No Investments Against the Trend

August 27, 2004 • Media Economics • by

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, August 27, 2004

How the media crisis is affecting journalism education

The shortfall of revenues at media enterprises has also led to cuts in the training of journalists. There have been no investments in initial and continuing training to buck the trend, as the following article on the situation in Germany illustrates.

“Now, before budgets are trimmed like strips of lawn again, it is up to the bosses to send out the appropriate signals,” Karl Lüönd, head of the Media Institute of the Swiss Press Association, recently wrote in the register of editors-in-chief and newspaper publishers. Those who invest in training during times of crisis, “give evidence of faith in their own future,” said Lüönd. To judge by this statement, the publishers in Switzerland and Austria at least seem to have more confidence in their trade than their colleagues in Germany. The two most important training centres, the MAZ – the Swiss Journalism School in Lucerne and the Curatorship for Journalist Training in Salzburg, have managed to expand over the last few years despite the difficult situation, while some of the most respected training opportunities in their bigger neighbouring country have suffered from substantial cuts.

Poorer entry opportunities

In Germany, journalist training is carried out mainly in three ways – through internships, at private journalism schools and through courses of journalism and communication studies at the predominantly public universities. In all three domains the media crisis – and to some extent the crisis of public budgets – has left its mark. As training opportunities and interns’ allowances and grants have been cut drastically at many media enterprises and in several private journalism schools, the chances for students to enter the media profession and the conditions at some universities have worsened dramatically.

The Henri-Nannen-Schule, which belongs to the media empire of Gruner and Jahr, is currently offering only one training course for 20 participants instead of the customary two courses for a total of 36 students. Head of school Ingrid Kolb assumes that from 2005 the school will again be able to offer two courses a year, for a total of 32 students. The Berlin branch of the school, which offered mostly continuing education for journalists, has been discontinued altogether. In addition, in Hamburg the position of deputy head of the school has been axed, and the role filled by a freelancer.

Two years ago, the 45 training places at the Axel Springer Journalism School were temporarily reduced to 30. From next year, they are expected to be back up to 35. At the WAZ-Group in Essen, the number of training places is decided in a decentralized manner by the individual newspaper companies. There have been no cuts in East Germany, but in the West internships as well as training opportunities at the Ruhr Journalism School have been reduced by about ten percent. No cuts have been made at the Journalism Schools of Holtzbrinck in Dusseldorf and Burda in Munich and Offenburg. There, up to 15 places are available each year.

Even training institutions that are not affiliated with any media company have suffered cuts. At the renowned Deutsche Journalistenschule in Munich, the number of students attending the three-year training has been reduced from 45 to 30. According to school principal Ulrich Brenner, this is, however, not related to budget cuts and the difficult situation in the job market, but rather to the transition to the Bachelor and Master system in courses run in collaboration with Munich University. At the Evangelische Journalistenschule in Berlin, whose very existence had been threatened for some time, the training period has been shortened “without loss of teaching quality” according to school head Maria Knieburges.

Internships have been cut at many places as well. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung had temporarily discontinued its training for the new generation of journalists. Publisher Dieter Eckhart is happy that he can now take on the customary six annual interns again – the newsroom needed new blood, he said. However, no shortened training periods will be offered in the future.

The media companies – normally known to push for transparency – are reluctant to give exact figures about budgets, as are the journalism schools and their publishing companies. At Springer AG, the head of PR, Edda Fels, provides no information concerning the budget cuts at the internal school. The school’s budget is said to have been cut by about 25 percent, according to a member of the staff who knows the enterprise well. The budget of the Deutsche Journalistenschule, on the other hand, has been increased by 11 percent over the last five years, despite the fact that Springer AG. has backed out of its sponsorship. Somewhat more specific information is provided by Joachim Weidemann, head of the Holtzbrinck School: after a substantial cut, the budget has been increased by around 30 percent from “under half a million to something more than half a million euros”. He is particularly proud of the fact that he has managed to “generate revenue for the publishing company through projects and editorial supplements”, revenue which covers a part of the school’s costs.

Smaller Salaries

While trainees are still paid standard wages at Holtzbrinck, Burda and the WAZ-Group, at Springer the move has been towards considerably lower training allowances, and at the Henri-Nannen-Schule too trainees only get an allowance. At least the allowance has been increased by 100 Euro to 761 Euro per month – and upon request, participants receive about the same amount as a credit.

Job prospects have improved again (at least for graduates of the best known journalism schools). More than half of the 18 graduates of the Henri-Nannen-Schule this year managed to get a contract immediately after graduation, which makes the situation “three times better than the previous year”, as head of school Kolb assures. At the Holtzbrinck school, a work contract has so far been offered to practically all its graduates, and Springer too is proud of its employment rate of nearly 100 percent; at Burda the rate is around 80 to 90 percent. However, these engagements are based predominantly on temporary contracts, which can be as short as a few months at some publishing companies. For graduates of the Deutsche Journalistenschule, which is not directly affiliated with a media company, permanent employment immediately after finishing school has become rarer. At several training institutions participants are specifically prepared for periods of freelance work in the meantime.

Universities are struggling with entirely different problems. Especially at universities of applied sciences, media- and journalism-related studies have been springing up like mushrooms – without the people in charge giving too much consideration to the chances of employment their graduates could have. This partially hurts established courses at universities. There, the switch to the Bachelor and Master system, with the reorganization it involves, consumes much of the professors’ energy. In the media city Hamburg, for example, there are plans to wedge the journalism institute (which is strongly influenced by the social sciences and, according to Professor Siegried Weischenberg, has a “long history of suffering”) into the German and linguistic studies department.

Difficult Situation in Berlin

In Berlin, the situation is still more desolate than anywhere else. Although the capital has gained significance as a media centre, communication studies at the Freie Universität Berlin (FU) have been badly neglected for years. The number of places available for students in the field of journalism has barely changed at all. At the same time, of the once impressive ten professorships at the institute, only six are currently occupied, including those for studies in “journalism in exile”, semiotics and business reporting. The core fields of journalism, like public relations, media economics and media policy have long since been abandoned, as has one of the two chairs for empirical communication research. For students these are unacceptable conditions. This summer, the seminar for advanced journalism studies took place for the last time at the FU. The course is being discontinued, even though it is the only study model of its kind in Europe, giving experienced journalists an opportunity to pursue a course of in-service training. (The author of this article was responsible for this course of studies at the FU until 2001).

Germany is thus rather far from showing trend-bucking commitments to initial and continuing journalism education as envisioned by Karl Lüönd. At least there is this: one initiative, promoted under the auspices of the German Journalism Association, promises more transparency and perhaps also new stimuli for improving the quality of training. This initiative, following the American role model of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, should lead to voluntary accreditation. This would mean that in the future all those initial and continuing education institutions that guarantee certain minimum standards will receive a seal of approval from an independent commission of experts. Given the uncontrolled growth of education opportunities that currently prevails, despite the media crisis, this would unquestionably be a step in the right direction.

(Translation: Jasmin Bodmer)

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