Making media great again

"Who among the people present is not subscribed to any media?" asks one of the speakers in a room full of reporters at the 47th St. Gallen Symposium. Pia Frey, a young German journalist, raises her hand: She gets her information via Facebook and Twitter, listens to different podcasts, uses a variety of apps, reads digital newspapers, but does not subscribe to anything.

Frey, like many other young people, consumes content through many different channels that give her the opportunity to interact, as opposed to reading one single newspaper without any reciprocity. Legacy media need to rethink their practices, she believes. Apart from adding more interaction between journalists and audiences, she thinks newsrooms need to work on gender, racial and social diversity. That is also the opinion of BuzzFeed’s Heben Nigatu. The disruption that legacy media need to keep up with new players like Buzzfeed is, in Nigatu’s view, more diversity in their newsrooms. “The success factor of BuzzFeed is that they have made a real effort to be a more diverse workplace,” she says. “The hiring practices of media companies need to be disrupted,” because “the numbers are fucked up.”

Heben Nigatu during the interview at 47th St. Gallen Symposium © Lukas Rapp

Most legacy media are failing miserably on the diversity front, Nigatu says, very annoyed. “They need to hire better. There is a lot of mediocrity out there.” Growing up, Nigatu loved podcasts, but could not identify with most of them. It felt like they were not meant for her and she had to look hard for universal references. “By how something is covered, you can tell who it is for, and who is being ignored,” she says.

Now Nigatu co-hosts an online podcast herself, “Another Round,” together with her African-American colleague and friend Tracy Clayton. Diverse newsrooms produce better stories, because more people can identify with them, she believes. In her view, BuzzFeed’s recipe for success is that they have made a concerted effort to create a more diverse workplace. Four years ago, Nigatu was the first full-time black employee. “A lot has changed since then,” she says. Today, 34% of the staff identify with a race or ethnicity other than white. But even BuzzFeed could do better, she admits.

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Pia Frey knows exactly what Nigatu is talking about. When she walks through a typical newsroom in Germany, she notices that there are too many white men with the same social background and the same educational level. Another problem she observes is the prevalence of a very old- fashioned attitude towards users’ opinion in newsrooms. “Editors sometimes think they have the wisdom to show the world out there how things are,” she says. In her opinion, news needs user feedback, just like any other product. That is why she created Opinary, a tool that can be embedded in online content and empowers the readers by allowing them to share their opinions. Frey believes that it is necessary to tear down the wall between users and journalists, to engage readers and to embrace user-generated content – especially when it comes to stories that are not widely covered by established media. In a responsible way, of course.

“Editors sometimes think they have the wisdom to show the world out there how things are.” – Pia Frey, Opinary

Nigatu feels close to the people that listen to her podcast. Her perspective on content creation is refreshing. Rather than going after the highest ratings, as many established media tend to do, her mission is to create a space where her listeners can feel acknowledged, have a good time and rest for while. “If you have gained anything out of that hour, that is enough for me,” she says. She prefers the entertaining, authentic and intimate tone of her podcast over the style of legacy media. “I love when people tell me: ‘I listen to your podcast every week while I am cooking,’” she says. “You become a part of people’s lives.” The intimate setting also gives her the space to cover both light-hearted pop culture topics and daunting subjects like racism.

“You become a part of people’s lives.” – Heben Nigatu on podcasts

When rethinking their practices, traditional media must keep an eye on Face- book and Twitter, which are, in Frey’s opinion, the real disruptors. “They invest into making their content accessible on different platforms and they force media organisations to rethink their business models,” Frey says. Frey points out that publishers are as dependent on these platforms as the platforms are on content.

But established media are not entirely taking advantage of this. A generation of journalists are not familiar enough with digital news platforms. She is confident that digital tools enrich content, but adds that “it does not always have to be a video, an image gallery, a text and a quiz.” In fact, she thinks video’s impact is overestimated: “It is limited in its use for mobile because it uses a lot of data.” The key is to keep telling stories in the way that makes the most sense, to both the journalist and their audience.

“It does not always have to be a video, an image gallery, a text and a quiz.” – Pia Frey on social media content

Heben Nigatu

Heben Nigatu (26) co-hosts the Buzz- Feed podcast “Another Round.” She has worked at BuzzFeed for three and a half years. She has also written for the “Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” In 2016, Forbes placed her on the “30 Under 30 in the Media” list, describing “Another Round” as popular and influential.

Pia Frey

Pia Frey is the co-founder of Opinary. Before that, she was a writer for the German newspaper Die Welt and co-founded Pressekompass, which visualises political debates across online media. She has a B. A. in Philosophy from the Hochschule für Philosophie München.

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