How many pillars does a democracy have?

"Pillars of Democracy"

Dr. Heuser, when you became publishing director at DUZ in 1996, the scientific community in Bonn liked to meet at the DUZ forums. Why was this format so successful and why is such direct contact between scientists and science journalists important?

Because there the protagonists of the science scene could controversially discuss topics that were burning under the nails of scientists and science managers. The DUZ editorial team and the invited journalists, in turn, received first-hand interesting background information. And - which is important for both sides to this day - we were able to build mutual trust there. For our publishing house, this format not only offered the additional opportunity to present our products and services to the science scene, but also to find out in direct discussions how we can support universities and science with innovative offers in the future.

You've been watching the science scene for 25 years. In your opinion, where has it changed most noticeably?

Quite clearly in terms of the quality and importance of science communication, which our publishing house is largely concerned with. In the 1990s, this area was nowhere near as professionalized as it is today. You could even say that it was seen as a chore at the time and played a marginal role. Today there is no question that good quality science communication is immensely important. This can be seen not least in the high degree of professionalization that is now characterized by the staff and the projects and measures they have implemented in the communication departments of universities and non-university academic and research institutions.

The DUZ was founded 75 years ago with the need to make science more responsible for society. How has that developed over the past few decades?

The DUZ appeared for the first time in 1945, back then as GUZ, Göttinger Universitätszeitung. At the time, assuming responsibility for society was a central concern of the editors. In the early years this is reflected very strongly in the contributions and in the debates initiated in the GUZ: The sociologist Alexander Mitscherlich criticized the “inhuman science” of the Nazi era. The philosopher Karl Jaspers called for man to determine technology and not the other way around. And the social psychologist Erich Fromm and the sociologist Jürgen Habermas discussed important building blocks of democratic thought and action. Over the years and the focus on changing target groups in the scientific community, this focus on society has almost been lost. It was only with the founding of the DUZ Medienhaus in 2015 that this aspect moved more into the focus of our reporting and once again became a central concern of the DUZ.

In 2019, the DUZ was renamed “DUZ - Magazine for Science and Society” by the “Deutsche Universitätszeitung” and thus set a trend. What did you and the editorial team want to achieve with this?

When Angelika Fritsche, the editorial manager of the DUZ, came up with her idea to focus the DUZ on this topic, it was clear to us: We will definitely take up this. As DUZ and as DUZ Medienhaus, we want to give the opening of science to society the space it deserves and support the science community in this immensely important task. The expertise of science to solve pressing issues of the present and the future is called upon more and more frequently in view of increasing global crises. The importance of science for our wellbeing and our quality of life is becoming more and more public. And Unesco, too, repeatedly appeals in its recommendations to the responsibility of science for society. We are only a small publishing house, but nevertheless full of confidence that we have positioned our “David” correctly.

They advertise with the slogan "75 years of independent journalism for science". Why is this so important to you?

The DUZ is one of the few truly independent magazines in Germany. The DUZ media house is not dependent on any institution and internally, the editorial team is completely independent within a necessary budget. For me, this is an important prerequisite for being able to offer our readers high-quality, well-researched, critical and thus also credible journalism.

How has the media business in science changed over the last 25 years and what does that mean for you?

Digitization has significantly changed the media business, especially in the science sector, and has shaken key pillars of publishing activity. This particularly affects the advertising and subscription area. In this context, one might immediately think of the sometimes indecent subscription conditions of some large corporations, which have rightly led to a negative reaction from the market. But a large number of medium-sized and small players who are reliable and trustworthy partners of the scientific community also operate in the science market. This diverse entrepreneurial landscape is worth preserving, but it will become increasingly difficult in the future.

How do you see the relationship between the media and actors from science today?

The relationship between the various actors has always been determined by the importance of the topic in public perception. I still remember years in which local daily newspapers also had their own science pages, which then fell victim to the economic crisis of the daily newspapers. Recently, the pandemic has brought media and science closer together again. Sober, educational science journalism is urgently needed in the face of irrational, populistically heated fake news, also to provide society with realistic information. And I have the impression that in view of this common task, the various actors are moving closer together.

Both the media and science are in a credibility crisis. What can both of them do to break this and regain the public's trust (again)?

First of all, continue to work highly motivated on the basis of comprehensive professionalism, despite a sometimes fierce headwind. Sounds simple, but it is by no means. Both sides must not be left to their own devices. I see politics in particular as having a great deal of responsibility. It must create the basis for these two indispensable pillars of a democratic society to be able to carry out their activities that serve the common good without being restricted and well equipped.

If you were faced with the choice of becoming a DUZ publisher today, you would ...

... as a naive persuasion worker similarly and with the same great joy accept this task again. “With great pleasure”, because I have always been an intrinsically motivated worker and consider myself lucky to be able to contribute a tiny fraction to the educational process. “Similar” and not exactly because I believe in progress and in the need to constantly readjust one's actions beyond immovable basic values. As a “worker”, because persistent action should come after speaking at the latest. Out of “conviction” because, as a society as well as as an individual, you need something to hold on to, a framework, a compass, and not least a moral one, with the help of which you should act. “Naive” because, in my opinion, life and professional behavior require a certain amount of naivety against the background of certain convictions. //

Dr. Wolfgang Heuser, the historian and trained teacher with a doctorate from the University of Bonn, has been the publisher of the DUZ since June 2015, which he received from his former employer, Dr. Josef Raabe Verlags-GmbH took over. From 1996 until the founding of the DUZ Medienhaus in Berlin five and a half years ago, he was responsible for the science division of the Raabe Verlag, which belongs to the Klett Group, as publishing director - initially in Bonn, then from Berlin in 2002.

Photo: Annette Koroll