LabforCulture

Interview with Robert Misik


About Robert Misik

Robert Misik (1966, Austria) mostly lives in Vienna and the Waldviertel. He also enjoys being in Berlin. He writes books, critiques, articles and essays, as well as his own weblog at www.misik.at. He also publishes a weekly video-blog, ‘FS-Misik’, for Der Standard. (Der Standard is an independent, left-liberal Austrian newspaper.)

He writes regularly for the following German and Austrian newspapers and magazines: the weekly Austrian cultural magazine, Falter; the weekly Austrian news magazine, Profil; the Austrian newspaper, Der Standard and the left-leaning Berlin-based newspaper, Die Tageszeitung or Taz.

In 2008, Misik received the Austrian Federal Prize for Cultural Journalism (Österreichischer Staatspreis für Kulturpublizistik).

Misik’s recent publications include:

  • Mythos Weltmarkt. Das Elend des Neoliberalismus (The Myth of the World Market. The Misery of Neo-liberalism) (1997)
  • Die Suche nach dem Blair-Effekt (The Search for the Blair Effect) (1998)
  • Marx für Eilige (Marx for People in a Hurry) (2003),
  • Genial dagegen. Kritisches Denken von Marx bis Michael Moore (“Genial dagegen”. Critical Thinking from Marx to Michael Moore) (2005)
  • Das Kultbuch. Glanz und Elend der Kommerzkultur (The Cult Book. The Glory and Misery of Business Culture) (Aufbau-Verlag, September 2007)
  • Gott behüte. Warum wir die Religion aus der Politik raushalten müssen (God forbid. Why We Have to Keep Religion Out of Politics) (Ueberreuter-Verlag 2008)
  • Politik der Paranoia. Gegen die neuen Konservativen (The Politics of Paranoia. Against the New Conservatives) (Aufbau-Verlag, 2009)


The following interview between Annette Wolfsberger and took place via Facebook in German and was translated into English on 1 June 2009.


When did you start blogging and what prompted you to do it?

When I started I honestly did not regard myself as a blogger. I just asked a friend to put this site together for me on www.misik.at, I put more or less everything on it that I had written – articles, commentary, columns for print press. It was more of a collection of my texts that usually appear scattered elsewhere. That started approximately three years ago. Then I started video-blogging on Der Standard’s website (www.derstandard.at) just about one and a half years ago.

Is the archiving or repository function still the main function of your blog, or has it also developed into a complementary forum for you – besides your journalistic activities with Profil, Der Standard and others?

It is still the main function of my blog. It rarely happens that I write something just for the blog. On the other hand, it has a complementary function because I know that now a lot of people just find my writing directly via the blog.

This makes my next question superfluous, which was how your offline activities relate to your online ones? If I am not wrong, you were Der Standard’s first video blogger? Was that idea initiated by you or by Der Standard?

Yes, I was Standard’s first video blogger – I think I was even the first Austrian one. Der Standard contacted me to contribute to their website. I told that I would only do it if I could do it via video. Video blogging currently is the most advanced and most interesting medium.

The content of your video-blog is mostly critical weekly commentaries on the Austrian political life – is the choice of subjects entirely up to you?

Yes, that’s entirely my decision. They only know what I have done once I’ve uploaded the content. A lot of it is recorded from home or on the road, and so we don’t communicate too much about it.

Is it correct that you finance your blog and blogging through your offline journalistic activities? This interests me since in a few other European countries (e.g., Poland or the Netherlands) newspapers have either swapped their online editions to blogs (www.nrcnext.nl) or pay for (cultural) bloggers (http://kultura20.blog.polityka.pl/).

Yes, I do. Although you cannot really talk about financing – the site hardly costs anything. But then it also does not generate any income. At least not directly. Indirectly it does via publicity, book sales, (online) presence, availability and accessibility. For the video-blog at Der Standard I receive a normal honorarium, like a writer-columnist.

I do understand that the blog in itself does not cost too much – but the time you invest in maintaining it and contributing to it does in a way.

Yes, that is unpaid. Of course I could consider generating income via www.misik.at, for example, with advertisements or similar things. But to be honest, I’m not business-minded enough for that, and I also do not want to waste my time with it. On top of that, I don’t think I would earn enough money with it. I earn my money via ‘traditional’ media, and online via the video-blog.

I do find that interesting because with blogs, there are so many different financial models that are being applied and tested. If you consider video blogging as the most advanced medium at the moment, what will be your next online step? Do you have plans for developing your blog or are you satisfied with its status quo?

Well… generally I’m satisfied with the status quo. It’s being received very well and many people enjoy reading it. One could professionalise it, but then I’d need staff to do that. And thus there would be far more organisational and logistical demands. Currently I’m doing everything myself, writing, recording (myself) and editing. I think I will continue this way until people get bored of it.
Concerning development, I’m thinking about other things, for example longer documentaries, but these would not replace the weekly columns, just add to them on an irregular basis. Or another new project might be a video column for a German newspaper, so that I reach beyond Austria. But these are only initial ideas.
I also do not want this to take too much of my time. One day to one and a half days per week is enough. I want to reserve my remaining time for written essays and similar things.

Do video columns already exist within German newspapers?

Yes, they do exist in Germany, for example, Matthias Matussek at Der Spiegel, or Richter at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. And I don’t know how many others…

How much do you know about your readers/viewers? Are they mainly Austrian? Do you follow your stats, and are you influenced by the responses of your readership? How important is an active community for you?

Response of viewers: well, there is a response opportunity in the form of postings at der Standard. Of course, you find a lot of lunatics in these forums, so it’s not very representative. But I do read all of the postings. The responses that I receive via Facebook are more interesting. Yes, for sure I’m influenced by them one way or another, and apart from that, I involve them once in a while. It does happen that I post a call to support my investigations, and I usually receive many links and suggestions.
And as far as statistics are concerned, I know rather exactly how many people watch the video-blog...

... I’m asking because many bloggers I’ve spoken to don’t seem to be interested in statistics at all.

Interestingly enough, I don’t follow them for the written contributions, just for the video-blog.

Would you consider blogging as a recognised part of (Austrian) journalism? How far does blogging play a role? Is blogging, for example, already part of the higher education system?

This is changing rapidly. I would say that blogging is also recognised within Austrian journalism. Concerning reputation, for example, it is not considered inferior to normal columns. I don’t know if blogging is part of the education system – I don’t think so.
Although… this is wrong! It seems to be part of it, since I’ve been interviewed by several students in the previous month. One student is even writing a seminar paper about me. So blogging seems to be on the radar within the education system.

A different question: Does a definition like ‘cultural blog’ mean anything to you, or do you find blog definitions like these rather superfluous? (Within the LabforCulture research we have defined cultural blog(ger)s as ones that have popular and contemporary arts and culture as their main focus. And mainly looked into individual, non-institutional blogs.)

I don’t find the term redundant. Of course there are cultural blogs, just as there are, for example, business blogs (which are, by the way, extremely good!). But I am definitely not a cultural blogger. My thematic focus is too broad for that. I do write cultural and culture-theoretical contributions, but I write more political and many economic ones. So I’m only partly part of that cultural blogging category.

Which is also why I was interested in talking to you – to includ perspectives outside the cultural spectrum. I also interviewed a research blogger previously, and although there is some overlap, it is different.

Yes, I also experience that. The departmental categories that are narrowly defined in normal journalistic practice are not relevant within blogging.

In your opinion, is there a blogging scene in Austria, and specifically a cultural one?

Yes, there is a blogging scene. A cultural blogging scene? Not sure if that exists. The non-institutional bloggers mainly run political opinion blogs. Martin Blumenau is an outstanding cultural blogger, but his blog is an institutional one on the fm4 site.

Do you yourself read other blogs as well? This might sound like a strange question, but I’ve spoken to several people who write a blog but do not seem to read other people’s blogs.

Yes, I do read other blogs – Blumenau, and seveal business blogs: weissgarnix, of course, also Krugman on the New York Times, and about a dozen others via Google-reader.

If you look back at the development of your blog, is there anything you would do radically differently? Or to put it another way, is there anything you regard as a big mistake or failure?

Nope, nothing. Of course, everything was very trashy at the start. Now I have better equipment, and have got better just by the routine of doing it. But those un-rehearsed beginnings were also very okay – I really would not want to do anything differently!

If you compare your print writing to your blogging, what are the biggest differences for you apart from the direct feedback of your readers/viewers?

Since in the strict sense of the word I’m only video-blogging, the difference is of course huge: videos are more direct, more subjective and their characteristic style is completely different to, for example, an essay for a newspaper. There are miles in between them. And I do enjoy that. It’s a very different style, which also has elements of visual language. Apart from that, the rhythm of the texts is different: the rhythm of a text needs long waves. With video-blogs you need a fast rhythm – similar to video clips.

And what is the most important role for cultural blogging in your opinion?

The most important role is probably that voices that otherwise wouldn’t be noticed enter the political discourse. To become a recognised voice in the print world, you have to jump endless institutional hurdles, survive thousands of hours of editorial team meetings. Usually this is not the case with blogging.

Your comment concerning video-blogging is interesting also in the context of Jill Walker Rettberg’s book ‘Blogging’. The book provides a useful introduction to blogging and compares the development of print media from the 15th century onwards with the development of blogging.

I’ve never read books about blogging. Maybe I should start doing that.

Do you have any hints for cultural bloggers?

I don’t think so. Everyone needs to find his or her own style, especially in this field. Therefore, tips are difficult. Personally, I’ve always done things and then seen where they lead me. The starting point often was to try and understand things technically.

Do you mean looking into the added value of blogging from its technical side?

No, I meant to learn to really understand things like, how do I cut video? How do I upload to YouTube? Banal questions like these that every 14-year old could answer, but not me being 43 years old.

Yes, that is the difference between us and the Millennials (the generation following Generation X who have grown up in a digital environment)...

Yes, that’s how it started with me: by doing. And then I checked out videos of others and looked into what I liked and copied that, and added my own style elements.

So returning to your question about the hints, this is what I would say: In the end you need to have your very own style. Otherwise you drown in the blogosphere.

Many thanks for taking the time to talk to us today! It’s been a pleasure chatting with you.