A conversation with Ramón García-Ziemsen, head of DW's traineeship program, about the possibilities and challenges of journalism training.
The traineeship at DW includes six months of seminar blocks, internships in Berlin and Bonn as well as a placement with a DW foreign bureau
These days everyone is offering cross-media training - broadcasters, newspapers and certainly online platforms. What makes DW's traineeship different from the others?
Ramón García-Ziemsen: Everything! Well, not quite. Many journalism training institutes are looking for the right combination of teaching skills of the trade, covering new narrative forms and social media channels, and looking at issues such as drone journalism, virtual reality and constructive journalism...
That sounds like a lot...perhaps too much...?
"In the beginning was the word" - and it still is. But for that you first need to master the tools of the trade, whether it's writing news, researching, the five shot rule, or going live on TV. Then it's about whether you're excited about content, about thinking in political terms, about allowing an emotional response. And it's also about wanting change, about helping people to make better choices in their lives. That's a particularly important aspect here at DW. Basically, if there's no story, there's no need for fancy packaging. To be honest, I'd rather have an environmental activist with a flair for journalism than someone who's done 20 internships so that he or she can vaguely do "something in the media". Journalism training is a constant process.
International multimedia projects like this Media Dialogue with Kenyan journalists in Nairobi and Bonn is also part of the traineeship program
That doesn't sound particularly progressive.
Back in the 1930s, Bertolt Brecht wrote about radio as a means of communication. It was suddenly possible to say everything, he wrote, but there was nothing to say. To put it more bluntly: journalism of the future is the journalism of the past. The most successful retweet in history, by the way, is the Bible, which for centuries was copied by hand...
These days, a very popular model among many providers of journalistic content is "journalism as a business". That's a good point - having ideas on the one hand and making them relevant in a journalistic context on the other. This means thinking from a user's or consumer's perspective, and you have to learn how to do this. Design thinking is a key concept here. If our trainees go on to work as freelancers, they'll need to know how to sell their ideas. But even if they become staffers at Deutsche Welle, they'll need to know how to convince their bosses to do something differently or better. That's business from the inside, if you like.
What is important here? Social media, for example, but there's more. Certain aspects constantly come up such as digital literacy, and you can't cover that in just one seminar. It's a deductive method: If I want to report on something that's been told a thousand times - and sometimes told better by others - I need to ask myself how to do this differently. It means that Instagram, Snapchat, Vine and others can suddenly play a role. It also helps if I can understand search engine optimization (SEO) or how to verify user-generated content (UGC), or can find someone online who does it better than I do. "Do what you can do best – link to the rest." That should also be a Deutsche Welle motto.
What other mottos do you have for the traineeship? After all, your trainer team includes a poetry slammer and an actor.
For me, the most important aspect is offering the trainees possibilities to get away from the journalistic frame of reference, to gather experiences outside of the field. It's also a question of breaking things down. One of our trainees recently said she felt as if she'd been taken apart bit by bit and now had to find a new way to put herself back together. I like that image. Vocational training rarely gives you opportunities like that. If we want to change the world it can help if we start changing ourselves. This means having top-class trainers who see this as a journey and not as simply doling out knowledge. We really have superb trainers on board.
What is your idea of an ideal trainee? There's no such thing, of course, but our current twelve trainees are all characters with different ideas, talents and personalities. They're critical of themselves and the world at large, and I like that. I also like the fact that they're open to experimental aspects and are playing an active role in shaping the 18-month traineeship.