Film and Media Blog

TLU calendar 2021: What’s up professor Ulrike Rohn?

TLU 2021 calendar’s focus researcher in April is Professor of Media Management and Economics at BFM Ulrike Rohn. We will ask her what are her projects right now and how does she spend her free time.

Ulrike Rohn

What kind of researches and projects are going on right now? What are the burning questions and topics? 

I am currently finishing a research project with colleagues at BFM, in which we are studying the local newspapers in Estonia. Underlying the project is the argument that local newspapers and local journalism are important to prevent so-called news deserts in rural areas. Furthermore, we see that professional journalism that follows journalistic norms of truthfulness and impartiality is important to counteract the possible spread of misinformation through non-journalistic content. In this context, it is very important that local journalism and local newspapers are economically feasible and that their operation is sustainable. Therefore, I – together with a student – interviewed local newspapers in Estonia to ask two key questions: How do they perceive their situation in the current competitive and societal environment? What challenges and what solutions do they see for their sustainable and successful operation? 

We found out that local newspapers struggle a lot with losing advertising revenues to municipal papers and global Internet giants. At the same time, unreliable and expensive home delivery of their newspapers, as well as the increasing online news consumption, are causing them headaches. Based on our research, I argue that it is not so much financial support that local newspapers in Estonia need, but rather, collaboration and innovation. Financial support would heal the symptoms of malfunctioning operations only temporarily. Collaboration and innovation, however, could provide access to the strength that comes from within the media firms and their cooperation partners. The media landscape changes at a dramatic speed, and sustainable solutions for local journalism call for creativity and the readiness to collaborate across sectoral boundaries. 

I am also currently working on an international project led by colleagues at LUT University in Finland. In this project, we interview decision-makers in the media. Our research questions are: Can media be both sustainable and profitable? How do decision-makers reflect on the responsibility of media in society? The project is based on the assumption that media firms – through their business models – have a major impact on society. We see that some media organizations deal with hybrid logics within their business models; that is, they address multiple businesses as well as societal goals at the same time. And we argue that the ability for addressing and integrating multiple logics will be a key capability for contemporary media organizations. 

In a third project, I am working with colleagues at BFM to understand how new technological opportunities in the Internet may change how value is created in the media industries. One of the subprojects here that I am currently working on looks at how blockchain technology can enable the fair renumeration of the creation of content that is shared in the Internet.    

Last but not least, I am leading an international H2020 project that aims to promote screen media entrepreneurship teaching, research, and stakeholder engagement. In terms of research in the so-called ScreenME-Net, we argue that media entrepreneurs are at the forefront of ongoing change in the media industry. It is through them that we can identify and study the dynamics of the industry that has a very profound impact on society. 

What inspires You in life? 

After my high school graduation, I started working for a publishing house in Germany, where I undertook a three-year training in various departments and subsidiaries. One subsidiary that I worked in was a children’s book publisher. One time, I helped organize a meeting where the managers of the publishing house presented the new book program to their sales agents. My job was mostly just to make sure that the new books were on display and that everyone had sufficient refreshments. For the most part, I just listened to the presentations on the newly launched books. I liked working in this company, and I enjoyed being part of the team. It was there at this meeting when the thought hit me: Would I enjoy my job as much if those were sales agents for cars, or for a washing powder – and not for books? Probably not. 

There is something special about working for the media. It’s about content, content that matters. In this particular case, it was children’s books, which have the potential to play a very important role in any child’s life. Everyone remembers at least one book from their childhood – a book that one read or that was read to them multiple times, a book whose story lived on and further developed in one’s head. Writing and selling books to children, I thought while at this event, was handing over a key to children for them to create their own universe in their heads, a universe where the story would live on. A book is always more than just the words between the covers. It empowers those who read it. And I felt good that we were selling something that could empower children. 

Though I enjoyed working for the publishing house, I felt that I needed to move on and go out into the world after I finished my training in the company. I wanted to travel more, and I wanted to live, work and study in different countries. Which I did. But every job I had, every internship I conducted, every study program I enrolled in, and later, every bit of research I conducted has always been about the media. This passion for the media may also run through my blood: on my mother’s side, I come from a family that had long owned and run a publishing house in Heidelberg, Germany. So, the inspiration has long been there for me. 

Besides science - do You have any hobbies or activities that does good for Your psychical and mental health? 

I swim. Swimming is pure bliss for me. It is like flying – just in water. I am not an open water swimmer; I prefer to swim in the pool. As a child and as a teenager, I spent many years in swim teams, both in Germany as well as the United States. The smell of chlorinated water and the noise of the swimming pool as well as all of the routines and rituals around swim practice give me comfort. 

Also, I love cooking. For some reason, I hardly ever cook the same dish twice. I always try out new dishes, and I improvise a lot. When I prepare dinner, my family never knows what to expect. I cannot claim that they always like my experiments.

Most importantly, I find it very grounding just being with my kids, indulging in their worlds and spending quality time with them. When I am with them, it is easy for me to forget the outside world and all work-related stress. These are these precious moments and hours, when nothing else matters. 

What is Your opinion - where is the science heading to?

Science has always been, and will always be, important. As a society, we can only develop and improve when we understand our current situation, and the correlation and impact of various forces on various conditions; in other words, when we conduct science. 

In my field of media business studies, I see that we are heading towards ever greater interdisciplinarity. Media are at the heart of society, and increasingly what we experience and what we consume is mediated to us. Understanding the conditions and processes underlying content production, curation, distribution, and consumption is not only important for media business studies and media studies. It is also important for understanding formerly unrelated industries and wider societal developments. 

More broadly speaking, I think that science has a big task ahead: it needs to better communicate in order to regain trust. The current pandemic has shown that many people do not really understand how science works. Conflicting stories about study results and researchers arguing over the science are confusing for people. Very often, study results are presented in the media before they are verified and further tested with follow-up studies. Media coverage does not always consider that reviewing processes where study results are questioned and scrutinized are part of a normal procedure in academia. And it does not always acknowledge that it is normal that hypotheses from smaller studies may not hold true in larger studies. In their wish to report on the very latest information about the virus and the vaccination programme, such contextualizing of research is not always done properly. As a result, people are left confused. What is left is an impression that science itself does not know anything and cannot be believed in. A society in which people do not trust in science, however, will have dramatic consequences for how we live and how we develop as a society. I think that the media needs to do a better job in mediating between science and the wider public.