Q: So who is "Willi"? (video with his views on media and innovation journalism role in it)
A: In the age of the internet, we see a (slow) dissolve of what was previously considered your "identity". On the web you can be many "personas" at the same time.
Building and managing your different, and indeed, sometimes diverse and conflicting identities is something we will all have to learn, and use for our communication advantage.
So this guy, 55, male, married, university educated, and with a 15 year background in broadcasting and journalism education, and now the German director of a Dutch international foundation called the European Journalism Centre, could also be blogging as an African grass roots activist demanding more help for developing countries on Global Voices.com or be caught chatting live on YouTube as that 16 year old teenage girl "Minnie from Minneapolis" who is into Nelly Furtado and Linkin Park and has a crush on Orlando Bloom.
Q: What is my passion?
A: Apart from really loving soul music and reading gritty American crime novels from authors like Elroy and Connelly, what really makes me tick is " the future": some of the questions I am interested are:
- how will today's weak signals be received tomorrow,
- how will change affect the media industries,
- how can the internet be turned into an ever better tool for research and communication,
- how can innovation contribute to better lives for all of us,
- which structures and vested interests do exist that hinder change and innovation and that want to maintain the status quo.
- how can more and more people be enabled to contribute to human knowledge and be enabled to share what they know and like
Q: What does it mean to be a director of the EJC (op: European Journalist Center)?
A: It means an excellent opportunity to be able to follow up on my passions just mentioned. Over 15 years the EJC has been instrumental in educating journalists from Europe, but also from countries all over the world, with the EJC helping them to better understand their jobs, the topics they cover, and the important developments in the media industries that affect or will affect their jobs.
It also puts quite a big responsibility on my shoulders since the ejc is a very respected organization, internationally, and we always have to try to live up to that reputation by going for the really good stuff, not being satisfied with just the second best. It means identifying good teachers, lecturers, and industry professionals who also share this vision of excellence, and who want to share what they have learned in their professional careers with others who are just starting their journalism careers, or share experiences with those who, after having worked in the industry for some years, are now looking for new challenges or a new direction in their professional lives.
I must admit I feel very privileged to be the Director of this organization, since it allows me to support so many fine colleagues in their further education and to be able to play a role in enabling some serious networking amongst these professionals.
Q: What is the primary role of the centre in the EU?
The primary role of the European Journalism Centre is to help educate journalists on complex issues such as the workings of the European Union, convergence (as the integration of text, audio and video in publications on the web) and innovation systems, and the roles the different actors play in that innovation space.
Moreover, we see ourselves also as an institution interested in, and doing serious research about, the future of media, but also about issues such as good media governance and the future of copyright.
We target journalists working in traditional environments such as the print and broadcasting industries, but we want to better reach out to citizen journalists, to bloggers and video journalists and to all those media workers whose job descriptions still have to be invented.
Q: What is your worst nightmare?
A: This must be my dentist, really. He just extracted three teeth and has hinted that another four (!) will probably have to go. Apart from that I see more opportunities than dangers in (my) life. As the saying goes in my native city of Cologne: "so far things have always worked out'.
Q: Can journalists play an active role in the development of a future society?
A: Yes, journalists have done this in the past and will continue to do so in the future. There is no democracy without freedom of expression, and the freedom of the press is vital to any open society. Journalists have an important watchdog function that makes sure that politicians and other officials are under professional scrutiny and are held accountable for their actions. Moreover, since the public is facing an ever increasing amount of (dis)information, journalists can act as gatekeepers, differentiating the important from the merely sensational, the relevant from the merely curious. As media professionals, they are able to make sense (and to communicate that sense) of the ever more complex world we all live in.
Q: What is the biggest change in the media industry that you are noticing: how does it show?
A: We see a blurring of borders in many areas of the profession and a move towards a more "horizontal"/ "peer to peer" communication:
- print journalists now integrate podcasts and videos in their stories. The separation of workers into (creative) writers and technical (support) staff is disappearing.
- citizen journalists and bloggers can now communicate and publish just as well as those who call themselves "media professionals". The separation between "publishers" and "audience" is disappearing.
- "content" is freely and easily available everywhere and will be even more so in the future. Already today, one third of all daily newspapers are given away for free.
- all media is on all platforms all the time: the different distribution channels for media are losing their distinct features: it is the content that rules ok, and it is present 24h/7d on all available platforms.
- the vertical communication model ( "one to many", "broadcasting", "ex cathedra") is being supplemented (and superseded?) by more "horizontal" communication models in peer to peer networks like “myspace”, “facebook”, “wikipedia”, “flicr”, “delicious” and other so called "web 2.0" applications and networks.
Groups of people interested in a certain topic are beginning to realize that by pooling and sharing their knowledge, they need less and less traditional (and hierarchical) structures to reach their goals and that the "power of the crowd" can be superior to any "proprietary" knowledge you must buy from commercial entities.
Q: Is media responding well to the challenges of a dynamic and constantly changing society?
A: Media itself is a part of this dynamic and constantly changing world, so it faces the challenges all industries and professions face in the globalized world. Is it responding well because it intrinsically loves change?
Rather: it is changing because it has to. Too much power, and money, is at stake, so if "media" is not up to the challenges, other market entrants will be, and they will take the vacant place.
So the big media houses and publishers like Murdoch embrace the new because they have to. Unfortunately, it seems that especially many public broadcasting enterprises, on the other hand, still do not seem to take the changes occurring very seriously. Many of them pretend that nothing has happened, and that the public that pays their service fee will allow them to "plod on" also in the future. There is very little "blurring" here: the same old hierarchies seem to be intact, the "news" is still delivered "from above", and developments like "user generated content" are perceived as a danger instead of the public broadcasters seizing the opportunity and enabling users to become producers.
But, generally speaking: yes, media is responding well to changes: journalists are usually very curious, often irreverent, and always interested in the "next thing": any changes affecting society as a whole usually affect media very early on since media is so much concerned with the "new" and the 'unusual", and so if media is not "ahead" of the curve, it will lose readers and users.
Q: Is there a future for media? Will it merge with other industries or will it remain a profession?
A: Yes, of course, there is a future. Remember: some 500 years ago there was just one book, the Bible, that tried to dominate people's lives and now there are tens of thousands of newspapers, websites, radio and tv stations all fighting for the attention and the time of the user. Faced with such a huge proliferation (of publications, distribution channels and devices) "media" has always been mixing its "authorship"/ its "content production” with the relevant distribution technologies in printing and broadcasting, and now with web technologies.
New players keep on entering the media markets, and now we see telephone companies, Internet Service Providers and technology companies like Apple occupying media space that was once reserved to the publishing houses and the national broadcasters. And of course, and again, there are all these new participants like bloggers and citizen journalists who are discovering their very own voices and who are making these voices heard.
Yet, I firmly believe that "media worker" is and will remain a profession: maybe the task of the media professionals will be changing, though: they will be less concerned with knowing it all and telling the truth "from above", and be more concerned with "gatekeeping" and with enabling all these new participants of the media space to find and stabilize their own voices and make these voices heard.
"Media literacy" will be a fundamental skill for the future, and the professionals in the industry will ( or rather: should) be devoting more of their time and expertise in enabling more and more people to use the media as a tool, enabling them to articulate their views and opinions.
Q: Can projects like InJo (op: innovation journalism) help?
A: Yes, of course. We believe Innovation journalism is a new and major approach to better understand and cover the world around us. It goes away from the traditional "vertical" approach in reporting (politics/business/sports/living/ health etc) and looks at the world in a more "horizontal" fashion, identifying change, its agents and drivers, at a very early stage.
InJo is all about "detecting weak signals" and making these signals strong and sustainable. InJo identifies, and embraces, change and change processes and, by doing this, journalists covering these issues all of a sudden become drivers of change themselves. This is quite unusual for traditional journalists who usually see themselves more in the role of observers rather than as actors, but we believe it is a vital new concept that will not just help us to better understand the world, but that offers an excellent opportunity for those who are interested in the "big picture" to better write and report on the paradigm changes taking place around us.
Q: And your final thought?
A: My final thought I want to share with Slovenian media professionals: I once saw a writing on a wall that gave very good advice. The graffiti stated, quite correctly: "the only liberties you get are the ones you take". So, be not afraid. Embrace the new, and go for it!
Willi, as usual, nailed it right on the spot. His broad views and very deep interest in local, professional and global issues make him a valuable media person. And here might be an answer to the question of the future trends on media sector… media will be the main driver for bringing people together, horizontally and vertically and offering a platform for exchange of views, ideas, and solutions. Let’s be part of this exciting future... Let's go for it.