A CASE OF CONTRADICTIONS: NEWS PUBLISHING IN THE DIGITAL AGE

Mar 19, 2019

Sebastian Loudon

 

The effects of digital innovation on news and journalism have been transformational – and somewhat loaded with contradictions. On one hand, it connects us to news and information from every corner of the world. At the same time, some say it has led us to disconnect with the real world and communities around us. Technology offers creative freedom to journalists through digital storytelling techniques and platforms. But at the same time, it has literally limited audiences’ attention spans and introduced the rise of click-bait. We spoke to Sebastian Loudon, representative for ZEIT VERLAG in Austria and Publisher of DATUM Magazine for Politics and Society, about the contradictions of the news industry in the digital era and some of the ethical challenges it presents to those reporting the news.

 

 

It’s sometimes said that technology makes us better connected, but less aware of the world around us. How do you respond to this?

I would respond like this: I fully agree. Connectivity is a truly tremendous enrichment both in professional and private lives. However, along comes an incredible dose of distraction. Awareness and attention towards the world and, even more, towards the people around us, are under pressure. Focussing on the relevant things is the key challenge in this situation.

 

What are the core responsibilities of journalists in the digital era, as opposed to everyday users, such as bloggers and social media users?

The most significant distinction is professionalism. Journalists are trained and payed for delivering information to a public audience. They are (or should be) held accountable for the accuracy and relevance of the information they distribute. Most journalists work in the surroundings of an editorial team, where discussion and reflection (should) take place. All of these are traditional journalistic responsibilities but new ones have occurred. In today’s media age, journalists need to improve their technological skills and they also need to learn to listen to and actively communicate with their audience. 

 

Prioritising human well-being in a large global business is both an external and internal matter. What values underpin your leadership style in relation to business culture?

As I explored in my master thesis at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership, a new interpretation of Ethical Leadership is the most effective leadership style in today’s world. This leadership style is forged by combining the principles of two well-known concepts: Transformational Leadership and Distributed Leadership. The former aims to align an individual’s private motivation with goals of the organisation as a whole. The latter aims to distribute responsibility and hereby empower team members to get more involved and therefore also recognize more purpose in their work. In order to cultivate this leadership style one needs to embrace a number of antagonisms or ethical dilemmas which simply occur in every leader’s life. Such as the discrepancy between detaching oneself from day-to-day work for strategic thinking and staying hands-on, and not losing sight of actual value creation. Another antagonism is all about the right speed of change and transformation. A third example could be the “conflict” between active (Speaking) and passive (listening) communication.

 

In your career at Die Zeit, can you tell us about one example where technology truly transformed the telling of a story?

Since my work for DIE ZEIT in Austria is focused on the publishing business side, I don’t do journalistic work myself. However, DIE ZEIT and ZEIT ONLINE have introduced quite a few highly innovative projects, in which technology enables a new quality of journalistic engagement with the audience. For example “Deutschland spricht”, a forum where thousands of Germans are being connected into bilateral discussions on political issues, thus intensifying societal discourse.

 

How is the evolution of technology liberating journalists and their ability to bring new perspectives, news and stories to a changing readership?

I am afraid I am a bit conservative in that regard. Of course, digital media brings new ways of storytelling, of preparing data, of delivering context. And many journalists are proving their increasing abilities with new formats in data journalism and so on. However, I suppose, a well written text, a well told story in film or podcast – these traditional ways will prevail. Of course, some users and readers want to interact with the author, want to switch between text, video and data, but linear storytelling in my view will remain dominant.

 


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