German initiative brings refugee reporters into local journalism

Germany has taken in more than a million refugees since 2015, and plenty of stories have been written about them. But, according to the founders of a new project called Newscomer, the views and opinions of refugees themselves are rarely featured in mainstream media coverage.

by Simone Flueckiger | January 29, 2018

Hoping to reverse this trend, they have launched a mentorship scheme, in which a refugee or foreign journalist is partnered with a local journalist in Germany, enabling them to collaborate on stories.

Foreign journalists are paid the standard freelance rate for the stories they produce, which are published in the news outlet their respective partner is affiliated with. So far, eight pairs of journalists have been brought together as part of the project.

Tackling diversity issues in German media

By participating in the programme, local newspapers can enrich their coverage and make it more inclusive, while foreign journalists gain valuable work experience and the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the German media industry.

“There’s been a discussion around diversity in German media for quite some time,” said Patrick Bauer, freelance journalist and one of the four co-founders of Newscomer, explaining what prompted the creation of the project.

“There aren’t enough people from a working-class background, there aren’t enough women, and there aren’t enough people with a migration background. As a result, and regardless of which group is underrepresented, you will always have ‘blind spots’ in a newsroom,” he said.

In October, the Newscomer team organised its first workshop to help pairs decide what they want to collaborate on, and flesh out workflows and goals. They are now working independently, but the co-founders check in with them at least once a month to find out where they stand, and answer any questions that might have come up.

Added value for readers

At the Trierischer Volksfreund, a newspaper in the southwest of Germany, two pairs are working together on stories.

One is made up of Nathalie Hartl, who joined the paper in April 2016, and Ayad Lateef, originally from Iraq. He earned a master’s degree in German studies from the University of Baghdad, and has recently handed in his PhD thesis at the University of Trier.

The other pair consists of David Falkner, who started working at the Volksfreund at the same time as Hartl, and Jamal Kanaan from Syria, whose career as a journalist and editor in his home country spanned more than two decades.

“On the one hand, the project is of great value to readers because it gives them access to perspectives that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to portray,” Hartl said.

“On the other hand, I personally find the intercultural component really interesting as well as seeing the way people from Arab countries write, as their style is often much more colourful and metaphorical, which also makes one grow on a professional level.”

In an editorial meeting, which takes place roughly every two weeks, the group discusses story ideas or works on and finetunes the columns produced by Lateef and Kanaan. Lateef writes in German, and also helps translate Kanaan’s stories, which are written in Arabic.

Another example of the shape this type of collaboration can take is a video series created by Egyptian journalist Ali Elbahnasawy together with Jens Dierolf from Heilbronner Stimme newspaper, in which Elbahnasawy explores his new hometown, the southwestern city of Heilbronn.

While the series offers a different take on what are common features or occurrences for many residents, for the paper in question it is also an opportunity to reach new audiences.

According to Bauer, nearly 50 percent of the population in Heilbronn have a migrant background, but hardly anyone from that demographic engages with the paper.

A broader trend to better integrate refugee journalists

In March, Newscomer will hold another workshop for project participants, this time centered on video production.

“Video, aside from traditional text-based storytelling, is a very good tool for these teams because they don’t have to spend too much time on the linguistic subtleties, which are always important in newspapers,” Bauer said.

Newscomer isn’t the only project that works towards integrating and better representing refugee journalists in the German media ecosystem.

Other initiatives pursuing a similar goal include the “Neue Heimat” (New Homeland) column produced by four foreign columnists and published in Süddeutsche Zeitung; a supplement called “Wir wählen Freiheit” (We choose freedom), which featured articles from exiled journalists from numerous countries and appeared in newspaper Der Tagesspiegel; or “Media Residents”, a network for people with a journalism background launched by the “Gesicht Zeigen!” association, which tackles racism, antisemitism, and xenophobia in Germany.

Share via
Copy link