Katri Makkonen: "Journalists remain watchdogs"

Katri Makkonen, an award-winning journalist, returned to host the A-studio current affairs programme at Yle after a six-year break.

The topic of the first broadcast was a difficult one: IT problems in the public administration, with Päivi Nerg, permanent under-secretary for governance policy, as the guest.

In September, journalist Katri Makkonen had returned to the A-studio programme of the Finnish public service broadcasting company Yle after serving for six years as director of communications at the Office of the President of the Republic of Finland.

– There was a lot in the programme that went over my head, noted Makkonen at the Puhuri café in Lauttasaari in November 2019, when this interview was conducted.

Of course, that is nothing new to Makkonen. Presenting three topics per broadcast requires quite a bit of knowledge.

It felt good to be in front of live cameras. Exciting, as a live broadcast should be.

– I just thought that I have to be myself.

The broadcast went well.

– I got a good feeling afterwards, that I'm going to do just fine. At least there weren’t any big mistakes. I remembered that I like doing live broadcasts.

Core mission of journalism remains the same in spite of changing platforms

Katri Makkonen has a long career in journalism.

In 2003 she graduated from the University of Helsinki with a Master of Social Sciences degree in international politics. She started working at Yle the same year, subsequently serving as a host of the Atlas and Aamu-tv programmes in addition to A-studio. From 2006 to 2009, she was Yle’s Asian correspondent in Beijing, receiving the Bonnier Grand Prize for Journalism for her reporting in China.

In the six years Makkonen worked as director of communications, journalism has undergone a transformation.

– Other platforms have quickly caught up with television, she says. – It used to be that television broadcasts were king.

Another big change is the increasingly targeted nature of journalism: audiences are considered more closely and journalism is assessed.

– Yle has descended from its ivory tower, which I think is highly necessary. Now consideration is given to what audiences want. At the same time, you have to keep your eye on the information you have to convey.

The field has been in a state of upheaval for years. Digitalisation, the revolution in revenue models, fake media outlets and other changes have put journalism to the test.

Makkonen thinks that, despite all this, the core and key mission of journalism remains unchanged.

– Journalism is definitely tasked with being the watchdog to the powers that be, she says.

– It has to monitor societal development so that nothing happens without someone noticing. This is so that we are aware of change that, in a democratic society, requires our approval.

Fake news must be challenged by means of both journalism and science, but this also entails great responsibility.

– The information conveyed must be relevant and true. There is less room for mistakes, since they quickly erode credibility.

Equal society must be nurtured

Makkonen finds speed the best part of journalism.

Another important factor is that the work feels meaningful. Makkonen wishes to consider herself a contributor to society.

– I'm motivated by monitoring and keeping up with change, witnessing it.

There are great dynamics at play globally, all of which Makkonen follows with a keen eye. A particular interest of hers is China, her previous posting.

– China’s development has been so enormously important to us, as has the question pertaining to the relationship between the West and China, now that our economic ties are so unbelievably strong.

Another topic close to her heart is the Finnish mental landscape, its nature and how it evolves.

– Why change progresses so rapidly that many feel they are failing to keep up is a hugely relevant question.

– I’m a big fan of Finnish integrity. I find it immensely important to have a relatively equal society, and it’s something I think needs to be nurtured.

The interview was conducted in November 2019.

How do you ensure continuous learning?

“I read fiction and of course other kinds of literature as well, I listen to podcasts and I have conversations with people. I aim to keep myself up to date with the world on a number of levels.”

A place where you have learned something important

“I have to say it was my time serving at the Office of the President.”