The edi­tors of The Eco­no­mist and Wirt­schaf­two­che on the th­re­ats to Wes­tern li­be­ra­lism.

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The edi­tors of Bri­tain and Ger­ma­ny’s lea­ding bu­si­ness weeklies, The Eco­no­mist and Wirt­schafts­Wo­che, de­ba­te the th­re­ats from ter­ro­rism, po­pu­lism and tech­no­lo­gi­cal uphea­val.

Gre­at uphea­vals are tes­ting the glue that holds Eu­ro­pe to­ge­ther, ma­king for so­me dis­ori­en­ting ti­mes. So we thought we would ask two of the con­ti­nent’s lea­ding jour­na­lists to help us con­nect the dots. In a jo­int in­ter­view, The Eco­no­mist edi­tor Zan­ny Min­ton Bed­does and Wirt­schafts­Wo­che edi­tor Mi­ri­am Me­ckel talk about Eu­ro­pe’s re­fu­gee cri­sis, the fu­ture of the euro cur­ren­cy and the chal­len­ges fa­c­ing jour­na­lism. Bed­does be­ca­me edi­tor in Fe­bru­ary 2015, the first ti­me in the Bri­tish bu­si­ness wee­kly’s 172-ye­ar his­to­ry that it has be­en run by a wo­man. Me­ckel took over the helm of Düs­sel­dorf-ba­sed Wirt­schafts­Wo­che, which is part of the Han­dels­blatt Pu­blis­hing Group, in Oc­to­ber 2014. The in­ter­view was con­duc­ted at The Eco­no­mist’s Lon­don of­fices by Han­dels­blatt pu­blis­her Ga­bor St­ein­gart.

Han­dels­blatt: Eu­ro­pe is in the midst of gre­at uphea­vals - the euro cri­sis, re­fu­gees, a se­ries of ter­ri­b­le ter­ror attacks. Our de­ba­tes are get­ting mo­re po­la­ri­zed with po­pu­lists ri­sing just about ever­yw­he­re. Can our com­mon, wes­tern li­be­ral cul­tu­re sur­vi­ve all the­se th­re­ats? Bed­does: I’m worried about the fu­ture of li­be­ra­lism for th­ree re­a­sons. First­ly, be­cau­se the world eco­no­my has not re­al­ly re­gai­ned strength sin­ce the fi­nan­ci­al cri­sis. Se­cond­ly, be­cau­se the geo­po­li­ti­cal pro­blems ha­ve not be­en sor­ted out. By that I me­an the dan­ger cau­sed by Is­la­mic sta­tes and the vio­lence in the Midd­le East, with its ef­fects on re­fu­gees and Eu­ro­pe. Third­ly, be­cau­se of the ri­se of po­pu­lism, par­ti­cu­lar­ly in Eu­ro­pe – but al­so in Ame­ri­ca. Any­bo­dy who be­lie­ves in a li­be­ral world or­der should be worried. Me­ckel: Es­pe­cial­ly be­cau­se the so­ci­al ce­ment every so­cie­ty nee­ds is vi­si­bly crum­bling at the mo­ment. Even in the coun­tries of Eu­ro­pe, it is no lon­ger a gi­ven to ta­ke a stand for li­be­ral va­lues. [Eu­ro­pe’s] debt cri­sis, ter­ro­rism and the re­fu­gee is­sue are trig­ge­ring a new kind of ten­si­on.

An­ge­la Mer­kel re­as­su­res us,“We’ll ma­na­ge it.” Me­ckel: Ms. Mer­kel’s ba­sic ap­proach is fi­ne for a lot of people. The pro­blem is that Ger­ma­ny’s bu­reau­cra­tic ap­pa­ra­tus is com­ple­te­ly un­able to de­al with a si­tua­ti­on that de­man­ds im­men­se fle­xi­bi­li­ty. Whe­re­ver you go, it is just not wor­king out. “We’ll ma­na­ge it” is pro­ven wrong every day. Bed­does: Ger­ma­ny can­not de­al with re­fu­gee mo­ve­ment of this sca­le alo­ne.

Others ha­ve ac­cu­sed Ger­ma­ny of in­vit­ing the pro­blem in with our wel­co­m­ing ge­stu­res and our chan­cel­lor ta­king sel­fies with re­fu­gees. Bed­does: The­re we­re ve­ry lar­ge num­bers of re­fu­gees co­m­ing be­fo­re Ms. Mer­kel had an­noun­ced her po­li­cy. Should the­re ha­ve be­en mo­re co­or­di­na­ti­on with the Eu­ro­pean part­ners? Per­haps. But the ap­proach of a fri­end­ly wel­co­me strikes me as being sen­si­ble… Me­ckel: …and hu­ma­ni­ta­ri­an. But the pro­blem is that Ms. Mer­kel didn’t speak with the ot­her Eu­ro­pean le­a­ders. In the re­fu­gee cri­sis, [she ma­de] a sud­den mo­ve no­bo­dy ex­pec­ted. That crea­tes con­fu­si­on and an­noyan­ce.

How should we as jour­na­lists co­ver im­mi­gra­ti­on? Is it our job to be part of the wel­co­me or should we be neu­tral, wi­thout any opi­ni­on? Bed­does: The Eco­no­mist has al­ways cham­pio­ned li­be­ral ide­as. We are not li­ke Ame­ri­can news­pa­pers that just ha­ve one edi­to­ri­al then no opi­ni­ons anyw­he­re el­se. We ha­ve opi­ni­on ever­yw­he­re. But that opi­ni­on is ba­sed on ca­re­ful re­se­arch and sub­stan­ti­ve ana­ly­sis of an is­sue. We of cour­se ha­ve a cle­ar view on re­fu­gees: We are open to im­mi­gra­ti­on broad­ly, but al­so to re­fu­gees in this par­ti­cu­lar ca­se.

Wi­thout li­mits? Bed­does: A coun­try of cour­se has the right to de­ci­de how ma­ny im­mi­grants co­me in. But in the ca­se of re­fu­gees, the­re is a U.N. con­ven­ti­on: People who are fle­eing per­se­cu­ti­on and war should be ac­cep­ted. Don’t get me wrong: It’s not as if se­cu­ri­ty is­su­es ha­ve cea­sed to play a ro­le. But we as li­be­ral jour­na­lists must not use ter­ro­rism to clo­se the door to re­fu­gees for ir­ra­tio­nal re­a­sons.

Zan­ny Min­ton Bed­does has be­en at The Eco­no­mist‘s helm sin­ce Fe­bru­ary 2015.

Do you agree, Ms. Me­ckel? Me­ckel: We need pre­cise ana­ly­sis for re­porting. Wish­ful thin­king must not re­place reality. In the re­fu­gee is­sue, we ha­ve ob­ser­ved a cle­ar shift in pu­b­lic opi­ni­on. Jour­na­lists al­so ha­ve to be al­lo­wed to le­arn and chan­ge their po­int of view. Bed­does: A po­li­cy of wel­co­m­ing and in­te­gra­ting people is ex­act­ly what Eu­ro­pe stands for. Now we need to look at how to suc­cess­ful­ly achie­ve in­te­gra­ti­on. What are the les­sons from ot­her parts of the world – whe­ther it’s the Viet­na­me­se boat people to Ame­ri­ca; whe­ther it’s the Ugan­d­ans in­to the U.K. in the la­te 1970s? What works, what doe­sn’t?

Is the West at war with ra­di­ca­li­zed Is­lam? Bed­does: We need to attack IS and fight back. And we need to think about how to streng­t­hen Eu­ro­pe’s ex­ter­nal bor­ders. For that we need much mo­re co­ope­ra­ti­on bet­ween Eu­ro­pean coun­tries, whe­ther it’s sha­ring in­tel­li­gence or po­li­ce da­ta.

That sounds li­ke ar­med li­be­ra­lism. Bed­does: The­re has to be a mi­li­ta­ry re­s­pon­se to the most re­cent events. It al­re­a­dy in­vol­ves air strikes, and it will in­vol­ve so­me form of ground tro­ops, which we still need to be tru­ly ef­fec­tive.

Are you cal­ling for Eu­ro­pe to go to war? Bed­does: IS is able to call its­elf a ca­li­pha­te and attract sup­por­ters be­cau­se it con­trols ter­ri­to­ry. The­re­fo­re, the fight back against IS in­vol­ves dis­lod­ging it from that ground. The best ap­proach is a co­ali­ti­on of lo­cal tro­ops on the ground, sup­por­ted by spe­cial forces from the West. Me­ckel: What we are do­ing with this war dis­cus­sion is play­ing in­to the hands of IS. They want us to think that we are at war and need to fight for our li­ves, our cul­tu­re, our free­dom.

This con­flict co­mes at a ti­me when Eu­ro­pe’s eco­no­mic foun­da­ti­ons are still shaky. Our eco­no­mies are kept af­loat with cheap mo­ney from the Eu­ro­pean Cen­tral Bank. Me­ckel: We ha­ve ma­neu­ve­r­ed our­sel­ves in­to a si­tua­ti­on that’s ve­ry dif­fi­cult to get out of. The ECB buys go­vern­ment bonds and for ma­ny coun­tries that me­ans: You don’t need to wor­ry about [re­forms] be­cau­se the ECB will [sup­port you] one way or ano­ther. That will da­ma­ge our eco­no­mic or­der.

The Eco­no­mist sup­ports ECB Pre­si­dent Ma­rio Draghi’s po­li­cy of cheap mo­ney, whi­le Wirt­schaf­tWo­che op­po­sed it. How can two li­be­ral pu­b­li­ca­ti­ons ta­ke such dif­fe­rent stan­ces?

Me­ckel: It’s pro­bab­ly due to the dif­fe­rent tra­di­ti­ons in Ger­ma­ny and Gre­at Bri­tain. [Wirt­schafts­Wo­che doe­sn’t ha­ve] a ra­di­cal an­ti-ECB stan­ce, though. When Draghi said he would do wha­te­ver it ta­kes to pre­ser­ve the euro zo­ne, it was right and ne­cessa­ry. Af­ter­wards, one could ha­ve tried so­me­thing ot­her than flood the mar­kets with mo­ney.

Is Eu­ro­pe re­al­ly re­sol­ving its debt cri­sis, or is it just pre­pa­ring the next big mess by pum­ping too much mo­ney in­to the mar­kets? Bed­does: We may not ha­ve the right ma­cro­eco­no­mic ba­lan­ce. Ger­ma­ny has, in so­me ways, be­en part of the pro­blem. The im­ba­lan­ces [in the euro zo­ne] ca­me in part be­cau­se Ger­man sa­vings we­re sent to ot­her coun­tries. The­se coun­tries over-bor­ro­wed.

But Ger­m­ans lo­ve their sa­vings and their ex­ports. Bed­does: They ha­ve too much of a good thing. Every sur­p­lus has to ha­ve a de­fi­cit so­mew­he­re. That lo­gic gets lost in the Ger­man de­ba­te.

Ms. Me­ckel, is your Bri­tish fri­end he­re per­haps a litt­le en­vious of Ger­man ex­ports being so much hig­her than Bri­tain’s? Me­ckel: (laughs). That could be. But the

Ger­man and Bri­tish eco­no­mies are dif­fe­rent. We ha­ve a lar­ge in­dus­tri­al in­fra­struc­tu­re. But that is pro­bab­ly al­so a chal­len­ge for the fu­ture. How do you switch that tra­di­tio­nal in­dus­tri­al cul­tu­re in­to a con­text of di­gi­tiza­t­i­on? Bed­does: The Ger­m­ans think: If on­ly ever­y­bo­dy el­se we­re li­ke us, the world would be a bet­ter place. The pro­blem in the euro cri­sis was that the pre­vai­ling nar­ra­ti­ve was that ever­yo­ne nee­ded to be li­ke the Ger­m­ans. If we ha­ve a bud­get sur­p­lus, ever­y­bo­dy should ha­ve a sur­p­lus. The pace of bud­get cut­ting in the af­ter­math of the fi­nan­ci­al cri­sis was too uni-di­men­sio­nal.

Would you still call our sys­tem a mar­ket eco­no­my? Bed­does: Not ne­ar­ly enough has be­en do­ne in the euro zo­ne to re­struc­tu­re and cle­an up. The euro zo­ne has be­en held to­ge­ther by the Eu­ro­pean Cen­tral Bank.

Let’s talk about your ide­as for jour­na­lism. What is the big­gest chal­len­ge right now for tra­di­tio­nal ma­ga­zi­nes? Bed­does: Our bu­si­ness mo­dels are chan­ging. So­ci­al me­dia is the de­li­very arch of the 21st cen­tu­ry. We ha­ve to ma­ke that chan­ge whi­le sup­porting and rein­for­cing the cul­tu­re that ma­kes The Eco­no­mist what it is. We ha­ve a ve­ry strong cul­tu­re. We ha­ve be­en pro­du­cing wee­kly sin­ce 1843. How do you trans­la­te The Eco­no­mist’s va­lues, the kind of jour­na­lism that we do, in­to this new world? For me, that is the true chal­len­ge.

Ever­yo­ne is pos­ting their opi­ni­ons now. What does that me­an for a ma­ga­zi­ne as opi­nio­na­ted as yours? Bed­does: It puts a pre­mi­um on well cu­ra­ted, bold jour­na­lism. We are in the bu­si­ness of pro­du­cing the world’s best mind-stret­ching jour­na­lism for the glo­bal­ly cu­rious who are in­te­rested in the world bey­ond their bor­ders, who look in­to the fu­ture, and li­ke it. They don’t ne­ces­sa­ri­ly ha­ve to agree with li­be­ral va­lues, but they want to be chal­len­ged by them. Me­ckel: The­re has ne­ver be­en a ti­me that has be­en so in­te­res­ting for a jour­na­list – that I am con­vin­ced of. You can try out a lot of things and get di­rect feed­back from re­a­ders. For a long ti­me, we jour­na­lists ten­ded to think we knew bet­ter. It is good to un­der­stand that we no lon­ger ha­ve an ex­clu­si­ve claim. Our re­a­ders ha­ve a voice and can chal­len­ge us in lots of ways. Still, I think two ba­sic va­lues are im­portant for tra­di­tio­nal me­dia in the di­gi­tal age: One is ori­en­ta­ti­on. A ma­ga­zi­ne is so­me­thing li­ke in­for­ma­ti­on in­suran­ce. If you re­ad

it, it gi­ves you ba­sic as­suran­ce for ar­guing your po­si­ti­on in this ve­ry com­plex world. The se­cond thing is se­ren­di­pi­ty: People want to be sur­pri­sed and ta­ken to is­su­es and to­pics they ha­ve just not known. Ever­y­thing you look up on the In­ter­net is so­me­thing you are al­re­a­dy in­te­rested in. In Wirt­schafts­Wo­che, you al­so run across things you other­wi­se wouldn’t.

Are Goog­le and Face­book our part­ners or our ri­vals? Bed­does: We ha­ve about 18 mil­li­on so­ci­al me­dia fol­lo­wers. So­ci­al me­dia is a ve­ry im­portant way of re­aching ma­ny mo­re people than you would other­wi­se. And it is a way of being part of a de­ba­te, be­cau­se a lot of con­ver­sa­ti­ons in the world are hap­pe­ning the­re. The big tech­no­lo­gy com­pa­nies pro­vi­de op­por­tu­nities to ex­tend the reach of what we do. So we should em­bra­ce them in that way. Me­ckel: It is all about in­crea­sed com­pe­ti­ti­on, which we shouldn’t ro­man­ti­ci­ze. And it is not just in the me­dia bu­si­ness. If you look at the au­to­mo­ti­ve in­dus­try, they ha­ve ex­act­ly the sa­me is­su­es. Will the big Ger­man car­ma­kers still be the big car­ma­kers in 20 ye­ars or will the IT in­dus­try be the dri­ver of de­ve­lop­ment, with the Ger­man car­ma­kers me­rely de­li­ver­ing the ma­te­ri­al nee­ded for pro­duc­tion? The old and new worlds should co­ope­ra­te, but they shouldn’t be naï­ve.

So­me of us jour­na­lists are still over­co­m­ing a nar­cis­sis­tic cri­sis. Slow­ly but su­re­ly, people are fi­gu­ring out that they’re not the on­ly ones ex­plai­ning the world. This de­mo­cra­tic learning pro­cess in jour­na­lism is key to its own re­co­very. Mi­ri­am Me­ckel, edi­tor of Wirt­schafts­Wo­che

Are the edi­to­ri­al staff at our tra­di­tio­nal, old-fa­shio­ned ma­ga­zi­nes pre­pa­red for this chal­len­ge? Me­ckel: So­me of us are still over­co­m­ing a nar­cis­sis­tic cri­sis. Slow­ly but su­re­ly, people are fi­gu­ring out that they are not the on­ly ones ex­plai­ning the world to others. This de­mo­cra­tic learning pro­cess in jour­na­lism is key to its own re­co­very. Bed­does: Good jour­na­lism has to be in­no­va­ti­ve – al­so in terms of distribution and content pro­duc­tion. It is our job to ta­ke our still he­si­tant col­le­agues with us on that jour­ney.

Young people re­ad less and pre­fer short vi­de­os. Bed­does: We are thin­king about how to trans­la­te the co­re of Eco­no­mist jour­na­lism in­to 15-mi­nu­te vi­de­os. The writ­ten way is, of cour­se, our co­re. But we al­so do pod­casts. Me­ckel: We are on the ver­ge of laun­ching a

Wi­Wo.Lab to ex­pand our in­ter­ac­tive, mul­ti­me­dia of­fers and try out new for­mats. We are al­so set­ting up so-cal­led “ex­plai­ners,” short vi­de­os with text ins­tead of au­dio. They are re­al­ly in de­mand right now. Writ­ten text still plays a big ro­le. We know from re­se­arch that the way people re­ad is chan­ging. They eit­her re­ad texts with fe­wer than 300 words or mo­re than 800. It’s not that people ha­ve stop­ped rea­ding – they just re­ad dif­fer­ent­ly.

You both sound op­ti­mis­tic. No cri­sis for the me­dia then? Bed­does: It is a pe­ri­od of enor­mous crea­ti­ve dis­rup­ti­on. The­re is fe­ar of the un­k­nown and at the sa­me ti­me wild cu­rio­si­ty to try ever­y­thing. Me­ckel: It’s not a cri­sis; it’s a trans­for­ma­ti­on. This kind of de­ve­lop­ment is so­me­thing we had se­veral ti­mes du­ring the last cen­tu­ries – and now we ha­ve it again. If you’re bold and crea­ti­ve, you can thri­ve and find new ways to reach re­a­ders and users. If you gi­ve up ho­pe, you’ve al­re­a­dy lost.

Eu­ro­pe’s lea­ding bu­si­ness weeklies: The Eco­no­mist and Wirt­schafts­Wo­che

Mi­ri­am Me­ckel took over as Wirt­schafts­Wo­che‘s edi­tor in 2014.

It’s a gre­at ti­me to be a jour­na­list de­spi­te the me­dia in­dus­try‘s uphea­vals, Mi­ri­am Me­ckel says.

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