Pig: APA as “innovation and digital hub” for the media industry – Thiller: Important to reflect the diversity of society – Bruckenberger: Liberal democracy needs independent media more than ever before
APA – Austria Press Agency celebrates its 75th anniversary. The agency was founded on 1 September 1946 on the initiative of the Reuters and AP news agencies as a cooperative owned by Austrian daily newspapers. Now, as then, the values of reliability, speed and balance, along with transparency and independence, remain paramount in the anniversary year. A digital strategy shows the way into the future.
Few events have had such an impact on APA’s fortunes since its inception as the Covid pandemic. Clemens Pig, CEO of APA, sees the pandemic as an “accelerator” for digitalisation. “As a company for editorial and technological infrastructure, APA has a highly specific role to play in this ongoing, unusual situation: as an innovation and digital hub for the media and communications industry in Austria, and as the basic supplier of ‘true and unbiased news’ to the media,” he said in an interview with APA. Pig expressed his pride at how the company had mastered these responsibilities: “We have impressively demonstrated that APA is an essential instrument of Austrian democracy from a journalistic perspective and an indispensable instrument of the media from an entrepreneurial perspective.”
Although it is basically well positioned as a “Swiss Army knife in media digitalisation”, APA still needs to develop further with a digital strategy that focuses on the digital workplace, digital platforms and digital business if it wants to master the significant changes in media use. At the moment, the company wants to better understand how people use media in the digital space. “Data can be an essential mechanism for this. Our aim is a shared understanding of the data issue on the media market,” said Pig.
APA wants to bring all employees under the age of 30 together with management in order to listen to and understand the needs of young media users. APA may not be an old grandfather with a long, grey beard, but it also is not a young, sneaker-wearing career starter. “I would say that APA is a smart early forties – confident and aware of its strengths, yet definitely willing to change,” is how Managing Director Karin Thiller outlined the current situation.
Work is currently underway on a modern news platform for the professional communications market that will comprise all APA content and display it in a way that is optimised for mobile devices. In addition, the news agency is also developing a log-in alliance together with Austria’s media partners, which will make it possible to use content across all media outlets with one user ID.
The digital strategy also addresses the company’s own day-to-day work. “Numerous steps that are currently still manual will be AI-supported or (partially) automated in the foreseeable future. We will be dealing with these issues for a considerable time to come. Fortunately, we’re marathon runners here at the agency,” said Pig. Diversity in the company also remains an issue, “in order to reflect the diversity of society”, said Thiller.
That APA, as one of only about 20 independent news agencies in the world, is seen as an “independent beacon” is more important now than ever. “In overheated communications markets, where there are so many platforms, opinions and so much polarisation, the need for an independent news agency of our calibre is even growing,” Pig said, pointing to editorial innovations such as APA’s Department of Verification, which was recently certified by the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN).
“Accurate, credible and trustworthy information has been our core business and the DNA of our journalistic work since our founding in 1946,” explained APA Editor-in-Chief Johannes Bruckenberger on the occasion of the anniversary. “‘True and unbiased news’ was the noble goal with which our founding allies, Reuters and AP, set us on our way. In less dramatic terms, it means the objective search for the facts and the best possible version of the truth. In this age of disinformation, this task is more important than ever,” Bruckenberger believes.
The answer to disinformation and bias can only be a focus on journalistic virtues. “Keep your distance, don’t let yourself be taken in; classify fact-based research impartially – check, re-check, double-check; separate the essential from the non-essential; don’t give in to insubordinate interventions, but deal with your own false assessments and mistakes with transparency and fearlessness.” According to Bruckenberger, agency journalism requires exceptional accuracy, exceptional speed, exceptional clarity and exceptional objectivity.
“Since the Enlightenment, the task of journalism has been to critically accompany the rulers, the powerful and the governing and to report on processes, circumstances and conditions in politics. This includes successes and reasonable approaches to solutions as well as errors in the system, injustices or corruption – journalism respecting the political office, but with critical distance. Since the nineteenth century, news agencies have been among the key enterprises in the global communication system,” Bruckenberger said. Where they can operate independently of the state, they ensure the “free flow of information”. A job that, in the eyes of the Editor-In-Chief, never ends. “Liberal democracy needs independent media more than ever – as a counterbalance to disinformation and the last social brace against a polarised public. A free press needs independent news agencies such as APA.”