Vienna – “Journalists have power!” and every article needs a good start. Two things I learnt during my internship at the Austrian newspaper “DerStandard”. Journalism is a desired job. It is an important job, but also a tough and contested one. But what is it about? Do you continuously carry around a notebook, search through archives and ask critical questions?
I am trying to find out while working for one month in the media outlet. I am in the economics-department; which is boring you might think (and probably most of the 400,000 readers do). Indeed it is not. But what is journalism about – in my point of view?
First: yes, I do carry around a notebook at all times. The embarrassment is too big if you forget the name of the person you just interviewed or miss the exact number of employees and have to ask again. Second: An archive does exist, but as we live in the 21st century you mostly browse the web and press agencies for relevant news. Also I learnt that the most important source of information is… the phone! Nothing is better than first hand facts and opinions from experts, politicians and businessmen. Sometimes it is hard to get a hold of an analyst or CEO, but one thing about being a journalist is being tough. Third: you should be critical, but stick to the facts. I learnt that your subjective opinion does not count in an article.
I learnt to ask relevant questions at press conferences. For example it is advisable to learn about a company or party before talking with them. It is also important to ask the question again, if the CEO or politician did not really answer. They know that public opinion and sometimes even their stocks depend on the news outlets. If there has been a scandal you should know and ask about it. I also learnt to read other relevant media channels: what is their main focus? If you missed something in your paper you can try to catch up. But it is also nice when other media quotes your research.
I learnt to work with time limits, the print does not wait. I learnt to work with space limits: you cannot always tell everything in detail, although you would like to because you researched so much. I learnt about the decision making process from the ideas in the morning conference to the final product next morning. Especially in international politics it can be quite frustrating when you finished an article and then have to delete it all again because of new ‘news’.
I learnt a lot about the topics: the exciting thing about journalism is that you KNOW and LEARN a lot. My favorite part might have been when I could individually look into topics like the North East Passage (link below) and then publish and article.
And then I also learnt that I might not want to work in this field. You act by writing about others’ actions that might influence other acts while you still just write. Sometimes you have a quite unexciting day, you spend a lot of time in front of the computer. But then again it is nice to read your name in the printed newspaper and know: you have power by shaping peoples’ news. So, stay critical about what you take as truths as it is only people writing them.
Written by: Ansgar Fellendorf
Place and time: Vienna, Austria in August 2013