Politics will remain a craftsmanship

Markus Hengstschläger spoke in a DIALOGUE with Rain­er Nowak, the edi­tor-in-chief of the dai­ly news­pa­per Die Presse, about pol­i­tics as an event, career chang­ers, media and false news.

With Rain­er Nowak, Markus Hengstschläger dis­cussed the future of democ­ra­cy at the DIALOG in Linz Cas­tle with 21 years of jour­nal­is­tic domes­tic pol­i­cy expe­ri­ence. For chair­man Michael Strugl, the top­ic has great sig­nif­i­cance: „We live in a time when much is chang­ing for pol­i­tics and jour­nal­ism. I’m a lit­tle wor­ried that the qual­i­ty infor­ma­tion in the media might dis­ap­pear in the future. What this devel­op­ment, as well as social media and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence mean for our democ­ra­cy, we just do not know yet. That’s why it makes sense to talk about this top­ic now.”

Start with the unpopular

„Which reforms will the new Aus­tri­an gov­ern­ment tack­le first?” Markus Hengstschläger want­ed to know right at the begin­ning of the con­ver­sa­tion.” You can not say that exact­ly. But a gov­ern­ment should start with the unpop­u­lar and nec­es­sary mea­sures at the begin­ning of its peri­od in order to cre­ate room to maneu­ver for lat­er. There­fore, one will prob­a­bly first try to curb the expen­di­ture in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment”, said Nowak. Per­son­al­ly, he expressed his enthu­si­asm for a fed­er­al­ism reform based on the Swiss mod­el: more skills, but also more respon­si­bil­i­ty for the fed­er­al states — and more direct democ­ra­cy. „But that will hard­ly be fea­si­ble”, the edi­tor-in-chief expressed skep­ti­cism, but just as lit­tle believed in the real­iz­abil­i­ty of „more cen­tral­ism”.

„Polit­i­cal New­com­ers rarely work well.” — Rain­er Nowak

When asked what he thinks of polit­i­cal cross-entrants, came a clear answer: „New­com­ers rarely work well. It is often over­looked that pol­i­tics is sim­ply a craft to learn.” On the oth­er hand, there are always pos­i­tive exam­ples: „Peo­ple who just have the right flair for pol­i­tics are also suc­cess­ful in this pro­fes­sion”, said Nowak.

Event democracy

Often one had heard in the Aus­tri­an Nation­al Coun­cil elec­tion cam­paign 2017 that pol­i­tics are becom­ing more and more a pop­ulist event. Nowak sees this more relaxed from his decade-long expe­ri­ence: „Even in the past, some politi­cians were almost super­stars”, he point­ed out to for­mer Chan­cel­lor Bruno Kreisky”, or they, like Min­is­ter Hannes Androsch, tried to be top exec­u­tives in busi­ness-style.” But accord­ing to Nowak, it does not mat­ter if pol­i­tics stages events or not: „The sto­ry has to be right. If the sto­ry suits the per­son, then it works and it does not mat­ter if you do it or not.”

Conscious media consumption is decreasing

The role of the media in the demo­c­ra­t­ic process is unde­ni­ably cen­tral. A new trend, how­ev­er, is that con­scious media con­sump­tion is declin­ing: „More and more peo­ple are wait­ing for news to reach them in their Face­book stream, they are not read­ing news­pa­pers or watch­ing news. They then assume that they are  rel­e­vant news, if they pen­e­trate to them”, said Nowak wor­ried and con­tin­ued: „Often sto­ries are only briefly read and then shared imme­di­ate­ly. False mes­sages or sim­ply old sto­ries keep spread­ing like this.” Of course, Markus Hengstschläger want­ed to know what can be done about that. „Align­ing your mes­sage con­sump­tion to estab­lished ‘media brands’ helps guide the indi­vid­ual”, was Nowak’s response. You just can not con­sid­er every news source as rep­utable.

In gen­er­al, how­ev­er, qual­i­ta­tive jour­nal­ism faces a major prob­lem, as income is break­ing away. „If there is no coun­ter­mea­sure, then there will be no good jour­nal­ists in 10 to 20 years”, Nowak pre­dict­ed, „but then nobody should be sur­prised, because that was pre­dictable.” There will cer­tain­ly be new tech­nolo­gies in the future, new chan­nels to report on. Jour­nal­ism will remain jour­nal­ism. How­ev­er, indi­vid­ual jour­nal­ists will have to mas­ter more and more fields in the future: „Today you have to write for print, think online, make videos, use social media — that will become even more in the future”, said the edi­tor-in-chief.