Advice from a wannabe

Maria-Xenia Hardt

When I was 12 years old, I told my family that I wanted to be a journalist when I grew up. A sports journalist. By 2022, I announced, they would all be able to watch me on TV, commenting on the final match of the soccer World Cup. My family expressed skepticism and quietly hoped that I would change my mind and switch to a more promising career — medicine, perhaps, or at least teaching.

But my career path was set. Well, at least the beginning (being 12 years old and deciding to become a journalist) and the end (reporting on that match in 2022) were set. Everything in between was vague and blurry. There is no set path — at least not in Germany, where I grew up.

In contrast to the United States, studying journalism at university in Germany is very uncommon. Only a few universities offer degrees in journalism. Besides that, there are only a handful of renowned journalism schools — you don’t have to pay fees, but the entry is extremely competitive (about 2000 applications for 20 spots). Most people have completed at least a bachelor’s degree before they enter these schools, and those who get in are very likely to land a very good job afterward. Out of the 40 graduates of the last two classes at the most renowned journalism school, 30 got a permanent job with major newspapers and magazines, and the other 10 found work as freelance journalists and foreign correspondents.

The vast majority of aspiring German journalists, however, never makes it into these schools and instead enters the field through other routes.  If there is anything that one could call the “usual way,” it would be this: Study anything you like, start working early on for whatever type of media interests you, try to get extra qualifications outside of university and try to find an area to specialize in. After university, you will probably still have to complete a practical training for 18-24 months at very low wages and hope that someone will offer you a job afterward.

These are not exactly the prospects to ease your constantly worrying parents’ minds. Believe me, I am sometimes worried myself. I have completed four internships, two with newspapers, one with a major radio station and one with a TV production company. I have worked for an online magazine for two years, and I made it into a very good scholarship program that not only adds to my monthly budget, but also provides an excellent cross-media training with hands-on workshops during school holidays. It could be much worse. And still, sometimes I have doubts because I am aware that knowing the tools of journalism is not enough and that this truth is not country-specific but universal. Having a degree from a journalism school, be it from UT or any other school in the world, is not enough. It’s not about how to become a journalist, it’s about how to become a good one.

I think that the best thing you can do to improve your chances is to start writing, and keep writing. The same goes for photography, radio and television. If you can do all of them, even better. Do it as often and as intensively as you can. Meet people. Lots of people. They increase your likelihood of finding a job. They also enhance your chances of making a living as a freelance journalist. Build a network — and by network, I don’t mean the old guys who are running media today, but the passionate aspiring journalists around you. Their ideas and potential will change journalism, and you’d better be one of them when it happens.

I don’t think it’s going to be easy, but I think it’s going to be possible, and most of the time I think it’s going to be worth it. There are still too many stories out there, and we need to tell them.

Hardt is an English junior from Freiburg, Germany.