How do I develop my journalistic skills

Ms. Schendel, you studied art history, prehistory and early history as well as classical archeology. When did you want to become a journalist?

If I am to be honest, I never had such a wish. Very early on during my studies I switched to work in a museum and only read the job advertisements for art historians really late, towards the end of my academic training. Again and again the desire for editorial or journalistic experience emerged, which should round off the scientific activities in the museum area. So I first completed an internship in the local section of the Ostthüringer Zeitung (OTZ) and, through freelance work, slipped into the traineeship at the Thüringische Landeszeitung (TLZ) within nine months. That was a great stroke of luck. At that time, the national culture department of the paper was looking for an art historian to round off the profile of the newspaper, and I came straight from my studies and took my chance. Although, as I said, I never intended to become a journalist, I don't want to miss this experience and the time there. And finally, it has not only helped me journalistically, but also through museums.

After completing your master's degree, you were at the Ruhr School of Journalism from 2012 to 2013. Why did you choose this additional training?

Nowadays, many editorial offices also have their young journalists trained externally in journalism schools. Since I did a shortened traineeship at the Thüringische Landeszeitung, at that time I was also employed by the Thuringia newspaper group (now Mediengruppe Thüringen), which in turn is part of the Essener Funke media group. Almost all of the volunteers in this international media group receive their journalistic hardware from the Ruhr School of Journalism in Essen.

How can you imagine your training there?

At the journalism school there are writing seminars as well as training in journalistic forms of representation and the possible branches of reporting. Of course you can only get to such a journalism school after you have already proven yourself journalistically, have the tools, a lot of experience and a "good writing". Incidentally, I acquired the latter not only through freelance work for culture editorial offices, but also during my art history studies. There you actually learn at an early stage what is important in a well-founded text. I am really grateful to my professors at Jena University for their constructive criticism. After all, they are not entirely "unlucky" themselves journalistically.
But ultimately, the trainers at the journalism school ensure that you deepen your knowledge and provide the necessary "polish".

After your time at the journalism school, you worked as an editor in the cultural department of the Thuringian national newspaper. What exactly does an editor's day-to-day work look like?

Get up, shower, get dressed ... No, kidding aside. My day-to-day work, even during the short Volos, usually started with an editorial conference. There the topics of the day are presented, plans are made for the rest of the week and so on. Most of the time I have already been to appointments in the morning, doing research or the like, in order to, of course, alternate with colleagues during the day, to write the texts, prepare the layout and plan the topics for the next day. Often the entire daily schedule was completely changed by a death report from a writer or director. The editor has to keep an eye on his e-mails and reports from agencies such as Dpa or Epd and coordinate the freelance workers. At the end of the working day, the ritual has become common for me to stay ten minutes in the quieter editorial rooms in order to lower my adrenaline level again to the sounds of Debussy. In the most stressful times, I was in the editorial office from seven in the morning until twelve at night. Now I have decided to work as a freelancer for various media in order to be able to write my doctoral thesis with a largely independent schedule. Unfortunately, this was not possible during the editorial work.

There are a large number of courses that explicitly focus on writing culture journalism, for example at the University of Hildesheim or the University of the Arts in Berlin. In your opinion, what are the advantages of having a humanities and especially art history background?

A very big one. While journalism students learn something about working in the editorial office, art scholars receive specialist expertise along the way. These experiences accompany them through their entire professional life. But further training is actually essential. Graduates don't get very far just with a degree in hand. Ultimately, what counts is the practical experience you have gained on the side. In addition, studying art history in particular prepares students to “look properly” and to draw the right conclusions from what they have seen. That always helps - be it with the layout, the reception of a work of art or when writing a theater review. Continuing education courses like the ones you mentioned are of course very beneficial for your professional career - especially when it comes to practical experience (as a rule, internships in editorial offices are part of the training) and the networks with other journalists and editorial offices, which of course later open up opportunities on the job market increase significantly.

What is your advice to students who decide to work in cultural journalism before or during their studies?

Educate yourself comprehensively! Read as much as you can, including print media. And don't trust every post that can be found on the internet. Wikipedia can be wrong too. It is better to pick up a dictionary or a Brockhaus from time to time and acquire comprehensive general knowledge. You will need it. And do as many internships as possible. The best is crossover, in print, online, radio and television, in magazines, locally, regionally and nationally - and also try your hand at PR departments. Many journalists from the cultural sector also work there, but mostly on significantly better terms and with a little less stress than in the editorial offices. That is also a question of collateral. PR positions usually do not shrink as quickly as those in editorial offices. Today the media industry likes to save on personnel. And anyone who thought they had a secure job ten years ago, with an open-ended employment contract (which is (almost) no longer available for young professionals), can be on the street tomorrow. Wanting to do something with the media is still one of the most popular goals among students, but if you really want to succeed, you need a lot of commitment and perseverance. And an idealism that overlooks the too often far too small wallet. Needless to say, only a few and the best make it to the end. As a student, you shouldn't be under any illusions and always be critical of your abilities and goals. Because the already existing oversupply of willing workers offers employers an ideal opportunity to choose the journalistic elite.

In addition to a good letter, what do you think is important to make an interesting contribution to art and culture?

Good contacts. Being able to write well is of little use if there is no way to publish something. A healthy network of different clients, from local to national journalism, from newspapers to online, radio, television and PR departments, helps a lot. And what my old editor-in-chief Hans Hoffmeister once said to me during the job interview applies: "If you write, you stay". And he was right. Once you have proven yourself and delivered good texts in a certain area (for example cultural journalism) over a longer period, the clients usually approach the journalist on their own. In addition, nowadays there is the possibility to make a name for yourself by writing your own blog, especially if it is networked via the new media. But be careful: bloggers are usually not very recognized by journalists because there are often no objective quality criteria on which the texts are based. Many lay people write there on topics that scientists and "real" journalists would of course deal with differently and more skillfully. Nonetheless, a good blog post can come from a professional writer or a scientist. And what is also important for young professionals: Build up a second mainstay. It may well be that you can't make a living in journalism. In this case, you should come up with a plan B and work on it in parallel.

You are currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Jena. Are there any other projects that you are dedicated to?

I am currently working as a research assistant in public relations at an art museum and as a lecturer at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, developing a concept for a philosophy museum as part of a team, giving laudations and am still well taken care of in journalism. I really enjoy the variety. Working freely can be a big step into the unknown, but being self-employed gives me the freedom I currently need in order to be able to devote myself scientifically to my Dutch baroque theme.

Do you already know where to go after completing your doctorate?

I let myself be surprised.

We wish you much success!