New digital experiment: The Journalism&Law course

The seminar Journalism and Law, like so many events this year, saw itself threatened by the pandemic. An event that under normal circumstances thrives on communicative and direct exchange between participants and lecturers could not take place online. Nevertheless, Prof. Hoeren’s chair decided to give it a try and invited participants from all over the country to a digital event. How excellent this decision would be was not yet foreseeable at 9 a.m. on 8 March 2021, but it would become clear in the following three days.

By Christoph Clemen

When Lennart Rödel boots up his laptop on a cold Monday morning in March, he still has to shake the last of the sleep from his limbs, but the anticipation of the upcoming seminar quickly ties him to his desk chair. After opening the wrong link from the email, he makes it to the Zoom conference shortly before 9 am. Prof. Hoeren, the organiser of the event, begins his welcoming speech. In a flash, a cascade of faces rolls across the screen. The participants have switched on their cameras. For Lennart, who in reality has a different name, as for his 24 fellow participants, a seminar begins that could not be more instructive and informative.

Just like him, all the participants experienced the days from 8 to 10 March. Not at the ITM, but at the desks and in the living rooms of this country, the journalist training for lawyers took place.

After a short introduction by Prof. Dr. Thomas Hoeren, the participants received rhetorical training. The practised rhetoric teacher had the bright listeners prepare short presentations on selected topics. For this, they were given one hour, which resulted in a twelve-minute lecture. After a few brave ones had wiped the first sweat from their foreheads, they gave their presentations. These turned out to be colourful in style. Prof. Hoeren and the rest of the audience then gave constructive criticism. The participants learned that even in the 21st century, Cicero is the measure of all things for a good lecture.

Afterwards, Prof. Dr. Joachim Jahn, member of the editorial board of the NJW and former editor in the business department of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, gave an exciting insight into print journalism in daily newspapers and trade journals. In the process, Prof. Jahn focused on the correct way of expressing oneself. He practised with the participants how to avoid typical legal phrases that often make it difficult for the reader to read. The great interest of the participants was already evident here. Prof. Jahn answered all questions about his profession and the correct way of writing.

The thematically perfect transition was then provided by Karin Istel, personal advisor to the Hamburg school senator. In her lecture “Say it simply, anyone can do complicated”, she explained which style rules the young lawyers have to pay attention to when writing a journalistic essay. It remained in the memory that one should always consider a “kiss” when writing. In doing so, Ms. Istel did not want to start an advertising block for an Italian confectionery manufacturer, but referred to the abbreviation “KISS”. The principle “keep it short and simple” is the starting point of all good writing, she said.

As a crowning conclusion to the first day, Alexander Rupflin, freelance reporter and former participant of the seminar, reported on his experiences. He taught the participants about his career, shedding light on both his professional and emotional commitment, which is reflected in the means of presentation of his choice – (court) reportage. Especially due to the close proximity in time to the field of participants, he was able to answer the ensuing hail of questions with flying colours and thus quenched everyone’s curiosity.

On Tuesday, Anke Zimmer-Helfrich, editor-in-chief, and Ruth Schrödl, editor, from the C.H.Beck publishing house, presented their everyday work in the editorial office. 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 concepts such as erNeuerbar, Justitia, EiS, Klecks and Recht*Divers. Topics ranging from international court decisions, renewable energies and youth to diversity were legally framed. Afterwards, there was a discussion and Ms Zimmer-Helfrich and Ms Schrödl were able to give insights into their daily work. Political questions were also lively discussed.

At the end of the second day, the participants were able to listen to Dr. Wulf Schmiese, head of the editorial department of “heute-journal” on ZDF. He emphasised the correct classification of work in public broadcasting. He literally burned into the participants’ minds how important good research is and how seldom mistakes happen if one strictly adheres to one’s own guidelines. In an exciting and informative way, he punctuated his report with anecdotes, such as his reporting trip to Afghanistan at the beginning of this century. The questions that followed were complex and were answered patiently by Dr. Schmiese. A little late, but with their thirst for knowledge satisfied, the participants were then dismissed. Despite everything, the heute-journal took place punctually at 9.45 pm.

On Wednesday, Rudolf Porsch, deputy director of the Axel Springer Academy, showed possible paths into journalism. This was extremely informative for many participants who are on the edge of starting a career and deciding “law and/or journalism”. Digitalisation is changing journalism and training. The Axel Springer Academy is a pioneer in this. Mr Porsch made it clear that you have to specialise in order to be successful: “Universal dilettantism is deadly for your career”. The subsequent discussion then focused on important career issues that were burning under the fingernails of the participants.

Ina Reinsch, editor of ARZT & WIRTSCHAFT and freelance journalist, then presented the feature as a form of presentation between report and reportage. After she had given a theoretical classification of the feature, she explained together with the participants how to implement the feature in practice. In doing so, she emphasised that the feature makes the experience of an individual as a proxy for general events comprehensible. At the same time, it offers an exciting introduction to a highly informative topic. New forms of presentation then led to new questions, which Ms Reinsch answered very precisely.

Dr. Ina Holznagel, former senior public prosecutor and now head of department at the Ministry of Justice in North Rhine-Westphalia, explained to the group what difficulties the public prosecutor’s office has to overcome in press relations. After she had explained the legal basis, those present were allowed to try their hand at tricky press enquiries. The question of whether the nationality of suspects should be made public was then the subject of a lively discussion among the participants.

In the last substantive part, the group was able to enjoy a familiar face. Prof. Jahn honoured the participants again. To deepen what they had learned, the group could try their hand at revising a failed press release in the famous “Emmely case”. Prof. Jahn then gave constructive criticism of the original and the reworded press releases. From this, the participants were able to draw valuable assistance for their future writing.

The seminar ended with the awarding of certificates. No one was left with unanswered questions. Every participant learned a lot and can now get a more accurate picture of the countless professional fields in which law and journalism are linked.

What was experienced could then be discussed and processed in a relaxed Zoom round in the evening. This gave the participants the opportunity to network.

Lennart, like many of his fellow participants, fell into bed late on Wednesday evening. His thoughts were still circling around the last few days. He was tired, but very satisfied. A variety of opportunities had come his way this week. Whether his path will lead him into journalism or into the legal profession remains to be seen. What is certain is that he now knows both paths.

The ITM would like to thank Prof. Dr Joachim Jahn, Karin Istel, Alexander Rupflin, Anke Zimmer-Helfrich, Ruth Schrödl, Dr Wulf Schmiese, Rudolf Porsch, Ina Reinsch and Dr Ina Holznagel.