A magazine “for a narrated present”
Is something like this still possible these days? A magazine that completely does without ever-more beautiful and larger photos and for the most part dispenses with advertising? For eight years now, Switzerland has been producing just such a magazine every two months, which simply contains damn-well written stories.
By Holger Moos
While many other magazines are becoming increasingly unclear about where advertising begins and content ends – or vice versa – the magazine Reportagen is resisting the prevailing trends of the visualisation and commercialisation of journalism. The magazine's guiding principle is “reading instead of skimming”, as magazine founder Daniel Puntas Bernet puts it in a taz interview.
The current issue (#46 Leser erzählen / Mai 2019) (#46 readers tell stories / May 2019) is devoted entirely to its readers - literally. Reportagen asked its readers to send in their own stories. The editors then selected 17 of them, each told by one of their authors. The result is stories about losses (one reader loses sight of his daughter, another loses language, one collects all sorts of things for fear of loss, door wedges, keys, missing persons' reports, etc.), transformations (from Nazi to social worker, from heterosexual to homosexual), as well as big and small changes.
Sweeping judgements are like lousy boxers““Sweeping judgements are usually like lousy boxers. Quickly made and then useless,” is how one of the stories begins. That could also be a motto of the magazine. Possibly admissible but useless generalisations are not what they aim for. Instead, for the most part, each text takes a close look at the individual person, the individual story.
The reporters are also not omniscient, omnipotent narrators. They too sometimes fail in their tasks. Christian Schmidt reports in issue #45 on his visit to the Tendai monks near Kyoto. Since the author himself had a close brush with death, he is interested in these monks, believes he has an affinity with them. The monks perform a ritual in which they have to circle a mountain 1000 times in seven years and always cover a distance of 30 to 84 kilometres at night. This is an extremely ascetic project that is supposed to bring them enlightenment. But the reporter does not manage to get close to the monks and confesses at the end: “My wish to learn more about enlightenment has fallen flat for the time being.”
Finding rays of hopeAnother special quality of the magazine is the critical but respectful, life-affirming, never-condescending style in which the articles are written and the people described. The editors are not interested in painting the world in even darker colours to create drama, but in finding rays of hope.
Hope shines through all doubts, fears, injuries and disappointments, as in the report about a train journey from Baghdad to Basra, currently the only train connection in Iraq. The 59-year-old train driver Ali, although he has been working in the profession for over 30 years and has witnessed how rail traffic in Iraq has been reduced to this shuttle train between exactly two places, still has a vision of a better future for his country: “People have to be able to travel from Basra to Mosul again, and preferably even further. Perhaps expanding the rail network in Iraq would be a good start.”
So hurry to your nearest well-stocked bookshop, buy the current issue and enjoy it, because the next one will be out on 6 June!
Reportagen (Erscheinungsweise: 6 Ausgaben pro Jahr)
Bern: Puntas Reportagen AG
ISBN der Ausgabe #46 (Mai 2019): 978-3-906024-45-5