In Deutschland leben knapp 150.000 US-Bürger (Soldaten nicht mitgezählt), die in den USA das Wahlrecht genießen. Einmal im Jahr treffen sich hohe US-Repräsentanten, Wissenschaftler und Experten, um ihren Staatsbürgern dabei zu helfen, auch fernab der Heimat ihre Stimme abzugeben. Auf dem diesjährigen Summit in München habe ich die Keynote zum Thema Medien und Internet gehalten.
Before I begin my talk about modern media and the impact of the Internet, let me tell you a story from the distant past. It’s actually a pretty mediocre story about a mediocre guy by the name of Johannes Gensfleisch.
Gensfleisch was the youngest son of a merchant living in the German city of Mainz. Like many other people at that time he was a goldsmith, a craftsman, already in his twenties. In fact, Gensfleisch didn’t seem to be a very promising character at all. There is hardly any reference on him or his achievements before he became 50. The few existing documents mentioning his name imply that Gensfleisch was a pretty lousy businessman, since he was constantly broke and was sued by a wealthy woman in Strasburg for not keeping up his promise of marrying her.
Yet, Gensfleisch was about to change the world forever with his invention, which, by the way, wasnâ€™t his invention to begin with. He merely found a new way of combining several technologies of his time. By the year 1448, over five centuries ago, he created a machine, which was later known as the first printing press. Gensfleisch, today mostly known by the name of his family’s residence: „Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg“, ranks #1 in the list of „People of the Millennium“. Time-Life magazine declared his invention as the most important of the last one thousand years.
Tonight I want to talk about the Internet, the way it has changed the media and the world of news and why I think that no matter what we think about the Google, Facebook, Twitter – we are not thinking big enough.
When the Internet became popular, one of the first industries to experience its transformative power was the music industry. How many of you know Napster? It was a teenager, 17 year of age, who wrote Napster after school and challenged a multi-billion-dollar industry with his invention of sharing music files all over the world. Last year the last Virgin Mega Store in Manhattan closed. A dinosaur, hit by a boy with not much more than an idea and some programming skills.
The music industry fought this boy, dragged him and his partners to the court, and threatened to put him in jail. Napster was shut down and ultimately turned into a paid online-music-store. But just like a genie out of the bottle, the idea of this boy was already out there.
With the success of the Internet, pirating became a global phenomenon, soon taking Hollywood and TV broadcasters by storm. Due to the higher bandwidth, sharing was no longer limited to small MP3 music files. Hollywood movies, filmed with consumer cameras at the theatre, became the second big hit on the media industry in the first years of Y2K.
Surprisingly, the printed press was the last one to go down. One would have assumed, that newspapers would become the first casualties of the Internet, since text is one of the fastest and cheapest content to be copied and shared.
The reason for this delay is quite simple: demography. In the beginning, it was mostly kids who had the time and knowledge to make use of the new technology, which was mainly used for entertainment. But as the Internet and its users grew older – interests changed, and so did the content for which people were looking.
In the US, the Internet has become the third important source of news, after local and national television. 70 percent of Germans are online today. A rise from zero to 70 percent in less than 20 years. That’s incredibly fast! No other medium has done that before. While the use of television in Western societies remains strong, for Digital Natives the Internet has already bypassed radio and television. Did you ever drive with your child in your car, listening to a song on the radio, and your child asked you to play that last song once again? When you try to explain to her that there is no such thing as a playback button, you get that look of a 5 year old. It makes you feel incredibly old! Another one of these killer-questions: Daddy, how did you hook up to the Internet before there were computers?
Now: There was the Internet! And what did the media industry do with it? Pretty much nothing. For a very long time. CEOs had seen markets go up and down over decades: the Oil Crisis, the Cold War, occasional meltdowns on Wall Street. What most executives did not realize was that this was not just another financial crisis. This is a major shift! Just as the fifteenth century has marked the transition from the Middle Ages to Modern Times, we are currently witnessing the same far-reaching changes as the world has done at the times of Gutenberg.
But the problem with silent revolutions such as the one we are experiencing it right now is that it’s hard to identify them, while you are going through them. It takes decades, sometimes centuries to understand the true impact of such a shift.
We don’t know much about the life of Johannes Gutenberg. But we can assume that even in his wildest dreams he would not have imagined the impact of his invention. Not only did he initially empower the Catholic Church with the spread of his printed bible all over Europe. But also, ironically, a little later, he empowered the reformists fighting the power of the church. Without Gutenberg’s invention, Martin Luther’s 95 theses against the doctrine of indulgences, affixed to the door, would have had about the same impact on world history as a yellow postit that we put on our office desk. But not only religion was affected by Gutenberg’s invention. Another printed book was to prove highly influential, a geography book, full of maps, was bought at the time by a father and given to his son, Christopher Columbus.
Now, can we blame today’s media for being so blind not to see the impact of the Internet? Maybe. But that is a cheap shot. Put yourself in the shoes of a publisher. After World War II, when American military authorities handed out publishing licenses to German entrepreneurs, such a publishing license literally became a license to print money. The era of the so-called Wirtschaftswunder was the fundament for wealthy media clans such as Springer, Bertelsmann and Burda to expand and to build their empires. Unlike any other industry, the newspaper market knew only one direction: up. Until the 90ies, there hasn’t been a single year of decline for publishing houses, not even during times of economic turbulences!
So here is the Internet, a technology that is new and that has no working revenue model yet. Remember that news companies were used to make an average of 22 percent net profit every year. Why would you change anything? Why invest in something you don’t understand? Why do something risky? They were being asked to go to a new world, change proven business models and get less revenue! They were being asked to produce something that is to them of less quality, because it doesn’t have the look and feel of a printed paper. Seriously, can we blame them?
We are caught between two worlds: the old world is disappearing, but the new one is yet to fully appear. Disruptive times like these do not call for managers. They call for entrepreneurs. Media companies have forgotten what it feels like to make bold decisions, what it means to put money into something that no one has ever tried before, and to put even more money into it, when you don’t succeed the first time.
Last year I had the chance to meet with Mark Trahant, the former political editor at the Seattle Post Intelligencer, one of many newspapers that were recently shut down. I asked him, if he had a time machine and could go back in time – what he would do differently. He said: We should have gone out there, experiment like crazy. We didn’t do a lot of that. In fact: we didn’t fail enough.
On a sidenote: Trahant, a Pulitzer-prize nominee, has recently started teaching journalism at the University of Boulder, Colorado. His first course that he developed is called „Twitter and Democracy“.
When it comes to reinventing ourselves, Europe is in a much weaker position than the US. In the old, analog media world, Europe’s market share of news used to be 28 percent. Europe’s market share in news today is only 1,8 percent! 1,8 percent! We invented the newspaper! A German engineer, Konrad Zuse, built the first computer in his parents‘ living room in Berlin in 1938. MP3, the technology that made Apple the number 1 Music distributor in the world due to its iPod, was created at the Frauenhofer Society, an Institute that is only a couple blocks away from this very building!
As a journalist I could easily stop here and blame executives for their lack of vision. But I think we need to dig a little deeper than and see our share of responsibility in our decline.
One of the worst mistakes of journalists and people working in the media is to think of the Internet as yet another medium, such as radio or television. The Internet is much more than that. It is a universe, with text, audio, pictures, video – coming together all to create something completely new, that none of us have the slightest idea of what it would look like 50 years from now.
But even more important: the Internet has changed the rules of mass communication. The people, formally known as audience, can publish their opinions on products, events and politicians worldwide with the push of a button. People fight regimes with their mobile phone and twitter. The power of 140 characters against an army of 100.000! That’s pretty fascinating stuff.
So, what did we journalists do in order to make use of that power? – We fought it. Especially here in Europe, where publishers and intellectuals are still engaged in an ongoing conversation against technology and innovation. On the surface they fight big companies, such as Facebook or Google – but what they’re really fighting is the Internet and its ideals. Giving up the „Deutungshoheit“, the privilege of access and selecting the news, scares the hell out of them! Handing out the printing press, the means of production, to the hands of ordinary people – I can hear Rush Limbaugh shouting in my ear right now: that’s Communism!
One of the few organizations in Europe that got it right, was the BBC. They left behind a program-based mindset behind and adopted new skills to deal with the new rules of communication. They realized that aggregating and curating content are the key qualifications of journalistic work in the future.
Let me summarize the three crucial skills for journalism in the future:
1 – Citizen Journalism:
Journalists need to learn how to integrate Social Media into reporting, accepting the fact that they will never be able to be at 2 places at the same time. A journalist could be an expert on aviation. But when a plane lands in Hudson river, any Joe Sixpack with a mobile phone and twitter who happens to be on the spot becomes the man of the hour, a reporter.
2 – Collaborative Journalism:
Journalists have to humbly accept that the wisdom of the Many can often get better results. By working in teams, using new technology to tie it all together, journalists can work on a story much like a Miniature-Wikipedia, improving it every day and giving the readers, the audience, the possibility to participate in the research.
3 – Work in process Journalism:
Journalists need to come to terms with the notion that there is no such thing as a finished story. A story will develop on the go. Deadlines are dead. Prime time is no longer prime. As soon as a story is published the reporter and her team need to instantly start working on the reactions on the story. A story is no longer broadcast in one direction. Rather, it is an ongoing conversation that branches in new directions all the time.
But it’s not only about curating and aggregating intelligence. The web is also about selling the news! Ten years ago, when something happened in the world, we had to turn on the TV, waiting for a news program to start or finding the right channel on the radio. In the future: when something important happens – news will find me.
75 percent of the American people make use of Internet links, recommendations and other information shared by friends or relatives via e-mail or social networks. 75 percent! Research has shown that people are more likely to click a link, when they know the referring partner personally. CNN doesn’t know me. They don’t know whether I like Arts, Sports – or none of the above. But my friends do! Friends love to share things amongst themselves! Social networks are a very important filter. Just like journalists, they are gatekeepers, but of a personal and more intimate nature.
We have to understand and to accept these new rules of mass communication. As Peter Horrocks, director of BBC Global News made it very clear to his staff: „If you don’t like it, if you think that level of change or that different way of working isn’t right for me, then go and do something else, because it’s going to happen. You’re not going to be able to stop it.“
Which brings me to the final new quality media people have to adopt, in order to be future-proof: journalists have to become entrepreneurs and develop their very own brand. They need to constantly build their own profile, develop a label for themselves, just like BBC, New York Times or ARD German television. Its like putting that little letter „i“ to our profession: the iJournalist.
One of the reasons, why 3 friends and I engage in a new project, called AppStoryTV – your videoguide on Apps. The idea is to discuss useful smartphone Apps online. Although we started only a few weeks ago, the response is incredible! This week we are teaming up with a big German brand, tied to a traditional printed newsmagazine, to bring the best of the two worlds together.
Will we succeed? I don’t know. But that’s exactly the point.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that professional, substantial, old school journalism has lost its momentum or importance. On the contrary: I think that in today’s world with news and data flooding our mailbox, mobile phones and screens professional selection and orientation are needed more than ever.
Which brings me to my conclusion.
It’s not about old and new. Good or bad. At the end of the day it’s about people and what they care about. We must stop fighting each other, find new ways to collaborate and bring together the best of both worlds. We are living in a fascinating and thrilling time! We have all of human knowledge at our fingertips. Literally. We can instantly communicate globally in all directions, back and forth and amongst each other. For some, this is a nightmare. For me as a young journalist, working in the communication business, it is a dream come true! We must make up our mind. Either we deal with it or risk being left behind.
As for Johannes Gutenberg: the first thing ever to be printed on Gutenberg’s new machine was not the Bible, as commonly thought. In fact, it was a single piece of paper, a poem with the title: „Weltgerichtsgedicht“ – Judgement Day.