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Incredibly independent | Eurozine

Across Europe, cultural magazines are facing a funding crisis and, with it, a crisis of editorial independence. But in Scandinavia the situation for magazines is less serious than elsewhere thanks to an old system of state support, writes Mats O. Svensson in positions.

The “Nordic model”, which emerged in the social democratic 1960s in response to the concentration of the media in small linguistic spaces, can be transferred to settings where reservations about state intervention in the press – a combination of historical experience and a tradition of laisser faire – they leave magazines without advertising. a lifesaver.

But despite being better off, writes Svensson (editor of the pan-Scandinavian magazine Vagant), state-subsidized magazines in Scandinavia do not live in glorious abundance. On the contrary, very few can afford more than a skeleton staff and all depend on voluntary commitment.

The growing financial instability of Nordic magazines is a result of publishers’ tendency to divest themselves of what were once prestigious publications. In 2016, for example, Cappelen Damm parted ways with Eurozine’s Norwegian partner. Homeless because it was not profitable (read editor-in-chief Audun Lindholm’s comment, in which he claims that the publishing industry has abandoned its responsibility to a critical public). Big publishers have done the same in Sweden (Bonnier) and Denmark (Gyldendal).

“For many years,” writes Svensson, “cultural policy was based on the social democratic principle that the state should use subsidies to counteract the negative effects of commercialization in the cultural sector. This kind of argument has not been raised for a long time time. However, the idea persists that the State should take care of small cultural professionals, protect them and take them under its protection. This is essential, both for criticism and for the creation of a new generation of critics.’

Press is press?

positions Editor Bastian Zimmerman speaks with Timo Conraths, media lawyer and head of the German Association of Journalists, one of the largest of its kind in Europe. His conversation revolves around the lawsuit filed earlier this year by the magazine. International Charter against meaning and form (internal magazine of the German Academy of Arts, a publicly funded institution).

Letter stated that indirect state support for meaning and form It gave him an unfair advantage in an area where direct state support for the press – of which cultural magazines are considered a part – is prohibited. Originally, Conraths notes, the ban on state interference was intended to protect press freedom. This tended to be overlooked in the conflict. In fact, Conraths maintains, in German law there is no principled contradiction between the non-intervention of the State and the financing of magazines.

So why has state support for cultural magazines in Germany never taken off, despite the obvious need and pressure from the sector?

Historical reasons, although important, are less decisive than constitutional ones, Conraths maintains. In Germany, cultural funding is delegated to the federal states. Any financing at national level would have to exclude qualitative criteria and be based exclusively on economic considerations. Given the financial difficulties of the press sector, competition for funds would be so extreme as to make the process impossible to manage.

‘Unfortunately,’ says Conraths, ‘it is easier to maintain a system that already exists than to create a new one. If it were possible to create something that respected the principle of non-intervention, the German Association of Journalists would also like to see some kind of funding for the media or journalism in Germany. Because this is such an important area for democracy that we simply have to support it.’

Complaints from an editor

According to Colin Lang, former art magazine editor texts about art and Spike, today’s criticism becomes increasingly dependent on what it is supposed to criticize: artistic institutions. The crisis facing independent magazines makes them increasingly less willing to publish criticism that may upset their advertising clients. Critics themselves are also now unwilling to write anything that might offend the institutions whose promotional material they will next write.

All this puts the German state’s refusal to finance magazines in another light, according to Lang: “If there really is no independent editorial office, free from forces of influence, then the government’s decision to stay out of the game is based on a falsehood. ‘

And how do critics whose independence is supposedly preserved view the principle of non-intervention? “I don’t know,” is the short answer, but I can say that having worked closely with young writers, I have never heard those feelings expressed, either for or against. These people were too worried about getting the next job and making sure they got paid for the current one.

A new agreement for music journalism?

In a round table with music critics, theorists and magazine editors, participants agree that the constant migration of music criticism from the cultural pages of newspapers to specialized music magazines is a good thing for critics, as long as the magazines can finance themselves. However, like their visual art counterparts, the more dependent music magazines are on advertising, and the more critics themselves work as playwrights or curators, the more difficult it becomes for them to ensure critical independence.

‘When we take control positions‘, says the magazine’s editor, Andreas Engström, ‘we insist on some basic principles. One was that advertising sales were not related to coverage. Most advertisers accept it. More complicated, however, is the question of authors who work in the field of art, either as a secondary activity or as their main form of employment. We often encounter difficult situations where there are gray areas and undefined boundaries.’

Everyone agrees that a “new agreement for journalism” would not compromise independence. The only question is how to make that happen. ‘With commitment, initiative, unpaid work?’ asks Sarah Walther, editor of new music magazine. Despite being “in competition” for readers, the editors of do not consider themselves adversaries: on the contrary. The market is facing a crisis, why not a pressure group?



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