Head of Visuals, NZZ

Wondering out loud about journalism, 2019 edition

November 6, 2019

Towards the end of the year, I will leave my job as Head of Visuals at NZZ. Rather than jumping right into the next big challenge, I choose to take some time off. I’ll use that time – among other things – to ponder some questions and issues around journalism and the media industry that I think are worth addressing. All of them are informed by and rooted in my strongly held views.

If you’d like to join me in pondering these questions – or if you think we should join forces in tackling some of them – get in touch.

Challenges, questions, assumptions

Listed in no particular order.

  • Journalism needs to be more mindful about the impact it has, both positive and negative. It’s not enough – and sometimes dangerous – to simply describe the world from a pseudo-neutral standpoint.
  • Diverse teams will have better answers to one of the key questions: Who do we work for and who is impacted by what we do or don’t do?
  • Thinking about impact also means thinking hard about the best way to convey information and to tell stories.
  • How can we produce visual journalism at scale (I’ve worked on this with my team for the past four years, but we only scratched the surface of what’s possible)
  • How do we train, recruit and support the next generation of leaders – and how do news organisations have to adapt to be attractive employers to them.
  • Journalism has a serious trust issue. If we don’t fix this, nothing else matters. Trust is earned by being transparent about how we work and the willingness to admit shortcomings and mistakes.
  • News organisations should have a climate crisis strategy. This is not just another issue you cover.
  • Successful media organisations have a clear mission, centered around their users.
  • Users are ready to pay for products they value.
  • Too much journalism is sold via guilt («you should care about this»), not curiosity («this is worth your time»). Young people don’t buy into this.
  • There is a gap between what users value most and what journalists get most credit for (from peers and at journalism awards).
  • Most products media organisations offer still resemble and can be traced back to the good old newspaper. Are we trying hard enough?
  • Redundancy everywhere. Just look around.
  • Media organisations need sustainable business models, but (hard) paywalls are at odds with maximum impact and public service, especially for less affluent people. How can we make it work for all sides?
  • A lot of news organisations are stuck in an age of individualism and division of work rather than true collaboration. How can we foster a culture of collaboration across disciplines, what incentives are needed?
  • Collaboration requires project management skills and good communication. Those are not givens in newsrooms.
  • Tools can be change agents, or the exact opposite. Pick them wisely.
  • There’s great potential in the right mixture of algorithmic, crowdsourced and authoritative curation. None of the big tech platforms is doing a good job at this. Who will? (ceterum censeo: News organisations need to be entry points to the web)
  • Finally, one of the biggest questions I currently have, not so much for journalism, but for myself: Do I still believe that journalism is the best way to help people understand complex issues and make good decisions – as citizens, consumers, human beings? If not, what else is?

Already five years ago, when I left my previous job, I listed challenges I saw in journalism. It’s probably no big surprise that some of those made it to this list again. In a way, that is disappointing – I wish we would have solved more of those issues over the past half-decade. Then again, none of this is easy. And that is exactly why we should invest our time in coming up with solutions.

Hello, nice to meet you. Let me introduce myself. I'm a curious generalist, these are my main areas of expertise:

Strategy

Consulted and worked at organisations to develop, refine and execute strategies for digital transformation.

Journalism

Formal training and 15 years of experience in journalism. Specialised in visual, data-driven stories.

Leadership

10 years of experience in leading projects and teams. I believe in inclusive, purpose-driven leadership.

Portfolio

My work has appeared in Neue Zürcher Zeitung, The Guardian, Quartz, Spiegel Online, Das Magazin, Tages-Anzeiger, SonntagsZeitung, TagesWoche, among others.

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