„I used to have more overtime than I do today“

An interview about the changing workload in journalism by Leonie Rothacker

„I used to have more overtime than I do today“

by Leonie Rothacker

Over the course of the last decades, the working environment of journalists has changed – not only in the Netherlands. 63-year-old editor Peter Bausch has been working at the German local newspaper Sindelfinger Zeitung/Böblinger Zeitung (SZ/BZ) for 40 years, experiencing the change right from its onset. He studied Psychology in Aix-en-Provence, France, and started working for the newspaper as a freelancer during his studies. Besides him, there are ten other employees at the SZ/BZ today – four less than there used to be. Despite this, he can’t complain about having to work more than before.

How has journalism changed since you started to work?
There have been fundamental changes in the technological means at our disposal. Can you imagine I was still working with the typewriter in those days? There have actually been fewer changes in the content itself. Today, we also have to think about the layout: we have only a certain space available for our texts, we also have to deal with social media, we are also photographing ourselves. Some professions we once thought of as being indespensible have gone overboard. In the past, as soon as you had an article done in the typewriter, the rest of the business was actually done for us journalists.

Would you say your workload has increased compared to earlier?
No, it is only distributed differently. I used to have more overtime than I do today. Earlier, it was perfectly normal that sometimes we worked from eleven in the morning until nine o‘clock at night.

But how do you get all the work done if the tasks become more and more diverse but the different professions are becoming less and less. Are you just more people?
No, we‘re even less. But we have less scope than before. So by working more with pictures today, we simply write less. For example in former days, after a regional council meeting, every agenda item would have been found in the newspaper. We don’t do this anymore. In addition, research is now faster, because we have other research methods, for example Google. Previously you had to go to the city archives or read a book to get the information, now we get it much faster.

Do you write less because people also read less? Or what is the reason?
I think these two things are mutually dependent. The reading behaviour has changed in the last ten or twenty years … Well, no, actually it has almost always been like this. I can still remember, there was once a time in the early eighties, when the newspapers hired more and more people. We had a time when we were even 15 employees at the SZ/BZ. This was the peak of what I have seen in journalism. Because back then someone actually could get out some time and had the whole day for an article, which is hardly the case today.

Does the quality of the research suffer because of that?
Yes, I think that less time is being spent on research. The standards you want to keep are slowly going overboard.

Is this perhaps a reason that there are more and more problems with fake news?
Yes and no. This has always been the case. In the BILD-Zeitung, there was fake news 30 years ago as well. In addition, there have always been colleagues who have not kept up with the craft and have not tried to find two independent sources.

One last question: Which skills are required for a good journalist nowadays? Other things than before?
No, I don’t think so. The basic principles are the same. It is the research, the independence, the fact check. It is the attempt to pass on information so that it is understandable. I think this has not changed. There are new things that have been added. But the basic principles remain the same.