Where Change is the Only Constant
"Sagen, was ist." – say what is. The guiding principle of Rudolf Augstein, the legendary journalist and founder of Germany’s most influential weekly magazine ‘Der Spiegel’, emblazons the atrium of the company’s headquarter in Hamburg. It serves as a constant reminder of the magazine’s mission. As simple as it may sound, as difficult it is for an established media organisation like ‘Der Spiegel’ - to just say (and publish) what is.
This has been one of the take-aways of a group of eight professionals from South Asian media start-ups who joined the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) for a visiting program to Germany. Titled, “Evolving Media Ecosystem in the Digital Age”, the one week program aimed to showcase the ecosystem of media start-ups in Germany - and how the diverse and modern media order in that country is evolving.
Fake news is one of the challenges the industry is facing also in Germany. ’Der Spiegel’ employs 70 “fact checkers” to ensure their coverage is accurate – and meets the high journalistic standards of truthfulness.
Germany’s media industry has been in transformation even before the rise of fake news. Digital transformation upended old business models giving rise to new players. The guests from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal visited established and highly reputed media organizations like ‘Der Spiegel’, ‘Die Zeit’ and the public broadcaster ‘ARD’. For a balanced and broader perspective the program also included media startups like Datenfreunde, Steady or Hostwriter. These companies wouldn’t exist were it not for digital transformation.
In general terms, the trends in Germany and South Asia aren’t that different when it comes to the “media revolution”. Still, the visitors soon understood that the intensity of the impact of the digital transformation varies from one part of the world to another. Though many businesses continue to depend on ad revenue the overall share of this source of income is declining everywhere. At the same time, paywalls, subscriptions and memberships are on the rise. At ‘Der Spiegel’, ‘Die Zeit’ and Steady the discussions time and again pointed in the same direction: Media organizations need to be authentic and engage their target audiences to build loyal communities. Economic success will follow – or so the story goes. This also means to move well beyond publishing only. All successful organizations engage with their target audience ‘in the real world’, be it through conferences and seminars or curated experiences like study tours with expert journalists.
At the Next Media Accelerator in Hamburg and at Datenfreunde the group got a glimpse of the future of the media industry. Abhinandan Shekri, founder of The Newslaundry from India, was amazed at “what the future has in store for online content platforms, data gathering and applications.”
Frank Hoffmann, FNF-Project Manager who led the program came back to India with the notion that – as he put it – “content consumption will move well beyond apps and social media and algorithms will in future deliver a lot more content automatically based on our behavior, location, current environment and preferences”.
The proverbial change seems to be the only constant in the future of the media industry – in Germany, and also in South Asia.