Some 2000 people applied to DW's traineeship. In the final round in May, 12 candidates were chosen. Ramón García-Ziemsen, head of Journalism Training at DW Akademie, talks about the challenges for selecting trainees.
What are the new trainees like?
They're terrific! We've never had a group like this from so many regions and with so many different talents. When we see how many people want to take part in the traineeship, we realize it's quite an attractive program – and one we're continuing to develop.
From all the applicants you chose 40 candidates and invited them to Bonn for a second round in Bonn. How does the selection process go from there?
We want to get to know them, not test them to their limits. We start off with a knowledge test. Then they have to show they can write well, present themselves in front of the camera, and in various exercises prove how creative and stress resistant they are. At the end of the second day, we tell them who has made it to the last and final round. That round takes place on the third day, and each finalist has a 20-minute talk with the Director General, the Editor-in-chief, the Head of DW Akademie, the staff council and representatives from all head divisions. The talks are conducted in a similar way, so they're fair and to the point – nobody, for example, is asked about their hobbies or preferences.
What are the biggest challenges for the candidates overall?
The first 15 minutes are the worst. It takes them that long before they realize we're not horrible examiners. Still, the three days are exhausting – writing news under tight deadlines, switching roles at a second's notice. We want to be just to everyone, to give everyone a chance, but I don' t know if we always manage to do that. This also an incredibly intensive experience for us, and one we have great respect for. We're making decisions that can affect a candidate's future. We're also aware, especially for those from countries where journalists can't work freely, that our traineeship might offer them a better life.
Who made it to the second round this year?
40 candidates from 20 countries, including a doctor, a mathematician and a neuroscientist, as well as documentary filmmakers and sociologists. We're not just looking for "traditional journalists" but also for people from other trades. Our challenge is to overcome a reflex-type approach common to selection processes in general – subconsciously choosing people who think like we do, probably act like we do and who won't cause us any problems.
40 people with the same goal – the competition is high.
That's true, but they also help each other. They'll tell each other what's coming up in a given session, set up Facebook groups and sit together in the evenings. They even played volleyball. The good atmosphere is also due to the people working for DW's various editorial desks in Bonn and Berlin and who take part. The whole organization is involved in this, with all its diversity. You see, this is also about thinking things through together, about whom we'll want to work with in the future. Who will we need? What will we be working on tomorrow? What about the day after? It’s a joint project and it also shows our appreciation to the trainees.
What do you look for when choosing candidates?
Many things. We look at what DW editorial desks need, for example. We're not looking for loud voices but are also interested in quiet ones who are self-reflective and critical. We're looking for aspiring journalists who sometimes say "no", for those who aren't in love with themselves, and for those who work well in a group. We can have the best instructors, but trainees learn the most from each other, and of course, from the editorial offices.
Applications for the 2020 traineeship will start being accepted in November 2019. Check our website for more information.