Interview with Jörg Schönenborn: “We are all biased” – Media – Society

Mr. Schönenborn, what would Westdeutscher Rundfunk, ARD’s largest broadcaster, want to do better in 2022 than in the previous year?
Continue to deliver better content and distribute smarter – this is my compass for the year. When it comes to content that is good or sometimes even better, we always have something to offer. The two most successful series “Tarator”, Monster and Cologne, celebrate their twentieth and twenty-fifth birthdays with strong films.

We have plans with Caroline Kibekos, Eckart von Hirschhausen, and others. Our news brand “Tagesschau” and “WDR aktuell” is deeply rooted with young people. We are able to do this in new digital formats such as the TikTok channel “nicetoknow”, which, by the way, is created in collaboration with a class. In 2022, I’d like to further enhance our collection of information for those we no longer reach well with classic public service news. So, a lot goes well with the content.

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And where are things going less well?
We want to get better at digital distribution. This includes processing usage data so we can reach audiences everywhere on the web. In the digital world, the best content can fade away completely. That’s why I was so committed to the ARD topic. Some are surprised that the software maker cares about “metadata” and “artificial intelligence”. But it was important for me to create understanding for that.

I know the concern that data can predict program decisions, and that decisions are no longer made according to journalistic standards. On the contrary, it is about data-driven work. Anyone who decides should know about habits and interests. Otherwise, we will not be able to provide a digital presentation for everyone. Now a team is starting at WDR and will also take over for ARD. In the end, there has to be some kind of common law algorithm for the media library.

what do you mean by that?
I want clever recommendation logic that doesn’t always suggest just what’s familiar and familiar, but broadens the horizon, sometimes suggesting things I wouldn’t have chosen for myself, things that are tiring or annoying. American platform algorithms trap audiences in bubbles.

Our public service mandate is to burst these bubbles. This is only possible if we can determine what is found and recommended on our platform. Only then does the audience have a chance to see the whole picture. That’s why I want to push the topic even further in the ARD.

Many in Germany worry about social cohesion, about a society divided over the question of whether or not to vaccinate. What can the media really do to turn the drift away into a convergence?
This anxiety drives me too. Fortunately, in our country, and especially in the public sector, we still have programs that are used on both sides of the trench. As WDR and ARD, we continue to reach nearly everyone in the community. This is what sets us apart from the United States, for example, where the public is just as divided as society and lies are simply called “alternative facts.” Our big opportunity is to organize the exchange of arguments. From arguments, mind you, not from opinions.

You can spend days telling each other that you are for or against vaccination. This does not move anyone anywhere. Our role is to claim the arguments and compare them with all available facts. Especially when it comes to vaccinations, we test that persuading arguments is difficult but possible.

For me, “best content” also means frequently pointing out fault lines in society, drawing out arguments and analyzing reasons. I firmly believe that this is how a community can hold together.

Talk show is the preferred conversation format for public service television. Is this sufficient or is it necessary to find new formulas?
Is this your impression? My impression is that we tend to use much longer interviews than we are accustomed to: in the morning magazine, in the daily topics, or in a world development report at the current hour. This is often excellent. And with Sandra Maischberger, the show’s focus is now on long conversation, listening, asking questions, and sometimes grumbling. I was impressed by the half-hour conversation with Armin Laschet. But you are right, the talk show is very popular with sections of the audience. In the best case scenario, what I just described happens there. Arguments are exchanged and sometimes bridges are built.

About to publish the book “Difficult but Fair” for the 500th time. A long way has been come. What has Huff achieved that only this form can achieve?
“Difficult but fair” was the regional perspective at the time. Talk shows have been called like their horizon: Berlin Mitte. Occurred under domes, in closed rooms. “Difficult but fair” showed on WDR TV that there is another way. It was not only politicians and experts – yes, mostly men at the time – who were sitting at the table, but also the people who were affected by the problems themselves. Feature films brought images of reality. And the reactions from the audience were not annoying but rather desirable and an integral part of the show.

“Difficult but fair,” that means with Mondays: 500 programmes, over 2,500 guests – but always only one moderator: Frank …Photo: WDR / Stefan Beck

But the most important thing: “Difficult but fair” gave a “conservative” view of the politics of the capital and not just a self-reflection. By the way, I can still remember how upset Frank Blasberg was when others gradually adopted elements like the movies. But imitating it is also a compliment.

Anne Will ‘runs since 2007,’ Maischberger’ since 2003, ‘Hart aber Fair’ since 2001, ‘Maybrit Illner’ since 1999. Where’s the innovation, where’s the fresh start?
Was WDR’s coordination of Friday Night Jews with dinner-table conversations about Jewish life an innovation? And of course we are developing other conversation formats for the digital world, which also attract young people in a completely different way. It’s also a force on TV if you’ve been a part of your viewing habits for decades.

‘Frühschoppen’, which is called today ‘Presseclub’, has turned 70, ‘Tagesschau’ is still 70, and ‘Tatort’ is over 50, a tough but fair 21. Nothing today is like day one. Maischberger has a very successful new concept. At important stages of the pandemic, it was a tough but fair one that consisted largely of questions from the audience, longer reports, and blocks of information. The show has always been so versatile.

A lot happens in the first, for example, “Weltspiegel” will start on Sunday at 6:30 pm instead of 7:20 pm. Are there any major innovations in the repair package?
In addition to foreign countries, I was mainly interested in science in the discussion of reform. We are falling short of our capabilities. Editors like “Quarks” from WDR have great knowledge shows in their own channels, often powerful documentaries. We are now taking this step on the ARD.

We are creating a common and powerful body of knowledge in the form of documentaries that will surely find their audiences – including young people -. As an ARD, we are developing into a content network. The media library and linear program have become a game over of two grand pianos.

More than ever, broadcasters will have to play in two worlds: the linear world with programs according to the plot and the world streaming in media libraries. Which show goes where?
This is the key to success: the right supply distribution in the right channel. We prefer getting them all into our media library, but many will continue to anticipate our offerings on social media. Good publishing is a concert of all avenues available to us. ARD’s media library is and will always be our largest gallery with more content than any other platform. Because the boundaries between the first and third programs, between regional and national offerings, have completely collapsed.

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A documentary series like “Feuer und Flamme” about the Bochum fire brigade comes from WDR TV and suddenly becomes the flagship of the National Information Library. Nobody has such a deep and varied range of offerings from areas like ARD. We will emphasize this further as a contribution to federal cohesion.

ARD Mediathek competes with streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime – can a German public service platform keep up with these competitors?
With the Media Library, we focused first and foremost on imagination, the genre that shapes platforms. As a curator, in 2018 I pushed to turn some classic TV movies into mini-series and multi-parts. This was a major decision.

At the start of the new media library in 2020, we had the strength for a strong offensive series. “Oktoberfest 1900”, “Our Wonderful Years” and “The Secret of the Dead Forest” were among the top ten million sellers in terms of success. Now we have to follow the example of documentaries. We have a large variety of products on ARD, which are often too dedicated to linear TV. We change that.

Do you think it is reasonable that ARD will not broadcast the usual Winter Olympics in Beijing and the World Cup in Qatar?
Nowhere else in recent years have you seen and heard so many well-researched reports about the scandal under construction in Qatar or about total takeover in China as here. The investigative aspect is one of ARD’s strengths and we at WDR once created a format for such topics using “Sports Within”.

If you rightly ask about the legality of these tournaments, this is also the result of our reports. That’s why we’ll do both: Cover the contests, because millions of people across the community want to watch them and expect them in exchange for their broadcast. And follow everything very critically.

But one thing is also clear: the IOC and FIFA must change course, otherwise they will lose the social acceptance of their events.

Which leads us to “situational journalism”. slogan for you?
When position means selecting arguments, viewpoints and interlocutors on the basis of personal opinion, but deceiving the audience into impartiality, the word position is misused. However, in my view, sensitivity to bias has grown in recent years. In the end, each of us is biased. Journalism is the profession of realizing this and ignoring it at work.

Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) has separated from journalist Nimi Al-Hassan after allegations of anti-Semitism.Photo: dpa

The case of Nami Al-Hassan at a later time: What error did the announcer make, and what conclusions did you draw from it?
Every journalist can learn something from this. Anyone who posts privately on social media is always in a public place. Everything you write privately can have repercussions on your journalistic work. And delete a lot not only outside the world. Before posting, you should think about whether what you want to say is clear. Did you really mean what I said? And whether you can still stand by her later.

We at WDR are learning from this that we need to talk to each other extensively before we can work together. But in the end, we must also be able to trust what we are told. Unfortunately, this was not the case in all respects. Shocked me the hateful attacks on my good growth. This is not how you treat each other.

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