“Journalism and the knowledge of journalists is too important to be left to stagnation”

Emanuel Karlsten is a well-connected Swedish journalists and social media enthusiast. He thinks that the best way of developing new working concepts and business models in the age of social media is through experiments. According to him, the number of experiments is far lower than what it should be. With Ajour, he and a couple of other personalities from the Swedish web sphere are doing their part to help online journalism evolve. We had a chat with Emanuel.

Hi Emanuel. What have you done to become a well connected, well known figure in the Swedish blogosphere?
I am really not sure. It all started with being hired by a small newspaper called Dagen. I simply tried to be a good web editor. I started reading what people were writing on how to use social media, and follow those suggestions. During that time actively engaging in social media was considered being both brave and radical – most people just wrote about it. So my news site got a lot of attention and recognition, which meant that I also got quite a boost. I realized how easily things could be done without great budgets, if you just try. I collected as much knowledge as possible from every person I understood knew more than I. I tried to understand how they thought, read more, learned more and connected more. It has never been a strategy, it has just been me trying to do my job as good as possible.

Photo taken by Martin Ridne

You work as a journalist but you are also doing social media consulting for clients. How do you make sure there won’t be conflicts of interest?
I have been in conflict of interests. Sometimes I want to write about my clients, but if it is too sensitive I just don’t. But mainly my work as a consultant is with other media houses, so I am not very deeply affected.

How does a usual work week look for you?
Really there is no usual week. It depends on what clients I have and what projects they put me up to. But I invest a lot of time on roaming the web, looking for new things. When I don’t have a big client I work with the news project I created with some others, and I usually have about one or to lectures or trainings for journalists a week. I also spend every other Sunday writing my column for the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, and am a regular on a few radio shows.

What do you like about working with many different things at the same time?
I am a restless soul, so I am really not left with an option. But what pushes me the most is to see change. Journalism and the knowledge of journalists is too important to be left to stagnation and today there is almost no innovation in our business. It is frustrating and that is pretty much the reason I do what I do. I could not stay at a regular job – it moves to slow. I could not just be out educating and lecturing either – I would miss writing too much. And the way you challenge media is not just by talking, you have to show it somehow – so me and five others created an experimental new media site, Ajour.

Tell us a bit more about the project.
I think ultimately all of the co-founders have different goals. Some just want a platform where we can share great stories. For me it is about trying out new ideas. The whole concept of Ajour is to adapt to a social media world where the sender of a message is becoming increasingly important. So we had the idea on putting together a few of the most influential social media people in Sweden to create a newsblog/newssite where the WHO is the main way of drawing attention, not the WHAT. People trust that what we write is interesting, and thereby we could establish a stage which we then could use to give voice to people and stories that haven’t been heard yet but should be heard. So Ajour is about empowering citizens, challenging and encouraging them to pick up the pen, videocamera or whatever and do journalism together with us. But really, we do not know where it will end, we just wanted to experiment with this. Because it needs to be done, since so few others are doing it.

What importance does blogging have in your daily work?
People tend to think that blogs’ relevance has diminished and that it is now microblogging that is hot. That might be true in the sense that it is newer, but not in the way that it is impacting people. Especially in Sweden blogging has really changed the media landscape. Just look at the way young girls consume media today. They went from magazines to mainly blogs. Not just reading, but also writing. It is the big flagship in social media and is so for me as well.

How do blogs and Twitter changed journalism? Can a journalist still do excellent work without at least spending some time with social media?
Sure, a journalist can do a great and excellent work without social media. And a journalist can still do a great and excellent work without using a phone. But really – none of it makes any sense. Why would we not use a phone to reach people in a faster way? And why would we not use social media to connect to people? The biggest issue with social media and journalism is the gigantic gap of knowledge on how to actually benefit from it. There are so many ways social media could make the journalist’s job more effective. Those who have already understood this have experienced great success. It actually just means that we can do the same old work better, faster and more effective.

What are the challenge of social media disrupting journalism?
The challenge is how to develop a solid business model. I hate the word “find” because it suggests that it will just be there for you to pick up. Media has been great in trying to develop journalism online, but when it comes to business models it just got stuck. The problem lies not in that the model necessarily is wrong, it is just that we don’t get the same revenue on advertising online as we do on print. And that might not work, but we (media houses internationally) never really tried! The ones who did try, Facebook and Google, actually succeeded. But we have somehow bought our own lie on “it will not work” instead of trying to innovate. That is really frustrating to me. Another challenge is that while this is happening regular people – “non journalists” – are doing the journalists’ jobs. Often better. Because they are using the relevant tools and they are doing it transparent and many times with more confidence than a traditional journalist. This will probably become a bigger challenge for every day that passes.

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