"Switzerland has strong global interrelationships: it shapes foreign countries, it exercises influence, it depends on foreign countries – journalistically we have to position ourselves more strongly"
Larissa, you've been with SWI swissinfo.ch (SWI) since 1 January 2016. The SRG international service reports in ten languages, it's present on a variety of social media channels in all ten languages, and in 2017 it had to cope not only with internal structural changes, but also with the raw political climate of the No Billag initiative.
What were the most important milestones in 2017?
Like all media everywhere in the world, we face the challenge of strengthening our relationship with our audience. This is especially important SWI because our target audience is globally dispersed, very heterogeneous and remote. It is thus really a great art to address our readers and users directly so that they feel involved or see that our reporting brings them a direct value. In a daily cantonal newspaper, it's naturally much simpler and clearer. For example, there are Portuguese-speaking communities in Portugal, in Latin America, in Africa and in Europe, and many speakers of Portuguese live in Switzerland – but there's no single way of addressing these people directly, they have specific subjects and needs. There is a solution, though: we have to concentrate more strongly on themes, to stand out from the anonymous crowd, to specialize – and to activate and foster communities, involving them in particular subject areas. Subject interests enable us to group communities together and address them more specifically. One way we tried to do this in 2017 was with a Community Month – currently it's the Community Developer of whom most is being asked – and the work goes on in 2018.
What does this mean for internal processes?
The example of Portuguese shows that a language is no longer sufficient on its own to address users directly, to stand up to the huge competition on the internet, to make ourselves indispensable and to stand out from the rest. That has direct consequences for internal organizational processes. We build up expert specialist editorial teams who as centres of excellence constantly concern themselves – bringing their specialist expertise to bear – with subject areas such as Genève internationale, direct democracy, external relations, the climate, fintech, etc. We gain in quality and efficiency because the subjects are well known, and it also gives us the opportunity to continue to be read internationally and to be relevant.
What does the No Billag initiative mean for the day-to-day work of SWI?
It's giving rise to a need for a great deal of internal discussion, as the intensity of the proposal puts a huge question mark over our work – sometimes presenting it as unnecessary and irrelevant, to put it diplomatically. We feel an even greater commitment to our mission of providing information to enable opinions to be formed as part of our democratic processes, we see ourselves as a central component of a democratic public. Switzerland has strong global interrelationships: it shapes foreign countries, it exercises influence, it depends on foreign countries – journalistically we have to position ourselves more strongly. In our day-to-day work as journalists we do not allow ourselves to be misled and our reports are consistently objective, balanced, transparent and diverse. We are sufficiently professional, even if our own existence is at stake and it is sometimes painful.
Transparency, accuracy and balance are key terms for reporting at swissinfo.ch. In the following video you take us through the swissinfo.ch production area.
(Video in Swiss-German.)
What is especially important to you personally in a journalistic production?
Journalism isn't like a conveyor belt. If we are to write good stories and raise issues, internal debate and feedback are essential. So, it's of primary importance for journalists to maintain informal dialogue, to talk to each other, to engage in dialogue with each other – for them to network knowledge and make it usable. Particularly in our situation, with ten language editorial teams and numerous correspondents who can come up with outstanding assessments of situations and needs throughout the world. In other words, dialogue is the key: it creates depth, astonishment and quality, and we stand out from the rest. Because there is a colossal amount of knowledge within SWI.
Are there any subjects that you'd like SWI to report on but that don't exist yet?
Our reporting is diverse in the extreme. What we must do now is raise our editorial profile, and – from the journalistic perspective – not so much simply reflect subjects as critically question these positions and decisions, and highlight where they came from. And yes, I do see particular potential for SWI in the field of Genève internationale, international diplomacy and foreign affairs.
Are there any proposals that you'd veto straight away?
I wouldn't put it quite like that, it depends how well the stories are realized and narrated. We could no longer afford, for example, to go to and write about events purely out of our own interests: we no longer have sufficient resources. In many editorial teams we have just three FTEs (employee on a full-time basis) at our disposal, and assignments – if anything – are increasing. The most important criterion is relevance to an audience abroad.
Can you give our readers an idea of what is awaiting them in 2018 at SWI swissinfo.ch?
We want proximity to the audience. We want to enter into a closer dialogue with our communities. We are treating our core assignments in greater depth: we see them in the specialist areas of direct democracy, Genève internationale and the dossier on the Fifth Switzerland. Then we raise the subject profile and make ourselves more expectable. We can't be a general store: cigarettes today, minestrone tomorrow, bed linen the day after – nobody will ever come back. People must be very clear about why they need SWI and what we offer them. One very important aspect is for people to be able to find our content. A redesign of our website is therefore scheduled for 2018. Its transparency and the user experience are in dire need of action. And last but not least, we are working on storytelling with the multimedia team specialists to make our stories more accessible.
We look forward to your feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org!
Many thanks for the conversation, and we can hardly wait for the SWI productions in 2018.
Interview: Nina Hübner, Communications + Marketing