A festival day at Eurosonic Noorderslag is a kaleidoscopic experience.

A festival day at Eurosonic Noorderslag is a kaleidoscopic experience.

The fourth VPRO Medialab Meet Up landed at Eurosonic Noorderslag on Saturday 14 January. Visitors gathered in De Oosterpoort and joined nine makers to consider the future of media and in particular spreading stories, the theme of this Meet Up. Geert-Jan Bogaerts, head of Digital at VPRO, listened-in at various tables, keynotes and panel discussions.

Kaleidoscopic experience

A festival day at Eurosonic Noorderslag is a kaleidoscopic experience. For a novice like your reporter it is difficult to decide where to begin. So much music, so many interesting programmes – which reminds me of my first time at SXSW, the annual culture fest in Austin, Texas, where it is easy to lose your way without a good guide.

So it is good to have a clear destination, like the VPRO Medialab programme at Eurosonic. Just as with previous Medialab Meet Ups, dozens of journalists, programme-makers, compilers, DJs, artists and designers came together to talk about the art of programme making – in a time when algorithms are taking over a great deal of the work.

Whoever listens to Sky will know: people hardly come into it any more, as the work is mainly done by smart computer programmes that use an enormous amount of data about music and artists, but also all kinds of other information such as weather reports, the stock markets and the seasons. What is the role of man in all this – what does he contribute, besides his knowledge and skills?

Follow a few observations, coarse strokes like an impressionism panorama, to do justice to this kaleidoscope.

Chris Price: ‘Distribution is everything’

Like this one, for example, from Chris Price (BBC Radio 1): ‘Distribution is everything; it’s what makes or breaks your programme. We really need to be everywhere, to use all channels that are potentially available.’ An opinion familiar to that of the VPRO, but that has unfortunately been somewhat thwarted by the Media Act. This prohibits public broadcasters from freely experimenting with various media and would prefer us to colour within the lines of the officially authorized channels.

Rufus Kain: ‘We are in a bubble that we have made ourselves’

Or this one, from Rufus Kaine, musician and journalist at De Correspondent, about our choice of music: ‘We are still in a bubble that we have made ourselves, and that is now facilitated by Spotify.’ Because algorithms like that used by Spotify can of course provide you with an enjoyable afternoon of listening to music, but can they also bring you in contact with interesting new things? Or can this only be provided by human intervention?

Jeroen Pen: ‘There is more and more discussion with the other side.’

OK, just one more: Jeroen Pen works at Brandpunt, but the ‘youth version’ – the branch that wants to tell the story of Brandpunt in new ways for new target groups. He says: ‘More and more discussions are taking place with the other side.’ And with this he means that the old school journalists, who adhere to tradition, are now beginning to see the effects of the new methods and are becoming inspired by the resulting success.

‘Big hug and make friends’

Ultimately, in conclusion, data and DJs go hand in hand. ‘Big hug and make friends’, as Chris Price described it. But this went far too far for a few members of the audience. Because, according to this critical observer, that is just too easy.

‘We should be focusing on what we offer and how we do that. Who is the intermediary between music and the listener? Who presents us with new choices? It is not enough to say that the DJ does this, whether inspired by an algorithm or not. I am not interested in a DJ. But I do find it interesting when Thom Yorke (Radiohead) tells me who I should be listening to. Because I consider him to be an authoritative source.’ Whereby the last word, just as it should, is in the hands of the audience.

It is all about giving data and algorithms the place they deserve: a helping hand, not a frontrunner. It’s fine that Sky works otherwise; but the public broadcaster has a different task.