On February 23rd, the TSEconomist welcomed students and faculty for its 4th annual Public Lecture. Every year the student magazine of TSE invites a notable speaker to look at an interesting topic. This year, we were honored to welcome Adam Roberts, the Paris-based European Business Correspondent of The Economist, as our guest. Having worked as a journalist in places all over the world, such as Delhi, London, Johannesburg and having reported from many more places, including the Balkan and the United States, he had a wealth of experience about the media sector to share with us. In spite of a long trip all the way from India, he was fresh and energetic when he joined us as our guest speaker.
After a brief introduction by yours truly, Mr. Roberts presented us an insider’s view on the changes in the media industry, from the well-known decline in ad revenue to the different adaption strategies: For example to make readers pay like The Economist and other quality media outlets like The New York Times do, or to go with a digital advertisement based financing model without paywalls and voluntary premium subscriptions like The Guardian. The talk also covered strategies to acquire paying readers: this includes reaching out to the potential audience on social media to make them aware of The Economist, but also getting recommended by teachers and professors. There was plenty of room for laughs, as well, as we went over some of Mr. Roberts favorite title covers of the last few years. We learned that according to him, the humoristic, yet on point title cover is indeed the best part of the magazine. There was also an abundance journalistic anecdotes, not few of them all too familiar to the team of the TSEconomist. For example, the eternal struggle between a writer and his proofreader. We learned: A good writer who is asked to write a 500 word article ideally writes 503 words to leave his proofreader with the joy of striking out just those three word that could have been left out.
The lively Q&A session with the circa 200 audience members was proof of how much students and professors were engaged during the talk and were curious to find out more. Many questions revolved around our personal, everyday interaction with the news. For example, why The Economist postings on Facebook always seem a tad less analytical than the average print article. The role of the media during the two big political surprises of the past year: The United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as president of the US were also vigorous fights about the meaning and relevance of truthful journalism. There was even a challenge from the floor to the speaker to justify his journalistic standards against those put forward by media groups such as Russia Today. Mr. Roberts defended the mission of classical quality journalism to stand up to the challenge of what he saw as propaganda like Russia Today or non-quality journalism like Breitbart. He conceded that it’s expensive and increasingly challenging to finance the fact-checking that is required to claim high journalistic standard.
After some 90 minutes, the Public Lecture concluded and the attendees had the possibility to continue their vivid discussions over a drink and some snacks at the university. The TSEconomist would like to acknowledge the support of the IDEI in providing for the reception.
by Philip Hanspach