When did your passion for journalism start?
I can’t remember a time where I didn’t want to become a journalist. Ever since I was a kid I had this wish – and then I had my first internship at a local newspaper during high school. It was in the sports department, and I hate sports. Ten journalists told me throughout the day that it was a bad idea to become a journalist, since the good old times of journalism were over and the job market was tough. I couldn’t help it; they didn’t impress me at all with this pessimism nor did all the other journalists and even journalism school teachers I encountered throughout the years who said the same things. I still love this industry.
Who inspired you to pursue a career in tech and digital?
It was rather someone than the surroundings where I grew up. I was raised in a home that was full of technology. My father worked as an IT admin and assembled and disassembled a PC every other night at home. I never learned any fear of using technology, which so many other people have. It’s only too bad that he is a hardware guy and didn’t teach me how to code! However, that my career shifted in this direction, happened more by chance. One day after journalism school I thought: “I love technology and crave every new gadget out there. Why can’t I combine this passion and my other passion – journalism?” That was when I got the chance to first build up an initiative for more innovation in journalism in Bavaria, and later the Media Lab Bavaria.
How do you spot the white space in a story to capture a fresh angle especially across social channels?
I have to admit that I am more a woman for broader strategies and managing things than a passionate reporter who jumps out of joy when he finds an awesome story. However, regarding social channels I truly believe that you have to know the network and its community inside-out to tell a story in the best way. Every social network has its own cultural code and jokes. Stories that adjust to these cultural codes usually succeed.
How would you define innovation?
The thing that drives you and never lets you stop improving what you’re currently doing. Besides, for me innovation is not only the fancy moonshot project that disrupts a whole industry but also smaller improvements that can have an even bigger effect.
How do you feel the news industry has responded to innovation?
I sometimes think of the news industry as having their first foot on a giant seesaw – without knowing that it is a seesaw. The only thing they see is the hard way upwards – they can’t yet imagine that there comes a point where the seesaw will turn and everything will get easier once they’ve come so far. The industry knows by know that ‘the Internet’ won’t go away anymore. But some rare examples like Axel Springer, they don’t commit to take all steps it would need to transform, either.
What are the biggest challenges that face the news industry?
A few months ago I would have said it is to fully embrace innovation. Now a totally different topic arose: reestablishing the connection to their users. For a few decades the news industry could do whatever they wanted, the readers or viewers didn’t have had any chance to not purchase newspapers or watch TV ads to stay informed. So the industry lost its direct connection and became arrogant. The whole discussion about ‘fake news’ reveals this problem. For me, embracing and implementing innovation and getting users back that love our products could go perfectly together – but it requires an even greater effort than just having to think about how to innovate your media company.
Digital Journalism Rocks, tell us more about your project
I started Digital Journalism Rocks back in April 2015, when I came home from a business trip to San Francisco, Austin and New York. I met a lot of people in newsrooms and media startups and was surprised by how open they shared their knowledge and best practices. I thought that the whole digital news industry could profit from such an exchange if it could just be more constant and not tied to expensive travel costs. Therefore I started a Community based on Slack which grew up to over 900 people from Canada to New Zealand. The most stunning thing for me is, that we now have an expert with answers to every question already in the group, no matter how weird or niche the question might be. I love how people are asking for feedback on their new projects, chat about new changes in the media and tech landscape and encourage each other in finding new ways to get journalism digital.
The new monetisation models for media and journalism, can you talk us through your ideas on this?
I think we in the news industry can learn a lot from the startup scene when it comes to monetization. Startups think about their business model very early, at least they have a vague idea on this. Even if they don’t know if it works out in the end they put a lot of thoughts in this – because it’s crucial for them to survive. Unfortunately journalism has over the years so decoupled from the market that the media today often builds products first before they think about how to monetize them. The right business model for journalism is of course yet to invent. But I strongly believe in resting your company on several pillars when it comes to monetization – and building products people love. If you have a loyal community around your products, someone is going to pay you for this.
Tell me about the best ideas that came from one of your weekly challenges in your Digital Journalism Rocks community?
My all-time favourite of our weekly challenges was the one about push notifications. It wasn’t the one where most people participated or most people read on Medium.com – but it was one where our members truly thought about whole new ideas and built up on each others thoughts. One member started with the possibilities the new iOS notifications offer, the next one added a storytelling idea and in the end we had a pretty cool handbook of what annoys users when it comes to push notifications and what would be some new ideas in storytelling for the lock screen. I love that about the community. We’re better together.
Tell me more about the Media Lab Bayern
The Media Lab Bayern is an incubator for new ideas in digital journalism and media. We support people from their very first thought about being an entrepreneur, to founding their media startup. We started with the belief that the media industry in Germany desperately needs more innovation – and that there are more people out there who are willing to think of new news products than are lucky enough to get a job in one of the very few innovation departments of the big media houses. Since our start in 2015 we continually adjust our programs and support to the needs of the entrepreneurs, startups and media corporates and helped by now more than 20 media projects and startups make their way into the German media landscape.
New digital formats and tech innovation are allowing journalists to tell stories in more immersive ways. What are your predictions for 2017/2018?
I would love to see greater efforts in personalisation of news as I believe this is one way to get more loyal users – and is a better product and experience for the user. But I’m afraid that the industry isn’t technically far enough to take things seriously in this area. My second guess would be that VR isn’t really a thing for journalism as it is a total contradiction to the actual trend of ‘snacking’ news on the go.
If you had one piece of advice to offer some starting career in digital journalism, what would it be?
Never give up. If somebody says ‘We can’t do that,’ find a way to do it on your own. That’s the magic in the digital space: You don’t need a lot of money any more to start something in media. And if somebody says ‘That isn’t going to work,’ find a better developer.
Which DNI Innovation Fund Project do you like the most?
I really can’t decide on one project as there are a lot of projects out there that are doing a terrific job in turning the industry upside down. If I were forced to choose, it would most likely be ‘xMinutes’ as they are taking great steps in personalising news to fit into your daily life – which is my favourite trend at the moment.