Why the dpa founders did an outstanding job for the future
BY PETER KROPSCH,
chief executive officer of dpa
Peter Kropsch, CEO of dpa and President of EANA (European Alliance of News Agencies)
In 2019, dpa is celebrating its 70th anniversary. We are celebrating this event on 1 July in Berlin with a ceremony that will be attended by our federal president. Such an anniversary is certainly a good opportunity to look back. But it is much more important to me to look forward. In a future with a rapid succession of social and technical developments, many of the values we are familiar with at least seem to be being put to the test. But our values are the cornerstones of our identity. How we want to live them have to be constantly reinterpreted, especially in times of change.
dpa is of course a company with convincing values: As Germany's independent news agency, it reports reliably for its owners and customers, without any influence from political, social or economic forces. That is laid down in the company’s founding documents of 1949. With around 180 owners, mostly media companies, its reporting is neutral and balanced. dpa thus provides the fundamental supply of news for a society, which then makes democratic decisions on the basis of facts. That is the meaning that underlies all our actions. By providing us with this concept, the founders of dpa have done a great job.
Common ground: Win-win as design principle
dpa was founded in 1949 as an amalgamation of the agencies in the Western occupation zones and then became the property of the German media. This involved to two processes of a formative nature: the unification of three nations to form a joint news agency in Germany and the decision of media with different orientations to become owners of a joint company. The potential for an overarching agreement on common goals is one of dpa's strengths, which will become even more important in the future than it is today.
dpa is the only operational organization in which practically all types of media – private or public – have a seat and vote. In view of the challenge posed by international platforms, the dpa is an institution that can be used at any time to organize national closing of ranks that are relevant to media policy. The supervisory board, in which all groups are represented, forms an efficient body for opinion formation and direction.
This forward-looking construction contains something very special for a commercial enterprise: dpa's strategy and economic understanding always aim to bring about win-win situations. This applies not only to its members and customers, but also to the entire industry and the quality of the news information itself. All of dpa's important projects are aimed at supporting all those involved as broadly as possible and improving their development opportunities. This construction principle, which was already defined in 1949, is becoming more important in times of digital transformation than it ever was before.
"It is a central goal of dpa to permanently expand the verifiable benefit for its customers." Peter Kropsch
Reliability as the currency of the digital age
For dpa and our entire industry 2018 was a year in which we were able to experience how "climate change" had fully seized the social discourse. False information, hair-raising interpretations and expressions of hatred and aggression are no longer mishaps in the public debate. They have become components of strategies for the enforcement of particular interests. We see social media platforms that behave like Goethe's sorcerer's apprentice, who no longer has a grip on the brooms he has brought to life. In the unbelievably large number of participants and the sheer volume of communication, it’s seems no longer possible to control the abuse. This is an eminent threat to our liberal social order, based on the consensus that our decisions are based on verifiable facts.
For a news agency like dpa, trust is an indispensable foundation of our business. It could become the central currency of the digital age, writes Meinolf Ellers, dpa's chief digital officer on our blog www.innovation.dpa.com. Under these circumstances, we see our work not only as a service for our customers, but also as a social obligation. The standards and factual accuracy of the dpa must be inviolable. The transparent handling of mistakes that can and will always happen is an important yardstick for journalistic quality. In this sense, the importance of the value "reliability" cannot be overestimated. More than ever, our democratic society needs media on whose reliability it can rely.
Independence through economic strength
dpa is one of the largest independent news agencies in the world. It is highly valued in the international news environment for the independence of its reporting. The fact that we deliver a positive result year after year proves that we can develop under our own steam. The vast majority of news agencies worldwide are now state-owned or even under state influence. A change of management immediately after a change of government is often common practice. Being independent requires great economic efforts. Especially in our international markets, we compete with other agencies that receive massive government support.
In February 2019, the London School of Economics (LSE) published case studies on the situation of European news agencies. Of Europe's three international news agencies with independent global news delivery and services in several languages and customers worldwide, dpa is the only one that manages without state subsidies. The other agencies receive subsidies amounting to at least one third of their turnover.
Particularly in times of a worsening global political climate, it cannot be ruled out that external forces will attempt to exert influence on news agencies when it comes to their opinion positions. Any economic dependencies that go beyond normal customer-supplier relationships can be starting points for this. A strong economic constitution is therefore the best prerequisite for an independent news agency and for fulfilling its tasks for media and society.
Customer benefit as continuous proof of quality
Working "for owners and customers" means putting the customers’ benefits first. That was the case in 1949 and will be in the future. In the narrow sense, benefit means making a contribution to more turnover, lower costs or innovative development with high-quality services. Due to the difficult situation of many companies in the industry, a broad field of activity will open up in the future. The dpa is particularly strong when it comes to services or infrastructures where joint action leads to better results.
Good examples are central editorial projects such as the "Profile Process" and "Performing Content." Here dpa develops content and delivery forms together with a number of customers that are specifically tailored to our customers’ goals: Better addressing of defined target groups, the development of users into digital subscribers and the retention of these subscriptions are some of the dimensions of the benefit.
The development of joint marketplaces for the sale and procurement of content also contributes to this value. It is a central goal of dpa to permanently expand the verifiable benefit for its customers. This is where we will invest by far the largest part of our creativity. This is the ongoing proof of the quality of our work.
Great tradition – strong future
dpa is a special company in many respects. It is built on strong values that harmonize seamlessly with the principles of our liberal society. The central task of its teams is to apply these values to the ever-changing challenges of media and information markets. The quality of the people who make up dpa, our current development and, above all, our plans for the coming years make us confident that the great tradition of dpa will lead us toward a future that is at least equally as strong.