Friday, June 6, 2008

Attended a larger editorial meeting on Wednesday. All the print people sit at their terminals in a circle while the online team surrounds them in an outer ring. It reminded me of how traditional elections are held in Switzerland where the men stand in a circle with their swords (1 sword, 1 vote), while the women stand silently looking on, excluded.

Inge tells me the goal is to merge online with print. The latest drama is requiring print to spend a 2 week internship in the online department to learn how to use the system (CMS) to build their own stories onto the website. At the moment, the online department is taking stories from the print side and reconfiguring them for the website, adding video and galleries where appropriate.
I told Inge this is what I refer to as putting lipstick on a pig in English. She tells me the goal in the end is that the online department develops its own content, independent of what’s printed in the paper, though this is certainly years down the road. She even laughs and says "Maybe in 10 years?!" But the print staff is much older, while the online department is quite young. At the editorial meeting there were suits and bowties. The online department is dominated by jeans, and loose t-shirts, a few of the young women careless about bra straps showing. It’s clearly a divide.

But what I’m impressed by is they are even taking steps forward to integrate with print and online, however painful it may be. At RBB and Deutsche Welle TV (both public broadcasters), the online team never contributed anything at the editorial meetings. In fact, at Deutsche Welle, I think the online team is relegated to the basement in some confined space where they just update the video on the a regular basis and make sure the live streams are working. And when Deutsche Welle debuted a new program about globalization, there wasn't even a web page built for viewers to log onto. I'm not even going to tell you what the annual budget of Deutsche Welle is, but even at my little community station, KFAI in Minneapolis, where we don't even have an online department (annual budget: 1.3 million dollars) we made sure the website was updated with a page about new content. So to say that German public broadcasting is oh, like, back in the 90's when it comes to web content would even be charitable. More like, they're acting as though the Internet doesn't even exist.

So the question is how will large news outlets, like the Bild, organize their staff to compete online not only for readers, but now listeners and viewers with the ability to post photo galleries and videos and podcasts. It’s clear they are taking the initiative, while German public broadcasting is remaining stagnant.

This is why I'm excited to start the MA in Public Broadcasting Management at Ohio University in the fall. There is such a gap in what commercial media is doing and public broadcasting. Yeah, I can hear the champions of German public broadcasting ( I would even count myself one of them) talking about how their content is so much better and they do news in the public interest...but what about their responsibility to cultivate a new generation of educated citizens? What about their responsibility to the public interest by providing information on all channels? And to pull this snobby "our content is so much better, that will keep people coming back" is weak. I love public broadcasting, and I still go to the web first. I listen to the radio and watch television, but I'm using it in tandem with my computer. That's how PBS keeps me coming back. That's how Bild keeps people coming back to their site, and getting more unique clicks. A lesson for German public broadcasters to take note of.

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