The virtual SciCon series

Tom Rosenstiel: Journalism and Democracy in the Digital Age
(1 October 2020, 3 pm CET)

Mod.: Prof. Holger Wormer
The virtual SciCon conference series began with a lecture by Tom Rosenstiel. Mr. Rosenstiel is one of the most renowned media experts in the world. According to the Wall Street Journal, his book The Elements of Journalism, published in 2001 together with Tom Kovach, is one of the five most important works ever published on journalism. Mr. Rosenstiel is the managing director of the venerable American Press Institute, founded in 1946. He worked as a journalist for the major US media.

Prof. Victor Pickard: Democracy Without Journalism? Dimensions of the Media Crisis
(7 October 2020, 5 pm CET)

Mod.: Prof. Christopher Buschow
The US-American media researcher Victor Pickard, a recognised expert on the US media system, is one of the most influential pioneers of a new media order. Pickard campaigns, in particular, for public media systems. His core thesis, first developed in his influential book Saving the News: Toward a National Journalism Strategy states: ‘The systemic market failure that’s afflicting our news industries necessitates policy interventions and public alternatives.’

Dame Frances Cairncross: What can governments learn from the media crisis in UK? Recommendations from the Cairncross-Review ‘A sustainable Future for Journalism’
(14 October 2020, 5 pm CET)

Mod.: Christina Sartori (freelance science journalist; member of the German Science Journalists’ Association WPK)
Dame Frances Cairncross is a British economist, respected journalist and academic. She is the author of the report that takes stock of the British media system and bears her name. Published in 2019, it recommends government support programmes for the media. The British government had already implemented parts of the Cairncross recommendations by the end of last year. Frances Cairncross spent 13 years as an economics correspondent at The Guardian and 20 years as a senior editor at The Economist.

Prof. Julia Cagé: Saving the Media – A new business model for media in the crisis
(26 October 2020, 5 pm CET)

Mod.: Prof. Christopher Buschow
Prof. Julia Cagé is a Paris-based media economist who has dealt intensively with the crisis of the journalistic business model and the role of the media in democracy. In her highly acclaimed book Saving the Media she develops the idea of a new business model for the media in crisis: Establishing a ‘non-profit media organization’, midway between a foundation and a joint stock company. According to Cagé, such a model would facilitate independent journalism that cannot be influenced by shareholders, advertisers and governments.

Prof. Magda Konieczna: Journalism Without Profit: Why We Need Public Journalism
(28 October 2020, 4 pm CET)

Mod.: Prof. Christopher Buschow
The debate about whether journalism’s future is entrepreneurial or philanthropic has intensified. The US journalism researcher Prof. Magda Konieczna (Temple University) is a world-leading expert on non-profit journalism. Her book Journalism Without Profit: Making News When the Market Fails (2018) is the first in-depth study of non-profit journalism and its economic, professional, and organizational influence. In the USA, foundations have pumped more than one billion US dollars into journalistic projects between 2009 and mid-2016 alone. In this talk she will explain what enables non-profit news organizations to provide public service news when their mainstream counterparts increasingly struggle to do so: How is non-profit news promoting new behaviors across journalism and thereby transforming it? What are non-profit journalism’s opportunities and limitations – and how could states and civil societies play a constructive role here?

Chris Anderson: Future-Proofing journalism – ideas for the digital age
(9 November 2020, 2 pm CET)

Mod.: Prof. Holger Wormer
Chris Anderson of Leeds University is a worldwide recognised expert on digital change in journalism. Mr. Anderson is the author of the book Remaking the News: Essays on the Future of Journalism Scholarship in the Digital Age.

Deborah Blum, Thomas Lin, Volker Stollorz: Best Practice Foundation-based Financing: Quanta Magazine/Undark/SMC
(18 November 2020, 4 pm CET)

Mod.: Christina Sartori

#SciCon is intended to discuss the future of (science) journalism from an international perspective: What approaches, partnerships and business models finance quality journalism in the digital age? In this online session we want to take a closer look at the role that foundations play in constructively shaping the transformation of journalism. Thus we have invited three editors-in-chief from foundation-financed media: Deborah Blum (, Thomas Lin (Quanta Magazine) and Volker Stollorz (Science Media Center Germany) give insights into their medium’s current financing concepts: What financing options did they investigate, reject and pursue? What output and how many staff are dependent on the existing financing model – and how secure is it? How do these media ensure journalistic independence?

This best-practice session with moderator Christina Sartori (freelance science journalist in Berlin & WPK member) wants to map out their experiences with foundation-based financing. What would they recommend others to do to find financing opportunities for their media projects – and how do they judge the way the “old” publishing world is behaving towards new actors like them?

Our guests:

  • Deborah Blum, Publisher of Undark Magazine & Director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT: was founded in 2016 by Pulitzer Prize-winning science author Deborah Blum and former New York Times journalist Tom Zeller Jr. Undark Magazine is a non-profit, editorially independent online publication exploring science as a “frequently wondrous, sometimes contentious, and occasionally troubling byproduct of human culture”. The publication’s tag line is “Truth, Beauty, Science.” The magazine is published under the auspices of the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Thomas Lin, Editor-in-Chief & Founder, Quanta Magazine: Quanta Magazine is an editorially independent online publication of the Simons Foundation covering developments in physics, mathematics, biology and computer science. Quanta was launched in October 2012 by the former New York Times journalist Thomas Lin. The articles are freely available to read online. Several publications like Scientific American, Wired, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post, as well as international science publications have reprinted articles from Quanta Magazine.
  • Volker Stollorz, Chief Editor & Managing Director, Science Media Center Germany (SMC): The SMC aims to promote and improve public discourse on science topics through independent and quality-oriented science journalism. It bundles information for journalists on current and socially relevant science topics and makes available the expertise of over 600 selected scientists. The SMC was founded in 2015 with start-up funding from the Klaus Tschira Foundation and pursues a “multi-funder model” with over 40 sponsors from science, business, media and society.

The SciCon working conference

This conference in Freiburg is designed as a working conference. The main thematic areas of the conference are:

  • Evidence in the public sphere: What role does science journalism play in societal decision-making? What (new?) alliances and structures are needed to ensure the best possible arguments are listened to and trusted, thus weakening the impact of uncertainty campaigns? Given the polyphony of voices, what mechanisms do political decision-makers develop to ally their decisions with the best possible arguments? What role is played by science journalism in this context? What role can science itself, science organisations that provide policy advice, and politics itself play? How can we increase societies’ resilience to disinformation campaigns? What role do social media play in this process of evidence orientation?
  • New media (business) models: What do we know about market-based business models for quality journalism in the digital age? What other forms of journalistic refinancing are there; what supporting actors and structures? What opportunities are open to third parties to support the media transformation process? What role should public sector media systems play in the future? What media policy concepts are there in Europe (at national/EU level)?


As such, the combination of lectures, panel discussions and intensive specialist debates on these thematic areas outlined above should deliver the groundwork for a policy paper to be drawn up after the conference. This paper will record options for action that identify the preconditions for quality science journalism in the digital age and ways of achieving it.