass-half-empty way to look at it, isn’t it? If you never pointed to the outside before and now you do, if you recommend good things others do, that’s moderating, I think; that’s far more generous. And, no, I do not expect them to point to everyone — anymore than you or I point to everyone. We recommend. That is the flipside of gatekeeping, perhaps. But if you do it generously, I’d call it moderation. And if you find the good stuff I wouldn’t have found, I’d call that useful.

  • But: Who decides what’s good, and what isn’t? That’s the big problem!

  • > Jeff, what really is the difference between “point you to the good stuff” and “gatekeeping”?

    Addition: Imho it’s not only about the “good stuff”, but about the truth. My impression (I’m German myself) is that at least over here the main function of the “big ones” (the major media concerns) is, to deliver a certain “picture” to the readers which is not necessarily true. Its main function is imho to maintain the status quo and to prevent major changes (for the better, of course) in our society (I’m basically talking about Germany here, but this can easily be applied to other countries as well).

  • Document sans nom

    Yesterday, this blog dealing with Brussels and the European Union, has received the Louise Weiss Award for european journalism.

  • You might want to give a look at An innovative form of European journalism, relying on “participatory journalism. It’s a magazine translated in 7 languages, and offering a European perspective on current affairs.

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