If the Trierian friend of the people reported on the government in Rhineland-Palatinate, the author was clear. Florian Bad. Schlecht is 38 years old, volunteered at the newspaper and made a name for himself for good analyzes. If the Rhein newspaper Commenting on the debate in the Mainz state parliament, the author was clear. Carsten Zillmann. Zillmann started working as a freelancer for the newspaper when he was 16, and moved to Mainz three years ago. If the general newspaper about Hahn Airport … the author’s name was Ulrich Gerecke.
All three men have something in common: they were national correspondents for their newspapers until recently or are still a few more weeks away – and they all change as spokespersons in ministries. Florian Schlecht to Minister of Labor Alexander Schweitzer (SPD), Ulrich Gerecke to Minister of Education Stefanie Hubig (SPD). Carsten Zillmann has been the spokesman for Economics Minister Daniela Schmitt (FDP) since the beginning of September.
Are these individual cases that are now piling up after the state elections in March – or is it perhaps a structural problem when several correspondents decide not to comment on politics anymore, but to communicate it?
Of four regional newspapers, three lose their correspondents – not the first series of changes
From a journalism’s point of view, the changes are fatal. Colleagues in Mainz speak of “a catastrophe”, of “an exodus”. This is because there are four major regional newspapers in Rhineland-Palatinate that, roughly speaking, have divided the country into four directions: the Rhein newspaper is strong in the north that Rheinpfalz in the south that general newspaper in the east and the Trierian friend of the people in the West. Of these four regional newspapers, three are losing their correspondents. That’s one thing. The other: It is not the first series of changes. Gerecke’s predecessor at the General newspaper today heads corporate communications for the Rhineland-Palatinate CDU. Zillmann’s predecessor at the Rhein newspaper is now Deputy Government Spokesman. The spokeswoman for the state government was an editor at SWR.
So a structure after all?
If you ask colleagues who are now going to the ministries, they all have personal reasons. But if you also talk to colleagues, especially in regional newspapers, you hear stories that are similar: from conferences in which people talk for a long time about which topics digital subscriptions could bring – and committee meetings tend not to. From main buildings in which the colleagues work in shifts while the correspondents should always be available. Bad mood, austerity programs, high pressure.
It sounds like this: “Before I write an article, I like to call ten people so that it is well founded. But if I work through two texts plus x a day, how can I do that?” Or like this: “Appointments on evenings and weekends, all the party events, I didn’t even count that into overtime. I was burned out.” Or like this: “In the end I was no longer satisfied with my lyrics.”
They are stories of alienation. It is a lot about a lack of appreciation and a lack of security and about the fact that this is more important than salary. And when it comes to salary, it’s not about the number on the payroll – but about the fact that the number is no longer in relation to the work. Those who start in a ministry cannot count on a regular evening after work, but the starting salary is often well above what a journalist with professional experience earns.
Andrea Wohlfahrt is the state chairwoman of the German Association of Journalists in Rhineland Palatinate. She has often seen colleagues switching from journalism to politics, and not just in Mainz. In Berlin, Steffen Seibert no longer speaks for ZDF, but for the federal government. The former state correspondent of the SZ now works for Markus Söder in Munich. But such an accumulation in a federal state?
Entire editorial offices are not yet changing like in the USA
Therefore, something else is also worrying for them: How the relationship between journalism and politics is changing.
No, she says, she is not afraid of conditions like in the USA, where not only individual correspondents change, but also entire newspaper editorial offices. “Not yet.” But newspapers are also withdrawing from the area in Rhineland-Palatinate. Of the Trierian friend of the people – to name just one example – belongs to the publishing group of Saarbrücker Zeitung. If you put both newspapers next to each other, you will find that they have come very close. International, national, business and world are identical. In the local area, reporting areas have been merged in recent years, what used to be the Saarburg local part, now also covers Konz and the high forest. Colleagues left again and again, but the work didn’t get any less. It wasn’t until May that the news came that the Trierian friend of the people wants to close his print shop in Trier – meanwhile, printing is also taking place in Saarbrücken.
While on the one hand not only the people but also the expertise associated with them are decreasing, the other side is becoming more and more professional. In Mainz there are now colleagues in the minister who know the editorial offices, their needs and needs. The other parliamentary groups in the state parliament. The topics. Ulrich Gerecke has worked his way into the state’s educational policy for years, and in the spring he criticized the test supervision in schools. Now he will soon be speaking for the Minister of Education. You could also say: She brought one of her most accomplished critics to the team.
When the state press service was to be renamed Newsroom, the DJV sounded the alarm
The DJV sounded the alarm in May 2019. At that time, the state government announced that it wanted to convert the state press service into a media service. “In the future, in addition to representatives of the press, citizens will also be informed more directly and can enter into a dialogue with their government,” the statement said. The planned name for it: Newsroom. This is also the name of the newsroom of a newspaper. The name, after all, has been withdrawn again. For the state government it was a contribution to transparency at the time, for Andrea Wohlfahrt it is a further temptation for the editors, a shift in the borders.
Most of the press releases that are sent out by political parties and media services today already have a heading and subtitle, maybe even a photo. They are well prepared. If fewer and fewer people are sitting in the editorial offices – does not the probability of simply taking over these messages also increase?
Only: The classification, the independent evaluation is missing. There is no counterweight.
Wohlfahrt therefore appeals to the publishers and editorial offices. Despite economic pressure, you should not just look at what is clicked well and use that as a benchmark. “That sounds so banal, but the first task of a newspaper is not to entertain, but to inform.” This might then also help colleagues who have the feeling that they are only of limited interest in their work and their well-being.
What did one of the men who will now work for a ministry say? “It’s a problem when I say in the editorial office that I’m going to change and my colleagues pat me on the shoulder and say, man, congratulations, if I had an offer I’d be gone too.”