Edition 3-4/2023

Table of contents


Dear reader, Do you like to watch television or listen to radio produced by public service broadcasters – especially when…

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Focus: Public broadcasting in Germany

Reform or Repair A distress call from the engine rooms of public broadcasters

By Peter Welchering | Public broadcasting is under fire. That is not new. Too closely aligned with governments, political bias towards one party or another, unbalanced programming, red tape and high-handed executives, some of them remarkably self-serving – I have been hearing these points of criticism ever since I produced my first piece for West German public broadcaster WDR 40 years ago.1 But in the past, at least until the Schlesinger affair, there was a general truth, encapsulated in a quote by Johannes Ludwig, speaking in the voice of a public broadcasting executive in February 2009: »It’s like water off a duck’s back.« And: »Public broadcasters think they can get away with it.« (Ludwig 2009:6) The Schlesinger case, however, has rattled the smugness of public broadcasting bigwigs. Now at least, they could no longer refuse to engage in a reform debate, as they had before. One group, however, has hardly been heard at all in this debate so far: freelancers, with or without contracts.

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Provision of information Thoughts on an overdue reform of public service broadcasting in Germany

By Horst Pöttker | Public service broadcasting in Germany has entered a crisis of legitimation that puts its very future in jeopardy. Taking an external view, this paper reminds the reader of public service broadcasting’s statutory purpose: as a source of reliable information and of relevant advice, education and entertainment. It is a crisis born of the ossification of its structures and the difficulty of recognizing its public service profile. This forms the background for this discussion of a potential reform comprising four measures: composing the supervisory committees based on competence and independence; a means-based scale for the license fee; keeping programming free from advertising; and reducing the number of channels. To finish, the paper considers how such reforms could be implemented and the opportunities and risks this would present for society.

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The »climate crisis« in public service broadcasting Communication processes, management culture, and what they mean for output – On the latest discussion of broadcasting policy triggered by the NDR »Climate Report«

By Hans Peter Bull | A survey of staff at Norddeutscher Rundfunk, which gathered the opinions of more than one thousand employees at all levels, revealed a poor working climate and painted a predominantly negative picture of the broadcaster’s management bodies. In particular, the respondents expect a better »management culture« at all levels, claiming that many managers are overwhelmed by the major processes of change currently underway in public service broadcasting and therefore unable to develop clear guidelines for the change needed in the organization. This article analyzes this criticism in more detail. In particular, it asks what »management« can realistically achieve at a broadcaster, given the external constraints involved.

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Research Papers

How do journalists view the world? A comparative empirical analysis of personality traits and political views, based on the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP)

By Katja Schmidt, Tanjev Schultz, and Gert G. Wagner | How different are the characteristics and views of journalists from those of the population on which they report? What are the predominant political opinions among these professionals? Which political features do they share? Which personality traits, such as a willingness to take risks, do they display? In this paper, we examine these questions based on data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP), using this large representative sample to identify the journalists it contains based on the information they provide on their work (while still preserving their anonymity). Multivariate analyses allow these data to be compared with data for the adult population as a whole, the electorate, and the group of people intensively engaged in politics. The results corroborate earlier studies that show that journalists do not reflect the population; their characteristics and views only match the diversity of society to a certain extent.

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Generative visual AI in newsrooms Considerations related to production, presentation, and audience interpretation and impact

By T. J. Thomson and Ryan J. Thomas | AI services that provide responses to prompts, such as ChatGPT, have ignited passionate discussions over the future of learning, work, and creativity. AI-enabled text-to-image generators, such as Midjourney, pose profound questions about the purpose, meaning, and value of images yet have received considerably less research attention, despite the implications they raise for both the production and consumption of images. This essay explores key considerations that journalists and news organizations should be aware of when conceiving, sourcing, presenting, or seeking to fact-check AI-generated images. Specifically, it addresses transparency around how algorithms work, discusses provenance and algorithmic bias, touches on labor ethics and the displacement of traditional lens-based workers, explores copyright implications, identifies the potential impacts on the accuracy and representativeness of the images audiences see in their news, and muses about the lack of regulation and policy development governing the use of AI-generated images in news. We explore these themes through the insights provided by eight photo editors or equivalent roles at leading news organizations in Australia and the United States.

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Fixers in a war zone Foreign media’s invisible producers

By Maryna Grytsai | Fixers are rarely mentioned as members of journalistic teams, yet their contribution to foreign and specifically war reporting is enormous. The current war in Ukraine is no exception. Fixers act as guides for foreign correspondents, helping them to navigate a foreign country, language, and culture. At the same time, they often receive the least protection – as demonstrated recently by the death of the Ukrainian journalist and fixer Bohdan Bitik, who was working together with a correspondent from the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in Kherson. This case, and others like it, give rise to plenty of questions: Under what conditions do fixers work and what are the rules for their work? What does their role include and (how) are their rights protected?

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All twittered out What @ichbinsophiescholl tells us about platform criticism in journalism

By Nora Hespers | Journalists and media houses use a wide range of social media platforms to reach their audience. Yet this use is rarely subject to critical examination. The downfall of Twitter, now X, is the ideal opportunity to take a critical look at the structures and economic conditions behind these networks. But still there is no great debate – just as there wasn’t in the case of the Instagram project @ichbinsophiescholl. Does journalism lack expertise in social media?

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The top ten of book journalism Recommendations for books by journalists

By Fritz Hausjell and Wolfgang R. Langenbucher | The idea of selecting and presenting the best books written by journalists is a project of the Institute for Journalism and Communication Studies at the University of Vienna, co-founded by Hannes Haas (1957-2014) and compiled by Wolfgang R. Langenbucher and Fritz Hausjell. The project published its first recommendation list in 2002 in the quarterly journal Message, founded by Michael Haller. After the journal’s discontinuation, the selections were doc- umented in the magazine Der österreichische Journalist [The Austrian Journalist] starting in 2015. In 2020 and 2021 the publication of the recommendation list had to be temporarily suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It found its new home, Journalism Research, in 2022.

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Frank Bräutigam (2023): Recht richtig formulieren. Ein Handbuch mit Beispielen aus der journalistischen Praxis. [How to Correctly Phrase Legal Matters. A Manual with Examples from Journalistic Practice] Tobias Gostomzyk; Uwe Jürgens (eds.) (2023): Böhmermann, Künast, Rezo. Medien- und Internetrecht in 20 Fällen. [Twenty Cases from Media and Internet Law]

Reviewed by Tanjev Schultz | Almost every relevant topic has a legal side to it, and many public debates concern issues that are fundamentally legal matters. A journalist cannot be an expert on everything, but a newsroom that doesn’t have a single staff member with basic legal knowledge – that is plain negligence. Journalists should not be daunted by legalese. Contrary to widespread preconceived notions, many rulings, especially those issued by the German Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, are quite a smooth and compelling read. In addition, there are textbooks that are accessible for people outside the legal profession, too. Here are two books that fall into this category: A new handbook by ARD journalist Frank Bräutigam on how to correctly write about legal topics, and the volume Böhmermann, Künast, Rezo, published by Dortmund-based media law professor Tobias Gostomzyk and Uwe Jürgens, legal adviser to Der Spiegel.

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Alexis von Mirbach (2023): Medienträume. Ein Bürgerbuch zur Zukunft des Journalismus. [Media Dreams. A Citizen’s Handbook on the Future of Journalism.]

Reviewed by Gabriele Hooffacker | What’s on citizens’ minds when they think about media and journalism? What are they critical of? How do they define good journalism, and what do they consider necessary conditions for quality journalism? The answers to these questions are obviously essential for the democratic functioning of the media and for democracy itself.

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Miriam Grabenheinrich (2023): Journalismus und Diversity. Umgang mit kultureller Diversität in der journalistischen Praxis und Konsequenzen für die Aus- und Fortbildung. [Journalism and Diversity. Addressing Cultural Diversity in Journalistic Practice and Implications for Education and Training.]

Reviewed by Bärbel Röben | Germany has long been a country of immigration, but in journalistic training, the necessary new key skills of addressing diversity and differentiation are rarely taught. Thanks to Miriam Grabenheinrich’s extensive research, there finally is a theoretically sound, practice-tested concept for raising journalists’ intercultural awareness!

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