„To survive, you must think economically”

Freelance foreign reporter Kerstin Schweighöfer (60) on how journalism changed.

By Viktor Sarkezi

Kerstin Schweighöfer became a freelance foreign correspondent for German-speaking media like Deutschlandfunk, FOCUS and Der Standard when she moved to the Netherlands in 1990. In her 30-year-career she reported on catastrophes, war crime trials in The Hague and art exhibitions.

How has the work of a journalist changed since you started reporting?

We are expected to do much more work: When there’s a story for the radio we have to produce and edit it ourselves, voice-overs included. It’s also expected to write an online version and to take pictures. The same for videos. This work used to be distributed. In former times I went into a studio to see a sound engineer. For a print story for weekly magazines I could travel and do research with a photographer one, two sometimes even three days long. You could truly research in-depth. That’s a rarity nowadays. The really fat years were the 90’s and early 2000’s, now everywhere money is cut. The editorial staff is being thinned out.

What must a journalist keep in mind nowadays?

The only way for journalists to survive is quality – no matter if there’s less time and money. People need to be able to rely on our work, they need to be sure not to read or hear fake news. You owe it to yourself, because in the end, it’s your name under the article. Today, the situation is: I work more and get paid less in the end. If you want to survive you must learn to think economically. 2/3 of my work I do for radio, since they pay decently. That’s the economic part. First you produce for radio and then a version for a newspaper and after that maybe a background story for a magazine. You have to play with open cards of course, tell them “I’ve written something for this outlet, do you want to have your own version?”. You’ve already researched your story – when you write another piece on it in another version for radio or TV only then it becomes profitable. I could never live from the articles I write for Der Standard [an Austrian newspaper] alone.

What you’re describing sounds rather concerning. Do you see any good developments?

The Good that I see is that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel: We as journalists can survive in the future if we focus on quality. That too is the strength of us foreign reporters. We are the experts on site: We know what’s happening, we know the people und we know how the society works.
It will be better! The world always needs good journalism, we really are the Fourth Estate and we must handle this fact responsibly. Our task is to inform people correctly. That’s an issue very close to my heart.

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.

With pleasure.

The interview was held in German.