> Journalism and law – a report

If you’re afraid of work, you shouldn’t be a journalist!” This remark by ZDF journalist Britta Hilpert should prove to be extremely accurate for the participants of the additional training course “Journalism and Law” at the end of an intensive week.

A report by Hendrik Risthaus

In the week from 2 to 6 March, the ITM hosted the nationwide unique journalist training for lawyers for the twentieth time. Apart from exciting lectures of renowned advisers and advisers the block seminar made possible in practical exercises the 14 young participants from completely Germany to learn the journalistic tools of the trade.

After a short introduction by Prof. Dr. Thomas Hoeren, the rhetorical skills of those present were put to the test. Under time pressure they had to prepare and present 15-minute lectures on selected topics. The critical analysis by Prof. Hoeren, who is also a trained rhetoric trainer, showed, among other things, that Cicero’s speech structure still lends itself to structuring a lecture even today.

Dierk Schlosshan, lawyer and former speaker in the International Affairs Department at ZDF, then gave an overview of press law. In this context, the legal bases relevant for working people in the media were highlighted. In addition, current cases such as the Künast judgement, the Höcke judgement and the Ibiza video were examined in detail.

Prof. Dr. Joachim Jahn, member of the chief editorial staff of the NJW and former editor in the economics department of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, then gave an exciting insight into print journalism in daily newspapers and trade journals. Prof. Jahn focused on the right way of expression. He warned those present against formulations that are common for lawyers and often make it difficult for the reader to read. In order to deepen what they had learned, the group could try to revise a failed press release.

On Tuesday morning, Jan Bessling, Head of Marketing and Communication at Oppenhoff & Partner, gave the participants an insight into what work in the marketing department of a major law firm looks like. In practical exercises, he explained to the group what it takes to become an independent lawyer. In an editorial conference, the seminarists learned which current topics are suitable for drawing attention to their own practice through good press work. Those present were also able to practise writing a press release for a large law firm.

Andreas Janning, former WDR editor with a focus on law and justice, spoke about the professional opportunities for a lawyer in the media. First of all, he provided each participant with a concentration-enhancing portion of glucose and a poster of the “Sendung mit der Maus” (programme with the mouse), which probably triggered a fascination for journalism in the young years of one or the other inquisitive person. With fresh attention the group could then follow the examples of successful justice reporting on television. Mr. Janning further emphasized the importance of practical experience and encouraged everyone present to become a journalist as early as possible during their studies.

“Just say it, anyone can do complicated”, Karin Istel, freelance journalist and former editor, admonished the audience. She explained which style rules the young lawyers had to observe when writing a journalistic essay. In doing so, she pointed out a problem of lawyers: “They simply know too much! The legally knowledgeable author should not presuppose too much knowledge of the readers. She also warned against stylistically unattractive formulations, followed by lively discussions about “special privileges” and the correct use of “seemingly” and “seemingly”.

After Karin Völker, editor of the Westfälische Nachrichten in Münster, had introduced those present to the technique of court reporting, the next day the young lawyers went to the Münster courts. The deputy court spokesman of the regional court, Dr. Gregor Saremba, first introduced the job description of a court spokesman. The participants then visited various negotiations in order to write a court report on the subject. In addition to two proceedings at the Regional Court – a multi-million-dollar case for embezzlement and a case concerning a VW diesel engine – the report also covered trials from the Local Court: an insolvency trial; a criminal case in which a young man was carrying brass knuckles; and an administrative offence case for speeding. Afterwards, Karin Völker discussed the sometimes very different reportages in detail and came to the conclusion that sometimes an at first glance unspectacular trial can be an interesting court reportage.

On Thursday, Anke Zimmer-Helfrich and Ruth Schrödl, (chief) editors at the C.H.Beck publishing house, presented the job description of an editor and that of an editor. Afterwards it was up to the participants to design their own legal journal. In order to develop a contemporary journal, the young lawyers came up with some exciting ideas for the concept of data, ITI and telos.

Dr. Ina Holznagel, former senior public prosecutor and now head of department at the NRW Ministry of Justice, explained to the group the difficulties that the public prosecutor’s office has to overcome in its press work. After she had explained the legal bases, those present were allowed to try their hand at tricky press inquiries. The question of whether the nationality of suspects should be mentioned in public was then the subject of lively discussion among the seminarists.

A joint dinner at the Mocca d’Or enabled the group to discuss the experiences of the past days once again in a slightly different atmosphere.

On Friday, Rudolf Porsch, deputy director of the Axel Springer Academy, showed possible paths into journalism. In doing so, he made it clear to the participants that you have to put all your heart and soul into your job, not only in the BILD editorial office. In any case, a career in journalism is not attractive for the money: “Why should a job that is fun be well paid? However, Mr. Porsch made the profession of journalist appealing to the participants again through his many experiences and the captivating glimpses behind the scenes of the BILD newspaper.

At the end of the exciting week, Britta Hilpert, head of the ZDF foreign studio in Vienna, gave the participants an interesting insight into the professional life of a journalist on television. Using practical examples from TV, she showed how the law can help journalists, but also hinder them in their work. Whether at AfD rallies or when researching for the uncovering of fraud with EU subsidies in Slovakia – the law was omnipresent and for the journalist it was both a curse and a blessing.

The awarding of the certificates finally marked the end of a week that was both labour-intensive and extremely instructive for the young participants. The practical insights into the interface between journalism and law made the fear of journalistic work disappear and the participants went home encouraged with new impressions and full of zest for action.

The ITM would like to thank Dierk Schlosshan, Prof. Dr. Joachim Jahn, Jan Beßling, Andreas Janning, Karin Völker, Karin Istel, Dr. Gregor Saremba, Anke Zimmer-Helfrich, Ruth Schrödl, Dr. Ina Holznagel, Rudolf Porsch and Britta Hilpert.