Levelling voices Back

Levelling voices

In a series of interviews we portray our Culture of Solidarity Fund grantees. The grantee featured here successfully applied to round 4: Culture of Solidarity in times of an infodemic.

Eurozine is a network of cultural journals based in Vienna, bringing together over 90 partner journals, associations, and institutions from across Europe. Additionally, Eurozine is also an online magazine, translating and publishing selected articles from its partner journals. ‘Eurozine is dedicated to covering issues of culture and society on a wider scale, going beyond usual headline and with a special focus on marginalised social groups and up-and-coming genres,’ tells us Réka Kinga Papp, the Editor-in-chief of Eurozine, ‘Simply put, our publishing seeks to cover the blank spaces mainstream media leaves: from refugees and Roma people, to LGBTQIA+ issues and underground culture, and beyond.’

The pandemic has made long-lasting crises pertinent to Europe all the more visible, and has brought an additional set of urgencies to the fore. In the project ‘Levelled voices: a joint European conversation on recovery’, Eurozine aims to inquire into how we intend to restructure our economies as well as the ways we live and care for each other. The title Endemic: when emergency is the norm was chosen as the focal point of  ‘Levelled voices’. In original articles and in four podcast episodes, it proposes to report on these topics: labour shortages in the healthcare industry and the subsequent migration paths of care and health workers from south and east to Western Europe; women’s historic job loss; people with disabilities coping with COVID; inequality in education and how the pandemic has forever changed school; Roma who became scapegoated during lockdown and their current efforts to rebuild communities; the pandemic’s effects on the homeless and the housing-crisis; the political distortion and abuses of the crisis…

Here is Réka’s insider’s view into the making of ‘Levelled voices’, as well as into the European mediascape at large…

What are the prospects and challenges of creating successful Pan-European media?
Every media endeavour – much like any other enterprise, non-profit or otherwise – needs a firm footing to develop their core audience and patronage. With international projects which are not strictly tailored to one particular audience, the shooting range is so wide it’s often hard to identify who you are talking to, who you are targeting. Especially when one publishes in a lingua franca, that often makes it harder to consolidate a locality. Right now, unprecedented monopolisation dominates the digitising media sphere, with ever-growing mammoths leaving little space for not only competitors, but also complementary projects. This is why it’s important for any online and international media project to identify a footing of their own, if not geographically, then intellectually and socially. Eurozine, for instance, targets a thin but very relevant layer of pan-European publicity: intellectual journalism, nevertheless available and accessible to lay audiences. This lands our project with the core audience of scholars, researchers, experts, and people of a learning age.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the trouble of finding funding. Not only does it keep back non-profit media like Eurozine, but also commercial enterprises, that very few funders seem to view a pan-European publicity as their own responsibility. EU funding bodies definitely don’t, which is a gross abuse of their mandate. Nevertheless, their funding dogma permeates the field, and transcends only public funding. The oft-stated institutional fear of “creating dependencies” denies the value of cultural work, and inherently, human labour. The strive to favour beneficiaries who don’t really need their funding is an investment logic inherited from the for-profit scene, where it never performed well either. The concentration of funding results in less and less projects getting support, which drowns the wider media ecosystem, leaving bigger flagship projects vulnerable to bias and political attacks. It also encourages patchy and generally faulty representation. The demand of funding bodies for overrepresentation in the works they finance – especially true of EU funding – encourages a working culture of servitude, which is the polar opposite of the conditions for meaningful cultural and media work.

It also requires a clear understanding that Europe does not end at the borders of the EU, and European publicity does not end at the arbitrary geographical borders of Europe either. Editorial work must be free to fairly represent a globally connected Europe, with all its implications and responsibilities.

The main obstacles to build and nurture a well-functioning and levelled European public sphere are structural. Many organisations, including media, funders and professional institutions are doing their best to compensate for these faults, but ultimately, it cannot be a handful of private philanthropists’ and independent journalists’ task to make up for the failures of a gigantic federal system. This sphere needs overlapping layers of publicity, a lot of professional cooperation, ample funding and a robust ecosystem of various genres and sizes of media to weave a resilient structure that provides information and insight, offers representation and channels in new voices and ideas. It also needs political dedication on local, national and transnational levels, to develop and maintain it.

Why is it relevant to produce a space of cross-border journalism, and what are the implications of it for Europe at large?
European media are a defence system that continental societies desperately need to protect themselves from disinformation, polarisation and ultimately, the loss of democratic achievements. It fosters an understanding and a sort of constructive identity building which can transcend the classic nationalistic negative identity (you are who I am not: exclusion and the promotion of human rights and welfare chauvinism). To most pressing problems our societies face right now, tried and tested answers exist, but without a functional international public sphere, it’s up to mere chance whether they are found by those who need them. As we lose democratic fields, rational and considerate decision making becomes harder. The rampant polarisation proliferated by populism not only turns citizens against each other, but also isolates them from their neighbours and peers who often face very similar hardships, amounting to masses yet still left all on their own. Cross-border journalism helps overcome these boundaries and fosters a better understanding of one’s standing in society.

Also, cross-border journalism is fun. A frequent professional complaint is that audiences focus much on entertainment and less of “hard news” or “facts”. In fact, that has always been the case, it is the nature of the human species that culture – whatever layer of it – is just more powerful than hammering data at the audience. Nevertheless, the insatiable demand for newer and newer “content” can very well be served with a wider perspective. In fact, it’s much better served by diverse voices and takes than by overproducing the same stories, a core characteristic of late 20th century commercial media and especially, commercial news.

How would you recommend a citizen, who intends to stay informed, to navigate today’s media landscape?
I’d suggest curating a selection of sources that keep them informed to an extent that they absolutely need, but to try to tune out the voices which overdo the same points. I’m not a fan of commercial news colonising the media sphere, in fact, I see it as a source of the current disinformation ecosystem.

As a rule of thumb, I suggest an adapted riddle for this task: Something local, something national, something international and something global; something timely and something timeless; something important and something precious.

I find it very important that the audience of media and culture get well acquainted with junk content and its structures, so they can recognise and filter these. Nevertheless, it’s important that we all stay open to new and unexpected developments, from new media types to revolutionary takes. Simply put: it’s not that every grandparent has to use TikTok, but we all have to keep in mind that the next generation, or a so-far marginalised group, have the right to demand their place under the sun.

What does solidarity between news outlets look like?
Media of similar backgrounds tend to be viewed as competition, however, many inquiries have found that many diverse players in the same field actually form an ecosystem and together build their audience. Eurozine itself is built on collaboration. It is the archetypal economy of benevolence: as a publication it relies on shared content, adapting from our partners and sharing our own commissions with them. As a professional network, it’s a resource for all members to rely on for perspective, partnerships and professional feedback.

News outlets, as well as other media, should bring crediting and mutual support to a next level, and it should start with mainstream outlets supporting small-scale, local and specialised media, whose work they rely on and channel further. States and funding institutions should encourage these collaborations – few of them are pioneering in this field already – and view maintaining them as a core part of their mandate.

What do you think is the future of European journalism?
A core issue we at Eurozine have identified is that although journalism is something you can get an education for, editors are rarely targeted in academia or schools, even though they will be responsible for all the decisions that shape publicity. They are somehow expected to simply materialise, ascend the ranks as journalists – sort of crystallise under pressure.

It’s a complex and incredibly influential position which many deliver based on routines and rituals they’d learnt in the making. No wonder diversity poses challenges and no wonder the media find it hard to adapt and keep up with societies’ and cultural demands. Also, the access and representation of marginalised groups and young people is lagging behind because by the time someone gets to make those editorial decisions, they are usually no longer young, and are often expected to conform to an operational culture that doesn’t allow for them to be their true selves and represent their cultural markers.

We at Eurozine think it’s imperative that specific education targets future editors as well as practising ones, to improve their individual and collective practises, foster collaborations, and make space for true professional checks and balances.

Granted: 36478 euros.