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June 18 2010

08:53

HANS DICHAND, KRONEN ZEITUNG PUBLISHER, IS DEAD

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I was speaking yesterday at the Austrian Newspaper Publisher Association annual meeting and a few minutes after my presentation I saw in the streets the first copies of an extra edition of the Kronen Zeitung, one of the most widely read dailies per capita in the world with almost 3 million readers in a country of just over 8 million.

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The black and white picture of Hans Dichand (89) was in the front page just with these dates 1921-2010.

Today’s edition keeps the black and white picture.

I don’t know about the reasons because this is a full color paper.

And the picture is not a very one either.

Better is the coverage in their website where you can lite a virtual candle in his memory, and more than 1.800 people have done it, leaving behind their names and email.

lite a candel

Dichand’s paper has a very poor design but is full of popular content presented in a very small format (Time magazine size), but as always happens with successful newspapers, Kronen Zeitung is an opinionated, newspaper, strong on populist campaigns,  read by the rich and the poor, respected and feared by politicians and businessmen.

Kronen_Zeitungh

Readers like it, and today’s edition (1 euro) with 88 pages and glossy magazine of 68 pages shows that print media is well alive in Austria.

March 30 2010

16:00

Milton Wolf Seminar: Parting thoughts on NGOs as newsmakers, fragmentation in the media field, and the politics of platforms

Times are changing rapidly for the fixtures of international diplomacy: NGOs, media outlets, and governments. As news organizations shrink and cut back on foreign reporting resources, more NGOs are finding themselves in the unusual position of producing news themselves to get their messages out. As the way we consume news fragments onto new platforms, NGOs and governments struggle to reach a mass audience. I spent time thinking about these challenges while attending the Milton Wolf Seminar in Vienna earlier this month, and since. Here are three thoughts I took away from the trip.

NGOs as newsmakers

In terms of the future of news, the biggest takeaway from the seminar for me is what felt like an inevitable shift in who will produce our international news. American television news has largely been reduced to parachute-in coverage of disasters. Newspaper foreign bureaus are mostly gone. Faced with the alternative (of nothing), NGOs with experts on the ground have an attractive potential to produce valuable news. And it’s already happening: Panelists pointed to Human Rights Watch’s work during the 2008 Georgia-Russian conflict as an example. Work by many NGOs in Haiti reached a broad audience through organization blogs and Twitter feeds.

That’s not to say there aren’t huge challenges. Thomas Seifert, a foreign correspondent for the Austrian daily Die Presse said he felt duped by an NGO with an agenda early in his career. A journalist arriving in a foreign country with little background knowledge of the political landscape could easily miss underlying motivations, Seifert said. NGOs need to be credible, and journalists need to be able to tell the difference between organizations.

Kimberly Abbott, a communications director at International Crisis Group, offered more hopeful examples of partnerships between NGOs and news organizations. Abbott described a story from 2006, in which ICG provided 60 Minutes with all of the component parts necessary to construct a heart-wrenching story about a young boy who fled his village to escape the violence in Darfur. The story went on to win an Emmy. Abbott pointed to another story, which she’s written about for the Lab, in which Ted Koppel explained how Nightline worked with ICG to produce a story about the Rwandan Genocide.

A fragmented field

Simon Cottle, a professor of media and communications at the Cardiff School — who has written for the Lab about how NGOs tailor their message to get media pickup — described the fragmented media field as one of the new challenges NGOs face. New media has become important, but it has joined a larger, still ongoing system of news; television and print media are still important. With all of these forms of media, it becomes important for NGOs to have a multi-faceted strategy of reaching an audience. For news outlets, it’s a reminder that consumers are getting their information across platforms, from many outlets and in an interactive way.

Transparency International’s Georg Neumann described taking on this change in the media landscape as an attempt at starting conversation. Joining the the entangled web of media (new and old) means no longer just using the top-down approach of handing off a report to a few key reporters. NGOs have to join in with the audience. He describes here how one of their efforts proved more successful using both new-media and traditional-media promotional strategies.

The politics of platforms

One idea that struck me during the seminar was brought up by by Silvia Lindtner, a graduate student at UC Irvine with a background in design. She described the need to be mindful of the politics and values embedded in the new tools and new platforms we use to consume news. Twitter and Facebook have their own values built into the platforms that seem to fit in with American democratic values — but what could they mean for audiences abroad? What values will come along with the next big media tool?

It’s an issue already under consideration by the State Department, Victoria Horton, a recent USC Annenberg School graduate noted. Horton, who studied virtual worlds while completing her master’s, said that in her research of Second Life, she learned that the State Department was actively engaging with the creators and backers of virtual worlds. When we’re talking about media consumption, it’s worth considering what messages the tools send themselves, rather than just the content.

March 24 2010

16:00

Michael Freund of Der Standard on the state of Austrian media, point of view, and government subsidies

It’s hard to imagine, but in other parts of the world, the newspaper industry isn’t in quite the same tailspin we see in America. One reason many European outlets have faired better than those in the U.S. during the age of the Internet, and now an economic crisis, is a business model less dependent on advertising. European newspapers charge higher newsstand and subscription rates and readers embrace a long-standing tradition of supporting their media through direct government subsidies.

While I was in Austria last week attending the Milton Wolf Seminar on NGOs and the future of news, I spoke with Michael Freund, a writer and editor at Der Standard, a major Austrian daily, about the state of the country’s media and how readers think about government subsidy of the news. Freund explained that while there are some legitimate questions about independence, in general, Austrians believe that news should be protected from completely commercial interests. It’s a different mindset.

The question of whether the U.S. government should bailout the newspaper industry has been controversial. The idea, at first, feels like it runs against a basic tenant of independence (even though the U.S. media has long enjoyed indirect, but significant subsidies that buoyed the industry for years). As the media landscape worsens, it’s a question that will certainly linger.

A transcript of the video is below.

Michael Freund: Hi, my name is Michael Freund, or Michael, I’m head of the Media Department at Webster University, Vienna and I’m also editor and writer at the Viennese daily paper Der Standard, where I write about culture and the arts and occasional book reviews.

I was asked to say a few words about the Austrian media industry and what it’s like — whether its dying or not, so let me try. Let me start by saying that Austria is, as you probably know, a small country in the center of Europe. It’s a Western country — it has had a Western-style press, electronic and print press, since World War II with a couple notable differences from what you know, possibly, in America.

For one thing, the television, the radio, the electronic media, the broadcasting has been not state-controlled, but state-sponsored and state-instituted — and still is, but it had been a monopoly, until, I don’t know exactly, about ten years ago. Until it became untenable because the other media transpired through the borders: Private TV came through cable, it came thru the air, it came through satellite, so it was not really a feasible position to assume Austria had only one broadcasting company, which it had until about the ’80s, until through the other channels that I said, the media came through.

The other interesting thing is that Austria has had, for many decades, a very strong partyline press — meaning there were newspapers that belonged to or were literally owned by or influenced by political parties, official organs of those parties, and they all vanished. As daily papers, they don’t exist anymore, as weeklies they don’t exist anymore, and instead, you might say a commercially oriented print media scene has taken place — which, of course is not without its own pressures and interests, both commercial and political.

Laura McGann: Do those newspapers — do they have a point of view that were adopted from the politically sponsored publications of the past or would you consider them more independent?

Freund: I wouldn’t say they were adopted, or direct successors. But, of course they have a point of view. You cannot not have a point of view. Everybody has a point of view, including all publishers and editors. So, yes, there are some media that are considered more liberal, others are considered more conservative. Some lean toward the Social Democrats, others toward Christian Democrats or the Green Party — yeah, right wing press as well, you have those. So there are pressures, there are leanings, but they are not officially affiliated or tied to parties.

McGann: Has that helped — or could you talk about how print media has faired in the rise of the Internet in Austria?

Freund: It has fared not so well, like in most other countries. I should say for one thing, it was the first one in any of the German-language countries, meaning Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, to go online, and it was in the mid ’90s. I think it was ‘95. And it has had since then, a fairly strong, predominant effect — Internet presence. As far as I know it’s making money, but not a whole lot of money, and that’s true for many other publications. Newspapers, as far as I know, as much as in the States, have not found a way to really monetize the Internet in a totally profitable manner. So, yes they break even, but they may even make money with the banner ads or their cheap operations, or they associate with others to save costs. But, people are looking for ways to find — trying to find the solution to break even, not to lose on both the print and electronic side. As a matter of fact, in a few weeks, the iPad will be commercially introduced in the U.S., not yet in Austria, and there is hope that with a intelligent model that iTunes provided for the music scene, there may be some way to get people to pay moderately for content they really want, meaning from sources they trust, rather than just some blogs or individual sources where you don’t really know where the stuff comes from and its not fact-checked and it’s not edited. I think people who are interested in reading something at the level of, say, The New York Times might be willing to pay for it. So far they haven’t, but things may change.

McGann: What is the attitude among the media-consuming public in Austria toward government subsidies for the media?

Freund: Well, for one thing, Austrian Radio Television, the one called ORF, the Austrian publicly sponsorsed electronic media, is state-sponsored and people have accepted it as a fact because it’s always been like that. It doesn’t mean it’s unchangeable, but by and large, Austrians, as many other Europeans, see some sense in making sure that certain media don’t die or don’t fall completely into the hands of extremists who are purely commercially interested people. So, the BBC, for example, has for many decades a state-subsidized, state-sponsored institution — and it is an institution. It’s not a coincidence that some of the best American programming makes use of BBC stuff, including National Public Radio, including PBS, their TV shows, their radio news, those things. They come from something which, unfortunately, to a lot of Americans smells like socialism or something horrible and worse, communism, you know, but it’s just a way to make sure a certain plurality — not plurality, but quality, of fact-finding, of accurate reporting gets a chance.

McGann: What about fear that coverage of government will be manipulated in some way?

Freund: The fear is there. And it’s sometimes not unjustified. The government tries to intervene, people call up, they talk — nothing is documented — everyone knows, but no one can really prove it. There are all kinds of attempts to land your people into this editing room and that desk, that happens. But look, that happens in commercial stations as well — there may be other interests. How many very critical reports of let’s say, the tobacco industry have you found in American magazines whose advertising depends heavily on the tobacco industry? Just a question.

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