Sunday, March 6, 2016

German 4 Dummies: Qualitätsjournalismus

We haven't done a "German 4 Dummies" or a "German bad words" post in a while because nothing captured the easily distracted blogster's attention.

It's very nice to see, though, that some posts in these series continue to find readers, for example, German bad words: Gutmensch, German 4 Dummies: Primat, German 4 Dummies: Deutungshoheit.

Today, we'll spend a few brain cycles on Qualitätsjournalismus. Congratulations if you recognize this as a compound. As a rule, long German words tend to be coompounds, so well done.

The structure of the word is easy: Qualitätsjournalismus is composed of Qualität (quality) and Journalismus (journalism).

But what is it?

Historically, German journalists have been privileged, and the traditional unions and professional organizations continue to grant membership only to those writers or broadcasters who earn their livelihood in journalism. Older journalists have lots of anecdotes, for example, all company cars of the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) had license plates that said F-AZ-1234 (or whatever four digit number), and police would wave you through at drunk driving checkpoints.*

One definition used by media experts, according to this source, is "professional journalism".
A laundry list includes: "strict journalistic standards, i.e. clear sources, checked facts, balanced and non-partisan reporting and news".

A teacher at a Swiss journalism school goes as far as saying: "I'm fed up with the term. Journalism is either good, or it doesn't deserve being called journalism."

Others complain about devaluation that comes as a combination of mergers, smaller newsrooms and more less trained "amateurish" people involved in producing journalism.

Throw tabloid journalism into the mix, and what do we get?

Not much, really.

If we look at how the term is commonly used in everyday publishing, as opposed to scholarly articles and debates summarized above, we find two interesting uses:
1) as a defensive term
2) for fund raising

When a mainstream publication is called out on incorrect facts, or bias to the point of propaganda, "pressures" of the online world and the "rapid change" are widely used to explain how they manage to provide an overall "quality journalism" in the face of adversity.

That's partly true, but it ignores the fact that technology has made it easier for small publications or individuals to find distortions and biases.

Distortions and biases in "quality media" have always existed. But they were much harder to prove quickly.

German "public" broadcasters are very adept at bringing up "quality journalism" every few years when they ask for more license money. Private broadcasters are free but we bring you quality. Unlike cash strapped PBS/PRI in the United States, German broadcasters spend huge amounts of their money on sports and vapid entertainment so similar to the derided fare of the private competition, you need to logo on screen to figure out where you are.

A variety of decisions goes into journalism, beyond physically writing a piece, for example,
To report or not to report - the line between 'decision' and 'censorship'. Which of these matter for "quality"?

Take the example of reporting on suicides or not discussed in that post: The blogster argues that "not reporting" has less impact today than prior to the internet, because you can find information so much more easily.

So, save yourself some typing, don't use the term Qualitätsjournalismus, and - while we are at it - ignore German tabloid BILD.**

Much of hard work of bringing you news is done at the agencies, Reuters, AFP, and others. Since much of their reporting is only rephrased or "gift wrapped" by newspapers, why not get most of your international news from there plus a few good journalists on Twitter?

[Addendum 3/6/2016]
Right on time before publication of this post we can now add "Qualitätsmedien" (quality media) as a related term. The article revolves around the sudden "realization" that the German quality media (aka. the main print outlets and the public broadcasters) supposedly let themselves get carried away with an overly optimistic stance on the refugee influx in 2015, following Ms. Merkel's "We can do this". The article claims the quality media "suspended" the system of checks and balances in favor of the government narrative.

The blogster considers this sudden soul searching disingenuous because it follows the modified government line of "We can do this, but...".

It would be nice if the quality media took to the wonderful phrase "We don't know", but that's probably unrealistic.

* Ulfkotte
** Unless you get a free copy and need toilet paper. Older Germans have confirmed that BILD has always been great for that latter use.


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