… BEFORE YOU THINK ABOUT OPERATING A MUNICH TRAM. Precarious times for journalists all over Europe. Sci journos are particularly vulnerable and the first ones to get laid off. Jan Oliver Loefken*, chairman of the German Science Writers TELI, told an audience at Munich’s International PressClub how to survive the crunch. Here are his 10 golden rules for freelancers.
- Sci journos are no loud speakers or cheer leaders for science, but provide the CRITICAL view! They not only describe how stuff works, as many scientists have become experts in popular writing. Journalists have to examine research with a magnifying glass: What, for example, do research results mean for society? How do they relate to the economy? If these angles are investigated by journalists specialized in economy, as it happens, they most likely will get the science wrong. So the societal and economic impact is a rich niche to discover for sci journos.
- Become a TRUFFLE PIG or scout in the search of new topics! Every three years the output of scientific papers is doubled. However many science journalists sort of rely on other colleagues to set the agenda. That’s not very professional. Subscribe for the journals – not only Science and Nature – or visit libraries regularly. The Bavarian State Library for example has the latest editions of 18 000 (!) journals in stock.
- Don’t assemble just the facts – tell a STORY! That’s essential for the success, makes your pitch more convincing for the editor and guarantees many readers, viewers, clicks. The emerging new art is “scrolling telling”. Not only a fascinating story unfolds when you scroll down, but also short films, various picture stories or readers’ comments (see tools and multimedia realizations below). So you must be prepared to take pictures and record videos when you research your story and swarm out for interviews.
- Don’t rely on traditional publishers and conventional business models – explore NEW MODELS of FINANCING! For example crowd funding. The German “Krautreportermagazin” 1 generated one million Euros from the online community. “Fail Better” 2, soon to be launched by two Hamburg-based journalists, is made just for tablet computers. The yearly subscription will be around 50 Euros and provide science at its best, as Denis and Georg announced at the European conference for Science Journalists in Copenhagen in June 2014 3.
- Don’t get too specialized – rather pursue a BROAD-BASED strategy! You need six different customers. Each year you will lose two. So be always on the outlook to acquire new ones.
- You have to be a good BUSINESSMAN and almost an exhibitionist in terms of talking constantly about what you do. Be present in all social networks. In Google you must score among the first ten hits.
- Think about yourself as a BRAND and nurture it. Give your media products a special design, make them recognizable, promote them in networks.
- If you accept work for PR outlets, ask for DOUBLE or TRIPLE fees. This is your compensation. Industry is more generous with money than regular media.
- Be prepared to MODERATE scientific events and related public activities such as conferences of technological companies or citizen science debates.
- Additionally to the general media is the SPECIALIZED media with thousands of titles. In the past, many journalists lived very well off them, but nowadays not too many science journalists venture into this treasury.
During the discussion, other interesting aspects popped up which add up to these recommendations. For example Alex Gerber, professor for science communication at Rhine Waal University, stated that WRITING IN ENGLISH opens a vast new market. That was supported by Hajo Neubert, former EUSJA president who said that UK newspapers pay much better than German ones. And that the journalists’ English must not be perfect; the editors will bring it into shape.
Gerber picked up on Loefken’s elaborations about the business part and specified that according to the newest curricula students are trained to become ENTREPRENEURIAL journalists with a wide scope of skills all listed by Loefken, including information technology.
Franz Miller ran for many years the press office of the Fraunhofer Society and served on various award juries. He observed that science journalists always want to work for the most prestigious media outlets which have only a very few openings. “RESEARCH ORGANIZATIONS offer very good job opportunities for science journalists which are not only second choice”, the former Fraunhofer communication boss said.
Gerber who once worked under Miller reinforced this view. He pointed at PRIVATE ENTERPRISES such as Swiss banks which publish outstanding magazines to topics of scientific topics 4 and pay extremely well which is not very well known among sci journos. These were the good news – and the bad ones?
According to a study of the German Journalistic Association DJV 5 every 2nd journalist in Germany works as freelancer. On the average, she or he earns as much as a CLEANING WORKER. Probably much less, if you are a sci journo, mused the Munich PressClub guests. The journal interviews Ralph Beuth, who reported for 20 years about IT. Now he is the conductor of a Munich tram.
More PROFESSIONALISM could help to prevent such a fate and to get your fair share.
* Loefken is, among others, editor-in-chief of Wissenschaft aktuell, a science news site, in existence since 16 years, http://www.wissenschaft-aktuell.de
More about Multimedia-based Storytelling:
TOOLS -> http://pageflow.io
Another one is the Aesop-Story-Engine which connects with Worldpress and produces multimedia-based blogs http://aesopstoryengine.com
THE PROTOTYPE STORY –>A multimedia-based story realized by the German broadcaster NDR: