Editorial 2/2019

How did journalists from around the world work together on the Paradise and Panama Papers? Julia Lück and Tanjev Schultz have been finding out. In their paper, they publish the key results from their study on the work of journalists in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), who were involved in uncovering criminal financial activities on a global scale. One of the biggest challenges they faced was enabling the enormous quantity of data to be analyzed and trawling through it to find the stories about people, companies and their activities that would be relevant to the public. Read on in this edition of Journalistik to find out how they did it.

Global data journalism would probably have looked like a work of science fiction to Joseph Roth (1894 to 1939). Although he is best known as the author of novels like »Job« and »Radetzky March,« the journalistic work he left behind is just as extensive. In her paper, Petra Herczeg examines how he dealt journalistically with the rise of National Socialism and discusses Roth’s significance for journalism today.

In the essay in this edition of Journalistik, Marcus Maurer investigates interaction between journalism and the party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), discussing three potential strategies and their consequences. Maurer calls for the AfD to be treated not uncritically, but professionally.

The debate piece in this edition is all about social bots. An investigation of Twitter debates presented by Tommy Hasert and Gabriele Hooffacker suggests that the significance of social bots has been exaggerated. The data is carefully collected and presented. However, in order to measure the effect of bots, it would also be important to find out to what extent they have contributed to confusion and fake news, and to what extent content from bots has been taken up and further distributed by others. This would require a network analysis investigation.

Another aspect that we consider worthy of debate is the interpretive context in which this data is placed. »Only« 7.68 percent of the addresses involved in online discussions on politics and consumption can be identified as bots. Can we therefore conclude that they do not present a threat to democracy – especially if we consider how tight the election results that led to Brexit and Trump’s presidency were, or when we take into account the finding that, in the US mid-term elections in particular, the bots had a relatively negative outlook and a large reach?

Surely commenting that, although bots present a threat in theory, there is no clear evidence of their impact, is to downplay the risks associated with bots? It is useful to accuse journalists of professionally exaggerating the attention paid to such risks? Is a small snapshot of the situation in summer 2018 even enough to relativize the problematic potential of the bots?

Does comparison with factors such as commercial television or the mass media, whose damaging influence on democratic culture has sometimes been the subject of very intense research and discussion in communication studies, make bots harmless? Is the demand for recognizable responsibility for public information, which has long been enshrined in press law, an illegitimate limit on freedom of communication?

Perhaps, instead of considering media phenomena themselves, one should take society’s experience of the »transformation of democracy« (Johannes Agnoli) – which has gradually been taking hold for years and is now undeniable – as one’s starting point and only then ask what role commercial television, tabloid newspapers, and bots and other phenomena play in the digital media transformation?

Questions like this provide food for thought. By placing this paper on bots in the »Debate« section, we invite readers to put together contradictory or supplementary opinions. You can leave your comments directly under the papers, the essay, and the debate pieces, or send us an email at redaktion@journalistik.online.

We are also always pleased to receive topic suggestions, offers of manuscripts, and critique. Discussion is the lifeblood of academia.

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Translation: Sophie Costella