The Perks and Quirks of Journalism

Der Spiegel is a German weekly news magazine, well known for its investigative political journalism. With a circulation of 840,000, it is one of Europe’s largest weekly publications. On a recent visit to the Berlin office of Der Spiegel, the students of the Media School Nepal program got the opportunity to discuss about how journalists work in a big media house with an editor, Ann-Katrin Müller. Along with the nitty-gritties of the journalistic process, they also got insights about how the online audience is affecting journalists in their work including online harassment of female journalists.

Ann-Katrin Müller has been working for Der Spiegel for three years. She began as an intern at the media house and is now an editor who works in domestic politics. Müller talked about Der Spiegel, her work as well as her experiences as a journalist. Her work entails researching, talking to people, going to events and asking questions.

“There are different ways of researching a story. For example public appointments like press conferences or other meetings with politicians where journalists are invited and you can ask questions publicly. Then there are lunches and evening appointments where lots of people from politics and other institutions gather. And you can always try to call or meet them and get more information.”

Der Spiegel as a weekly news magazine is also known for its investigative political journalism. So, according to Müller, working for Der Spiegel always means going a little beyond the story and being critical about what information is given to you.

“For example, I would not only talk to the minister that makes the law but also to the people who critique it like other politicians and experts and get their opinions, so that I have a really broad background.”

Müller’s work also includes interacting with an increasing online audience. The feedback she gets from online commentators and social media users is sometimes constructive but more often abusive. “There are lots of insults being sent on Twitter or via e-mail. I’m often accused of being stupid or lying. Whenever I write or tweet about women’s subjects or feminism, I’m also called ugly, lesbian and fat. There are trolls who look up information about you and tell you – that doesn’t feel so good. And then there are the ones who write long emails threatening you, even with murder, or wishing you to get raped.”

Müller says there are particular issues that cause most of the attacks on the Internet. “There are three subjects where it gets very intense on the Internet. That’s when I write or tweet about women rights, as I said before, or when I write about the right-wing populist party called AfD or when I write about refugees.”

Social media abuse and online trolling of journalists are a global phenomenon. However, this sort of feedback is directed disproportionately towards women journalists. According to a report by Dunja Mijatović, the media freedom representative for the Vienna-based Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), female journalists and bloggers are increasingly being singled out and attacked online. They face abuses as well as threats of killing, rape and violence.”

Müller says, that this is true for her as well. For instance, when Müller co-wrote an article about sexual abuse in refugee camps, she got trolled and abused. However, the male colleague that she wrote the article with didn’t get abusive e-mails telling him to get raped by refugees like she did. Most of the time they write with hidden identities anyway, so the police can’t do anything either.

Even though Müller faces all these abuses, she remains unfazed by it and continues her work. She still reads these emails because according to her it is important for the journalistic process. “I think it helps to know what you are working with and what kinds of feedback you get. However, it’s not worth answering them, wasting your time on them. ”

Preeti A. Karna

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