Is it worth being a journalist

What is journalism worth?

Qualitative journalism promotion is democracy promotion: Democracy is inconceivable without serious information.

For years, the topic of press funding has been dealt with primarily within the industry and with little public attention. After all, we are talking about the manageable sum of 8.8 million euros a year, which is distributed to Austrian daily and weekly newspapers and some educational institutions according to the watering can principle.

The public should be interested in the debate. Because it is about the cohesion of society, guidance and a high-quality public discourse. It's about journalism, nothing less than the “infrastructure of democracy”, as Matthias Karmasin puts it. It is precisely this infrastructure that is increasingly being damaged. Untested content, advertising disguised as journalism, rumors and ideologies are available in abundance and free of charge.

However, good journalism, which selects topics, researches facts and makes judgments on the basis of professional standards and ethical principles, is increasingly losing ground in this flood of information. So when Media Minister Thomas Drozda (SPÖ) is discussing “new media funding” today in a survey with industry representatives and experts, the key question is: How can good journalism be promoted?

Away from the watering can principle

Journalistic quality must be at the center of media funding. As before, it must not be a donation that is "distributed evenly to all eligible newspapers", as the current version of the Press Promotion Act puts it. Quality standards can now be argued about. But they must be a condition for the award of media funding: plurality, adherence to the principle of separation between report and opinion, transparency, clear professional guidelines and membership in the Austrian Press Council are among them.

Media funding must of course not intervene in terms of content; the industry itself must define its standards. But quality assurance and quality management processes can be promoted and demanded through media funding. This also includes continuous training for employees. In a knowledge profession like journalism, training is essential.

In addition, structural changes in media funding are urgently needed. A separation according to media types - in press funding, radio funding, journalism funding - is out of date in a digital world. Instead of maintaining traditional structures, innovative and internationally compatible experiments are encouraged in a convergent, globalized media industry.

It is not decisive whether the quality journalism is then consumed on paper, on the radio or television, on a smartphone or laptop. The message is not the medium, but the content. That is why we need reformed and significantly increased funding for journalism on the part of society and the federal government.

Qualitative journalism promotion is democracy promotion: Democracy is inconceivable without serious information.

Dr. Daniela Kraus is the managing director of the Vienna advanced training facility Forum
Journalism and Media (FJUM).

Emails to: [email protected]

("Die Presse", print edition, September 19, 2016)