Ladies and Gentlemen,
Every student of media studies in Germany learns the so-called “Riepl’s Law”. It states that no medium completely replaces an old one, but that at best the function of the old medium changes in the light of the new one.
In the course of the coronavirus pandemic, Riepl’s theory is becoming more topical again: Television and especially the public service broadcasters have picked up more viewers again, including younger ones. As we can see, when something unknown arrives, people like to cling to the familiar or the tried and tested.
Nevertheless, there is now a debate about whether coronavirus reporting in recent months has been too one-sided, and whether we have succeeded in publicly discussing all that is relevant. This is a necessary discussion because it gets us talking about what actually distinguishes successful public communication – and what kind of journalism contributes to its success. How does it fit into the digital context? How does it stand out from activist communication? How can we facilitate both overview and context? And how can journalism maintain its poise in increasingly accelerated contexts and in conditions that positively urge the assumption of a position?
We have to talk about the issue itself but also focus on some quite fundamental questions concerning the status of our public sphere. One thing is certain: one medium may not always replace another, but each traditional medium must reflect on its own raison d’être, its meaning and its purpose in the light of the new one. It must adapt to new circumstances without sacrificing its own expertise.
We are currently experiencing these changes: Traditional mass media focus on general questions concerning the entire society whereas digital media focus on individual questions for each person sitting in front of their computer. And how these two logics combine, how they interact and how they can help us to conduct a more rational discourse in public is one of the key issues of journalism.
Jeff Jarvis, Journalism Professor at The City University of New York, book author and blogger, is one of those who vehemently discuss and defend the many new possibilities of journalism that the Internet brings with it. One of his core theses is this: While the business of journalism used to focus exclusively on the production of information, today it is about the communities that journalists have to engage with and that they have to speak to. They must help to get the talk about themselves going.
We live in a society that is becoming increasingly diverse. And yet our experience is that differences seem to increasingly annoy some of us and that opposing views sometimes make at least some of us lose their tempers more quickly.
It is precisely then that those media that not only proclaim knowledge but also invite discussion and then actively shape it become all the more necessary. And journalists are professionals of discursive practice. Their central task has always been to create public awareness. They are advocates of social discourse. And this is what Jeff Jarvis has been championing unwaveringly for years.
In recognition of his commitment, we are today presenting him with the Scoop Award.
And of course, Jarvis knows how important and how valuable major media brands are for the new public. His intention is not to set the new digital platforms against the supposedly outdated publishing houses, but rather to lead these camps towards a productive peace.
At a time when the two sides were still unreconcilably opposed to one another, Jarvis was listened to by both. And he used this to build bridges. Last year we talked about the necessity to listen to one another. Listening in public instead of just talking to each other and trying to be louder than the other is also one of the key issues for Jarvis.
The Scoop Award is due to him for this achievement especially. He is one of the few people who have succeeded in getting both sides, the media houses and the digital platforms, to develop a greater understanding of each other. The protagonists now regard one another more pragmatically and consider on a case-by-case basis whether or not they can cooperate. This is largely thanks to Jarvis.
Jeff Jarvis made the case early on for journalists to think about their own business models. This “Entrepreneurial Spirit”, which we regularly discuss and invoke at the ScoopCamp alongside the opportunities offered by digital innovation, was something he found lacking in many editorial offices.
He has always defended companies such as Google and Facebook against criticism from media companies and is known for his ability to dish out criticism himself. In 2014 he warned of “technopanic in the culture” of Germany and criticized the European Court of Justice for its invention of a “right to be forgotten”. Three forces, he said, were responsible for inhibiting every new development, from Gutenberg’s invention of letterpress printing to the Internet: “control, protectionism and technopanic”.
His criticism challenges us to reflect and adopt a position. And of course, it is not enough to criticise big monopolies like Facebook. We are all free to decide whether or not to use the platform.
Instead, the question for us as a society is this: What should platforms look like that fulfil the criteria we hold to be important? And what matters to journalists? If we are going to be able to answer these questions, we have to discuss how people in the digital age actually get their information.
To this end, the Deutsche Presseagentur set up the four-year research project “UseTheNews” in which the Ministry for Culture and Media is participating along with partners from the media, academia, public institutions and civil society.
We know that in an open society it is the job of politicians to guarantee and promote free and fair communication. One thing is certain: data protection must not become an obstacle to innovation and the state must not become a gatekeeper. But another thing is also certain: targeted manipulation supported by algorithms hinders a sovereign public in its rational search for the truth and its discursive rivalry about the better argument.
We are engaged in a continuous learning process. Like Jarvis, I think we are still at the beginning and have yet to learn how to use digital media responsibly.
This includes how we deal with fake news. Political developments in the USA in recent years have been a massive challenge for journalism. In this sensitive context, Jarvis advocated greater visibility of media brands on digital platforms so that users could better judge the credibility of news. To this end, in 2017 he founded the News Integrity Initiative (NII), which also involves two Hamburg educational institutions – the Leibniz Institute for Media Research/ Hans Bredow Institute and the Hamburg Media School.
Disturbed by how the US government was communicating about the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, Jarvis posted a list on Twitter of 500 epidemiologists, virologists, doctors, journalists and scientists to bring together information from experts and communication with the community.
Jarvis is an expert and visionary in the field of journalism and therefore exactly the right recipient for the 2020 Scoop Award, which unfortunately I cannot present in person.
Jeff Jarvis, congratulations on the Scoop Award!