Media journalism Throwing Stones from Glasshouses – “Medium Magazin”

A Detail of the November 2014 cover of <i>Medium Magazin</i>
A Detail of the November 2014 cover of Medium Magazin | © Medienfachverlag Oberauer

Media journalism in Germany is often confrontational or based on particular interests. In contrast, a trade journal called “Medium Magazin” relies on constructive criticism and journalistic independence.

In the autumn of 2014, when more and more Germans were voicing their criticism of the way the media were reporting the conflict in the Ukraine and a wave of indignation swept through the country, the German Medium Magazin printed a speech bubble on its front cover. In it one could read the words, “You are all liars!”

The magazine had picked up on a mood amongst the Germans that was characterised by scepticism and frustration – the Germans could no longer believe their media. They accused the media of reporting one-sidedly on the conflict, of having their palms greased, of being controlled by the West. Medium Magazin reflected this criticism of the media, asked what the reactions were in editorial offices, but nevertheless it still stood up for the sector – the magazine's app. 80-strong jury surprisingly chose Golineh Atai as Journalist of the Year for her “outstanding” reporting on the Ukraine, despite the fact that she is the Russia correspondent of the German public broadcasters, ARD and ZDF. It was a difficult balancing act between praise and criticism.

Constructive reporting

The aim of Medium Magazin is to deal out “constructive criticism of the media”. Its “sights are set on the future”, as editor-in-chief and co-founder, Annette Milz, sees it. Every once in a while some of the real hard stuff is toned down, in order not to upset  its own target group of media-makers. In the case of media criticism that also addresses non-journalistic readers, however, the tone is most definitely more confrontational – particularly on the internet and since the Ukraine crisis. An example of this would be the Bildblog – a watchblog that has been operated by media journalists since 2004 and that made a name for itself exposing the research mistakes to be found in the German tabloid, Bild. Annette Milz, says on the other hand, “We want to use positive examples to motivate and not to kick things that are already down on their knees. By taking this line we have been able to enjoy a high degree of popularity.”

The publication, first published in 1986, really is considered to be one of the most important magazines for the media sector in the German-speaking world. Volker Lilienthal, a professor for the practice of quality journalism at the Rudolf Augstein Foundation in Hamburg, says that it has something to do with the fact that “there is something for everybody in it – for the elite journalists, as well as the provincial ones.” Up-and-coming young journalists read the magazine to find out about training opportunities, press officers read about the problems the editors are having and editors-in-chief use it to indulge in some navel-gazing. “There is something glossy and optimistic about the whole thing. The crisis that has befallen the profession, its precarious situation is not swept under the carpet – but it is also not provoked.” Since summer 2014 Medium Magazin has been published on a monthly rotating basis with an e-paper called Ideenwerkstatt that focuses on best-practice reporting in the everyday routine of journalism. Its current print run is around 19,500 copies.

Independent of vested interests

Editor-in-chief, Annette Milz, emphasises, “We want to create a form of journalism that gives us maximum freedom and that is, above all, independent of any vested interests. We see ourselves as stone throwers from a glasshouse, as the same rules apply for us as they do for all journalists.” In contrast to many of the other media trade journals, it works differently – completely on the basis of private-sector principles. Since 1991 Medium Magazin has been part of the Johann Oberauer Verlag, a publishing house in Salzburg, which also publishes some of the sector's other journals like Wirtschaftsjournalist, Der Österreichische Journalist, Schweizer Journalist and the Jahrbuch für Journalisten. The publishing house furthermore operates an online platform called Newsroom.de.

Before Medium Magazin was founded media journalism in the German-speaking world was to be found in trade union papers, for example, Journalist published by the German Journalists’ Association and  M – Menschen Machen Medien by Ver.di – or in academic trade journals. Viewed from an international point of view, the fact that Medium Magazin is not beholden to any association is somewhat unusual. In many countries magazines for journalists are often only successful, if they are sponsored by an academic institute, a public authority or an association. Take, for example, the Columbia Journalism Review which is affiliated with the Columbia University in New York, along with the similarly prestigious online presence of Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab.

Until 2008 in France the Revue Médiamorphoses was published by the public-sector archive „Institut national de l’audiovisuel“ (National Institute for Audiovisual Media, INA). The privatisation of the business was not successful - Médiamorphoses was published as a supplement to a paper called Médias, which started to drift more and more to the right and was discontinued in 2012. An example of a publication sponsored by a lobbying group would be Periodistas brought out by the Spanish umbrella association “Federación de Asociaciones de Periodistas de España” (Confederation of Spanish journalists associations). The disadvantage of such publications that are affiliated with trade unions and associations is that the point of view of the publishers is somewhat neglected.

A strong resistance to crisis

Medium Magazin has also consolidated its status in the sector by awarding prizes –  prizes that, although non-endowed due to cost-saving reasons, are in fact particularly renowned. In 2003, in collaboration with the Oberauer Verlag publishing house, the magazine organised the European Newspaper Congress in Vienna for the first time, where the European Newspaper Award was also awarded for newspaper design. The publication has been choosing the Journalist of the Year since 2004, since 2006 it has been presenting outstanding young journalistic talent with its “Top 30 under 30”.

Medium Magazin has no full-time, salaried editors. This makes production “cost-effective”, maintains journalism professor Lilienthal, “because the content mainly comes from free-lance authors.” Editor-in-chief Milz says that, after being sold to the Oberauer Verlag publishing house, she decided against a permanent position, “because I value the gift of freedom much more.” Furthermore, “right from the start we have seen ourselves as an independent authors' magazine.”