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Article: “How a Zoom chat group yielded scenarios for Europe’s media future – and what needs to happen next”

Juuso Järviniemi, M100YEJ alumni

For most people in my generation, even predicting what our own personal lives will look like in ten years’ time would be a tough ask. The ability to plan our own life choices helps us predict where we might end up, and it’s very simple to define what we’re trying to predict. Yet if you ask someone where they see themselves in 2030, the most likely answer will be a nervous laughter followed by an “I don’t know”.

Now instead of your own life, take a vast and abstract concept like “the European media landscape”. At the M100 Young European Journalists workshop, a group of twenty-or-so participants was given five days to talk through this very subject on a series of Zoom video calls. The goal was to create convincing ten-year scenarios that will later serve as a starting point for exchanges between some of the continent’s brightest and best-known media scholars and professionals.

Quite amazingly, I believe we pulled it through. Our positive scenario helps decision-makers reflect on what they can do to ensure that access to news is no longer filtered by algorithms designed to make us feel angry, but that readers can instead enjoy a direct and fulfilling connection to their preferred news sources. The negative scenario warns public actors about the dangers of becoming involved in fact-checking, and raises the gloomy prospect of diverging national regulation of online actors in the absence of a common European approach.

Presented in just a few minutes of animated video, the scenarios condense wisdom given by participants who come from various academic backgrounds and work in starkly different national media environments. They incorporate ideas from a listing of nearly 80 ‘influential factors’ affecting the future of European public spheres, brainstormed by the participants at the start of the process.

After narrowing our set of influential factors down to eight, we systematically considered which directions each factor could possibly take. For example, by placing “change in media business models” on two axes – the extent to which revenue streams will diversify, and the extent to which products are adapted – we were able to identify four main ways in which media business models might evolve in the next ten years.

The final scenarios represent the most plausible and stimulating combinations of the possible developments in each influential factor, beefed up with some storytelling that explains what events might lead us to a bright or dreary future.

Though the concept of ‘European media landscape’ sounds intimidating, transforming it is not beyond the realm of human agency – after all, a public sphere is nothing but a human creation. By looking ahead, decision-makers can influence Europe’s fate, and prevent us from letting chance and coincidence determine our future.

If you have a plan for the future, you’re likely to end up better off than if you simply try to muddle through. Ideally, the scenarios made at the M100 YEJ Workshop can inspire Europe’s leading minds to not only discuss the subject of European media landscapes, but to create concrete plans for what each of us can do. Twenty young people on Zoom have started the work, but M100 attendees are better placed to turn ideas into reality.