November 30, 2012 by Matt
Their HQ is called DR-byen (‘the DR town’), and is an impressive building which I was glad to have an excuse to visit anyway. The theme of the afternoon was ‘Constructive News’ and although some of it was in Danish, the two speakers in English that I heard were Ulrik Haagerup (the head of news at DR), and Uffe Elbæk, the Danish Minister for Culture.
Ulrik’s engaging talk centered on the challenges that face DR in trying to bring a constructive, more positive view point to the news. He had a lot of good examples of the negative stories that prevail in the media in Denmark, and indeed everywhere else in the world, and he spoke about how DR are trying to work out how to position their news in a more positive light. This is a serious issue I think (my professional background is in media, so I could wax lyrical about this for a lot longer than I will here). It’s about a lot more than just ending the news with a ‘feel-good’ story of a new lion cub being born at the zoo – the real challenge is how to position positive stories that are genuinely ‘news’ (e.g. record levels of road safety, major civil construction projects successfully completed, groundbreaking health initiatives bearing fruit), in a way that captures viewers (the competition for eyeballs is as fierce in news as anywhere) while also avoiding coming off like advertising. It’s definitely not as simple as it sounds, and when there are a finite number of stories that can be covered on the radio and TV (this applies less to digital, of course), it would take a bold soul to argue for including the opening of a new rail link (for example) over the reporting of a serious crime (again, as an example). But then bold souls are exactly what is needed, because without wanting to sound worthy, I for one believe it’s a change worth trying to bring about and something that could genuinely add to society, rather than continue to be the negative force that many people currently see ‘the news’ as.
The second speaker I heard was the Minister for Culture, Uffe Elbæk. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for all of his talk, but I heard the first part, wherein he made an extraordinary admission. To give some context first though, there’s a lot about Danish politicians that seems to be unlike much of what we see of their UK and US counterparts – as far as I could tell, Uffe arrived with no accompaniment (or at least very little), and to all intents and purposes seemed like a ‘normal guy’, dressed in his jeans and shirt/jumper combo – basically, not a politician! Well, credit to him.
The part I heard was his reaction to a point that Ulrik made, about the increasing difficulty the media have to get co-operation from politicians and business leaders, because of the wariness that they treat the media, presuming that a rough ride awaits whatever they do or say. Uffe responded to this with the incredible admission that he had recently made a mistake, or at least a decision that he regretted, and that he was expecting this to come out in to the press soon, and he wasn’t sure whether he’d still have his job afterwards. It was amazing to hear this frank admission from a serving politician, seemingly out of the blue. He didn’t go into details, and I presumed the implication was that much of the outcome to his situation would depend on the media’s, and not the public’s, reaction. I hope to stay tuned to find out though.
So thank you to LinKS, and to DR, for a very illuminating afternoon. With the results of the Leveson inquiry released this week in Britain, an afternoon thinking about the complexities of a positive media was topical to say the least, and I sincerely hope that it wasn’t just hot air and that some tangible results come out of it all. At least though, DR are thinking about it and publicly talking about it, and that in itself is very refreshing.