Léa Steinacker Tech in journalism

Tech in journalism – An interview with Léa Steinacker (Chief Innovation Officer, Wirtschaftswoche)

Can Tech solve “fake news”? And will robots replace journalists? We talked to Léa Steinacker, Chief Innovation Officer at WirtschaftsWoche, about the biggest digital opportunities and threats in journalism. And she has excellent reading recommendations for anyone hesitant about being a feminist.

Léa will be speaking at and moderating at Ada Lovelace Festival in October in Berlin. Until June 3rd you can get #ada17-tickets at an super early bird price.

Interview with Léa Steinacker
(Chief Innovation Officer, Wirtschaftswoche)

Léa, the other day Angela Merkel hesitated at #W20 when she was asked (by your „boss“ and Ada’s expert Miriam Meckel), if she was a feminist. What would you answer be?

Léa Steinacker: My answer would be a loud, resounding Yes. No hesitation. For me, it’s a no brainer to support inclusion and equal opportunities for self-fullfilment for people of all genders. That also means raising awareness and actively tackling systems of discrimination, explicit and implicit. For anyone who still hesitates, I recommend reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” or at latest book “Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.”

You are Chief Innovation Officer at Wirtschaftswoche. What is the biggest digital opportunity for journalism? And what is its biggest threat?

Léa Steinacker: I see the biggest opportunity at the meta-level of properly understanding and utilizing tech’s role in supporting and enriching journalistic work. Ideally, for example, algorithms used in big data analyses can help us understand massive swaths of information better and visualization techniques can render them accessible for all types of news consumers. A threat is to misunderstand the potential of technology as a perfect, optimized replacement for humans. I don’t think robots should or will stand in for the creativity, originality, or observational empathy of a genius journalistic mind.

Working for human right organizations you became an expert for analyzing extremist propaganda on social media. As we had to learn over the last couple of years, this approach has become mainstream with “fake news” portals supporting and discrediting the major political movements. Can Tech solve “fake news”?

Léa Steinacker: Tech certainly plays a major role in terms of determining the standards of engagement on their own platforms, particularly when it comes to distinguishing authentic journalistic outlets bound by norms of ethics and accountability from user-generated pieces disguised as news. But I also see a huge potential on the one hand for sharp, high-quality reporting itself to continuously challenge this phenomenon, and on the other hand, for consumers to deepen their media literacy skills.

In your last WiWo-column you took on the app PplKpr. Can you sum up in a couple of words what it does? And what’s so scary about it?

Léa Steinacker: In a nutshell, PplKpr (“People Keeper”) is an app that tracks your social interactions, analyzes your relationships, and makes suggestions on who to spend your time with. The idea arose out of an art project and is likely meant to provoke a discussion around emotional artificial intelligence: What happens when your connected devices begin to try to read your feelings – and manage your friends? When it comes to human intimacy and emotionality, the impact of technological interaction is sort of uncharted territory:  It might serve an emotional purpose as an anthromorphized digital entity (like in the movie “Her”), but I don’t find the idea of it intervening in human relationships appealing. Humans themselves haven’t fully figured out their emotional dynamics –  should we really try to replicate or alter them through machines?