New Blood in Media A closer look at journalism degrees in Germany

Journalism students these days have vastly different knowledge as 20 years ago.
Journalism students these days have vastly different knowledge as 20 years ago. | Photo (detail): Wolfgang Maria Weber © Deutsche Journalistenschule

Over roughly 60 years, more than 2,000 students have completed degrees at the German Journalism School in Munich. According to Jörg Sadrozinski, director of the school, the course has changed significantly over the years. We had a chance to speak with him.

Mr. Sadrozinski, the media revolution is in full swing. The demands on journalists have changed. Can you still compare today’s journalism courses to your own 20 years ago?

When I arrived at the DJS (German Journalism School) in 1985 we were still typing our articles and manuscripts on typewriters. Radio pieces were improvised and videos were made with U-matic recorders. Technically a lot of things have changed since that time. What I learned back then, however, which my predecessors maintained and which I still find very valuable, are the “age-old virtues” of journalism that were in the syllabus at the DJS: research, style, formats and precision, namely, the basis for quality reporting in any media.

New technologies in ever-shorter cycles – compared to the graduates of old, do you think perhaps too much is being demanded of journalism students today?

Well, certainly the course has been compressed, and not just at the DJS. At the same time that I did my DJS course I completed a nine-semester undergraduate degree. Today our students finish a master in journalism in two years. Having said that, there was a lot of idle time back then. Journalism students these days have vastly different knowledge before they even get to the school, in particular with regard to new technologies. I don’t think we demand too much of them. We are trying to prepare them for what the editorial world will expect of them.

How is the DJS handling the shift in requirements placed on journalist with regard to the technologies they need to be able to master?

At the DJS we always have and still do place great value on students being savvy in all media. That means they can write, produce newspapers and magazines, create radio/audio pieces, and produce and edit video. They are also able to create web sites and work with the various online tools and the available social media. But technical abilities are not the only thing here. A number of other skills and proficiencies are required of future journalists including being able to recognize which stories are suitable for which media.

You came from the online world and took part in building the Tagesschau web site. Under your directorship, do you think the focus of the DJS course has changed compared to your predecessor?

Traditionally the focus of a DJS degree lies in writing, copywriting and production for print. In my opinion, though, this is still the basis for good online journalism, so in that way our course hasn’t changed in any fundamental way, but here and there we move the focus around to meet new challenges. For example, we start our video/TV curriculum with a six-day video journalism course that teaches students much more quickly than before how to work with a camera, light, audio and editing software. Online is now a central element in every area of the degree instead of being tagged on to each block.

Lower wages and layoffs in editorial departments – is it still worth it to become a journalist these days?

It definitely concerns me that journalists get less and less money for more work in ever fewer positions. I hope the trend will stop, and there are some indications that it may. In online media a good number of companies are hiring editorial staff, new newspapers are being established and in the coming years there will be video platforms that will need (journalistic) content as well.

Don’t cheap wages endanger the standards of a good journalistic trade and ultimately even our freedom of the press?

Over the long term, I think it will. If the profession is increasingly unattractive because people can’t make a decent living with it, then good creative people will look for jobs elsewhere. Media companies will hire more “untrained” personnel, that is, people without any degree at all or with very bad qualifications, or simply use PR texts and advertising communications as content. The quality of journalistic products will decline, which will lead to fewer readers or users, which will then lead to reduced revenues for media companies. And the downward spiral will be in full effect. To combat these dangers we need, as an example, strong public radio stations as well as publishers, media managers and labor representatives that can act as a counterweight to wage dumping practices and in turn ensure that the market rewards only those media companies that are willing to pay appropriate wages and fees for their content.

The desirability levels of the job “journalist” still seem to be pretty high. How do you explain that?

Being a journalist is the most wonderful job in the world because it is the most interesting and multifaceted!