Online journalists All-round talents who don’t have to be able to do everything

Online editor at work

They heave texts out of newspapers onto the internet and write news stories without a break. Without time to do research, always under pressure to be faster than the competition. Online editors have long had a bad image. But this is slowly changing.

Newspapers and magazines in Germany are struggling with declining circulation and dwindling advertising revenues. At the same time, the importance of online journalistic services is increasing: 83 per cent of Germans are now under way on the Net; according to the ARD/ZDF 2013 Online Study, they use the Net an average of 169 minutes a day. Access via mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets has nearly doubled – and is rising.

Media companies have realized that, in competition for the limited attention of users, the fastest news reporting or the most gimmicky headline is no longer the best lure. This has done the quality of German online news sites no end of good.

More diverse than ever before

The work of online editors has changed fundamentally. Although the bread-and-butter is still news reports and background pieces, an increasingly important role is being played by multi-media narrative forms such as audio slideshows, videos and interactive infographics.

Sueddeutsche.de, for example, offered until recently a “Train Monitor”: on a map of Germany, users could follow in real time which trains of German Railways were running late. For the 100th birthday of the Tour de France in 2013, Zeit.de published a highly acclaimed Multimedia-Reportage. And using various channels, Spiegel.de reported on the federal elections in September 2013: editors blogged and tweeted live from party headquarters, others shot videos and readers could simultaneously follow the newest election results in infographics.

They must be able to do more than before – but not everything

Online journalists today no longer write only texts but also cut videos and audio features, edit photos, manage comments posted by users in forums and on Twitter, and process vast amounts of data. They must be able to do more than before – but not everyone has to master everything. One hundred and forty people, for example, work in the editorial offices of Spiegel.de. Ten reporters are responsible for only videos, others are specialists in research in social networks, data journalism or infographics.

The public-service broadcaster Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb) completely revamped its website last summer and since then offers with Infoportal a multimedia information portal. Its editors can draw on the broadcaster's television and radio features and simply use them for their own contributions. For example, they cut their own direct quotations and incorporate TV reports into their pieces. At the same time, they exchange information and research with reporters at outstudios. Bavarian Radio and Northern German Public Radio present themselves online with a similarly multimedia presence.

The dividing lines between media genres are in any case fading more and more. According to estimates of the German Journalists Association (DJV), there are about 74,000 journalists working in Germany, of whom the DJV counts only 3,000 as pure online journalists. "This distinction can hardly still be maintained because most articles by colleagues from newspapers and magazines are published online anyway", says DJV spokesman Hendrik Zörner. Online radio and television programmes also play an increasingly important role and are accessed more and more on the Net. According to one survey, 43 per cent of German internet users now regularly visit the online media libraries of radio stations.

“Craftsmanship, experience and personality”

Slowly, German media companies have begun to earn money with their online presence: in the year 2013 online advertising revenues rose by nine per cent while those of newspapers fell by the same amount. In 2012 Axel Springer Publishers made for the first time more money with digital media than with any other branch of its businesses. Sixty-eight online publications in Germany have already, almost unnoticed, introduced a paywall. While newspapers and magazines are cutting jobs and the number of unemployed journalists is rising, online offshoots of Stern, Spiegel and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung are hiring new people.

In the end the same rules of good craftsmanship apply for the “onliners” as for other journalists: thorough research, clear writing and original ideas.