Interview: “Journalism remains relatively white and relatively male. “

Marina Weisband, Internet-policy expert and author

You have spent considerable time exploring the issue of diversity in journalism. What perspectives are missing, particularly with regard to reporting? 

Journalism remains relatively white and relatively male. Thus, all other perspectives are lacking. Migrants, women with young children, people of color, and queer, marginalized and especially young people. It is important to say that this is not about identity, or saying that a white male journalist is not good. Rather, it is about the fact that certain perspectives must be experienced in order to be understood. And we need these perspectives in order to expand what we regard as legitimate views, and to give us a more complete picture of society.

Online, there is a constant fight for attention. Serious journalism is at a strong disadvantage here. How can extensively researched journalism hold its own on the internet?

That’s probably the question of the century. On the one hand, we have to ask ourselves seriously why our information, the democratic debate and the public discourse are taking place on platforms whose primary purpose is to make money through advertising. We should work to develop open, decentralized platforms that belong to the users in a cooperative way. Platforms based on this model have no motivation to sell advertising, and consequently also don’t have to push the most radical, most upsetting content to their users. Well-researched journalism is a value in itself, and a value for which many people are probably also willing to pay. However, the current subscription models are too cumbersome and small-scale, and therefore unsuitable. Perhaps the future also lies with platforms like Patreon, where I can donate on a monthly basis to a whole range of projects. It will take time and a broad debate to find answers. 

At this year’s M100, we want to set the course for a modern media policy. Currently, where do you see the greatest need for action that will ensure we still have a pluralistic, independent and resilient fourth estate in 10 years’ time?

I think journalism absolutely needs to break away from attention capitalism. In terms of speed, it will never be able to keep up with social media. But it also doesn’t have to, because it already has the advantage of classifying, documenting and researching events in a meaningful way. In a confusing world, this provides an important sense of orientation. Three elements are important in this regard: First, a funding model must be found that sells the actual journalism, and not some by-product such as advertising or paper. Second, reporters and editors need to get out of the habit of reacting to the population’s moods (e.g., by reading social media), and instead use their own expertise to identify the relevant issues. Simply telling people what they want to hear would divide the media landscape along political lines, as we see in the United States. Third, as a civil society, we must build an infrastructure on the internet that exists alongside the platforms of quasi-monopolistic large private companies such as Facebook. That is a question of supporting open software, open protocols and interoperability (the ability of different platforms to communicate with and share content with each other).