Searching actively instead of waiting in vain

In the 1980’s, journalists with an immigrant background were almost unthinkable in German editorial offices, in the 1990s they were still considered "exotic" and we saw the first positive examples in the 2000’s. Fortunately, in most media, these days are in the past. Today, we can read, hear, and see stories and reports from columnists of colour, reporters with their own stories of migration, Black news anchors and presenters from immigrant families.

Junior staff with a broad range of talents and life experiences are more in demand than ever in many newsrooms. At the same time, people with immigrant backgrounds or PoC are still significantly underrepresented in many broadcasting corporations and publishing houses. In some institutions, diverse media personnel seem to primarily serve the purposes of public image, with little or no interest in their topics and perspectives.

Come to stay

As a result, a lot of good journalists are unable to contribute their stories, and some quickly move on to other fields. For years, it has also been quite noticeable that those with diverse backgrounds are seldom promoted. Attractive recruitment and personnel policies take a different approach.

We have already listed some of the prejudices that people from immigrant families have to contend with in editorial departments. In this chapter, we’ll try to explain how to do things better.

Journalism has evolved from a profession that helped you climb the social ladder to one for children of the academic elite. All the newsrooms I know are very homogeneous. The only woman who wore a headscarf in the dpa office was the cleaning lady
Sven Gösmann, Editor-in-Chief, dpa

Checklist: How to find the best talents

Commit to diversity, address inclusivity

Media companies that want more diversity in their editorial teams should communicate this clearly in their job advertisements. At the very least, there should be a statement such as: "We welcome applications from people with an immigrant background. Or even more inclusive: "We look forward to receiving applications from people with a wide variety of social and cultural backgrounds.

The less such a statement sounds like a standard formulation, the better. Clear signals showing that you really mean this are important. The same applies to the illustrations on your website or your job ads. If you only depict white people, don’t be surprised if they are the only ones to send in applications.

Address all genders

Nowadays, it is fortunately rare to find advertisements that are directed only at "applicants". But there still seem to be some people in charge who apparently only want to work with men: This ranges from the missing asterisk for applicants* to no-gos like "...then you are the right man for our team".

The obligatory (m/f/d) is also not a good solution, because on the one hand, not all genders feel addressed by the masculine forms that precede the parentheses. On the other hand, the wording leaves out the fourth possible option: not specifying a gender at all...

Do not address genders

Even better than addressing all genders can therefore be to simply leave the question of gender out of it altogether. Instead of addressing former "male and female volunteers," the advertisement can be addressed to people who have completed their voluntary service. It is just as good as "an editorial director" to advertise a competent "editorial management".

List only requirements that really matter

Job advertisements should dispense with requirements that are not necessary for the job and exclude potential applicants. Fortunately, hardly anyone today expects "German as a native language," which for years excluded people who spoke perfect German but merely had immigrant parents. But even a "perfect knowledge of German" is not always necessary, as for example in photo editing.

And phrases such as "young team" or "flexible" working hours can be hidden discrimination traps for experienced journalists or colleagues with children. And is it really necessary for trainees to have "completed a master's degree" or can relevant expertise and experience be acquired in other ways?

Anonymized application procedures

While applications without a photo and information on place of birth, age, gender, and marital status have long been standard in the U.S. and the U.K., many HR managers in this country still insist on this information. Why? When supposedly only the applicant's qualifications are important?

Unfortunately, anonymous application procedures are not yet standard in Germany. Many recruiters seem to fear losing control and seem to think that a request for such procedures implies that they are not fair in their choice of candidates. We, however, believe that these concerns are unjustified and that such application procedures definitely deserve a chance because they bring great advantages:

  • They proactively ensure equal opportunities and thus motivate new groups of applicants.
  • They actually make it easier for HR staff to sift through the information, because only highly motivated applicants tend to respond to questions in the application form.
  • By specifying which information is relevant and by asking candidates about their specific motivation for applying, you make the whole process easier and more comparative.

Three variants of anonymized applications:

  1. Anonymized online applications: Applicants can enter only the information that is really important into a predefined online form.
  2. Anonymized application forms: Interested parties receive the application form by e-mail or post and return it the same way. Before the decision-maker receives it, the page with the personal contact information is simply removed.
  3. Retrospective anonymization: All personal data is blacked out by a person in HR before the application is presented to the final decision maker (indeed a bit time-consuming).

A guide issued by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency provides detailed information on anonymised application procedures.

Don’t voice unrealistic expectations

Some companies tend to overload their job advertisements with a whole list of requirements, knowing full well that there are hardly any applicants who meet all of them. This has consequences. Studies show: women tend to apply only if they really have all the qualifications.  Male applicants are less inhibited about applying despite their lack of qualifications. If you want to appeal to more diverse applicants, it is better to limit yourself to the essentials.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, we are most likely to trust people who resemble us. As a result, a white editor-in-chief from an academic household tends to hire a white candidate from the educated middle class. Such "unconscious biases" (internalized prejudices) are difficult to overcome and take a lot of practice to do so. More diversity in the newsroom therefore also requires diversity in the recruiting staff.

A guide for job interviews

Decision-makers in HR who clearly define all job-related criteria, who state exactly which qualifications they are looking for and whom they want for the job, and who then compare the applications with their criteria, run less risk of ultimately making decisions based on prejudices. Because there are plenty of those around: 

  • Editors of print publications believe that journalists with an immigrant background would be better off in broadcasting, because possible deficits in the German language would not be so noticeable there.[1]
  • Radio editors on the other hand consider the print media to be a more sensible option for journalists with immigrant backgrounds, because they are less visible and audible there.
  • In all editorial departments, people from immigrant families may be accused of not sharing the same values or of not "reporting neutrally" because of their origin or religion (or that of their parents). These are all invisible biases that white German applicants are not confronted with.
  • When it comes to leadership positions, women are still assumed to have less assertiveness and leadership skills than men.
  • Media professionals with disabilities are confronted with the prejudice that they are hardly capable and not resilient.
  • For good journalists with immigrant backgrounds to prevail in the profession, good decision-makers in HR and binding guidelines for interviews are needed to ensure that all applicants have at least roughly the same chance.

Using networks to find talent

Local associations and initiatives can help spread the word about job openings. The large networks of the organizations involved in this guide, with thousands of media professionals and a large number of young journalists, is also a direct channel to diverse media personnel. Another way can be to show up where the people you are looking for can be found, for example, by placing job advertisements in trendy magazines or sending recruiters to events such as Sticks and Stones an LGBTIQ* recruiting fair.

The DJV appeals to media companies to reflect social diversity in the selection of their employees - for example, in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, social origin, sexual orientation, and physical and mental condition
Appeal voiced on 5. November 2018 during the Annual German Journalists' Association DJV Meeting

Gastbeitrag: Children from working-class families in journalism

Few make it to the job interview stage

by Christian Baron

I had given up on a career in journalism before I even started. After only one year at the university, I realized that I couldn't keep up with my peers with the same career goal. It took me a long time to realize that this was not only due to personal deficits, but also had structural causes. I was the first person to graduate from high school and to attend university in my family.

When editors-in-chief select new trainees, they check to see whether the applicants wrote for the school magazine when they were still at school or worked for a local newspaper later. Anyone who wants to become a journalist must have felt that desire early on, is what is implied. People who grow up in homes without bookcases lining the walls or regular newspaper subscriptions usually feel this calling much later in life than children who grow up in academic homes.

Most journalists are children of academic parents

Even when still at university, students are expected to get articles published. Those who must finance their studies with temporary jobs because their parents cannot support them will hardly be able to do so by working as freelancers for newspapers. The remuneration is low and the time commitment high. The selection teams also lay emphasis on time spent abroad, and most of all on the number of (mostly unpaid) editorial internships an applicant has done.

It is therefore not surprising that the vast majority of journalists working in the German media are those whose parents have been to university. In her doctoral dissertation "Habitus, Herkunft und Positionierung"(2012, social scientist Klarissa Lueg researched the social background of journalists in Germany. Her results showed that more than two-thirds come from a privileged social background and have parents who are (or were) civil servants in the upper to very upper echelons of the civil service or are (or were) corporate employees with a university degree.

In 2013, political scientist Peter Ziegler did a study for the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung on the self-image and origins of young journalists. His study in schools of journalism showed clearly. "The parents of the majority of the students are civil servants. Not a single interviewed student had a father who was a labourer or blue-collared worker and hardly any of their mothers were either." According to Ziegler, these students resemble the recruiting committees above all in their habitus: "Same appearance, similar CVs with early journalistic ambitions lead to the right chemistry between a job aspirant and the members of a selection committee."

To improve access, we must drop class boundaries

When the desire to become a journalist did finally arise in me after I finished university, I applied for trainee positions and received only rejections. Three years later, in 2014, I tried again. I had prepared. I had read all the studies on the subject. Almost indiscriminately, I sent out one CV after another to the media HR departments in the country. In my letter of motivation, I deliberately highlighted my social background. And: It worked!

In response to the 30 applications that I had sent out, I received ten invitations and a whopping five job offers. Each time, it was clear that the editors-in-chief hoped I could improve the quality of the newspaper with my unusual perspective. I was left with the impression that many editors would like to hire more working-class kids; but that there is simply a lack of those who can make it through the long application process.

Only a few make it to the application

These barriers at the entry level can only fall if the boundaries of class society are opened. A lot could be gained if those in charge of recruiting would say goodbye to their fixation on university diplomas. Why shouldn't it be possible for someone who has completed a vocational training program to become a trainee? Also, if we had more editors-in-chief and department heads who also come from the working class, this would result in different topics in the newspapers and broadcasts.

There would be fewer abstract reports about "those at the bottom of society," and reports would stop being condescending, as if they were describing animals in a zoo. Best of all, not only would more people feel represented, but they would also make greater use of traditional media and see it as "the fourth power”.

Christian Baron, born 1985 in Kaiserslautern, is a freelance writer in Berlin. He worked as a newspaper editor for several years, including for "nd" and "Freitag". Claassen’s debut novel "Ein Mann seiner Klasse" was published in 2020.

Checklist: 7 steps to reach more applicants with disabilities

  1. Name a specific contact person who is available to answer questions on inclusion and accessibility.
  2. Always include information on accessibility.
  3. Publish your search ads on accessible platforms.
  4. Use the help of intermediaries in the mainstream labour market such as MyAbility
  5. Be honest! People with disabilities know that everything isn’t perfect.
  6. Just start! Even small improvements are helpful. Things don’t always have to be perfect. 
  7. Apply for grants and assistance. These include:
  • Budgets for work or training
  • Support and guidance (job coaching)
  • Workplace assistance
  • Braille Signage language
  • Technological aids
  • Further training/qualifications
  • Building modifications
Good Practice: Talent search for pros

Media content must play where the audience is. This truism seems to be new to many media outlets when it comes to recruiting: "Nobody's applying," is the most common response we get when we ask executives about the homogeneity of their newsrooms. This answer isn’t completely wrong. But it's also true that this situation be changed. Instead of waiting for diverse applicants, some media companies have started looking for diverse staff in new ways, offering talent development workshops or going directly to universities and schools.

  • In their search for trainees in 2020, the Hessische Rundfunk illustrated their ad using the picture of young Afro-German young man. The broadcaster had great success with a new working group and a new recruitment strategy.
  • Under its job advertisements SWR explicitly states that it wants to promote the diversity of its workforce: "We welcome every application, regardless of gender, cultural or social origin, religion, ideology, age, sexual orientation or disability."
  • Every two years, „WDR grenzenlos“ supports 13 young journalists from refugee or immigrant families as they enter the industry. WDR’s talent program includes a journalism workshop, speech training and the development of new formats.
  • Das einjährige Trainee-Programm „PULS Talente Programm 2021” des Bayerischen Rundfunks bietet jedes Jahr fünf Menschen mit interkulturellem und nicht-akademischem Hintergrund Hilfe beim Einstieg in den Beruf.
  • The Neue deutsche Medienmacher*innen run a Mentoringprogramm which has been successful for years.It supports up to 50 prospective journalists per year and brings them together with experienced mentors. Established journalists accompany their mentees on their way into the industry and provide them with support and advice. In addition, seminars, network and empowerment sessions are held for the participants. Sponsoring partners include ZDF, rbb, BR, Deutschlandradio, SWR, Rudolf Augstein Foundation, taz Panter Foundation, dju, hostwriter and Reporters Without Borders.
  • The rbb’s Sommerakademie "Discovering Diversity" is explicitly aimed at young journalists with "intercultural sensitivity”.
  • ZDF looks for additional qualifications in their trainees, such as time spent abroad, bilingualism, or "diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • With the scholarship program „Medienvielfalt, anders! Junge Migrantinnen und Migranten in den Journalismus“since 2008 the„Heinrich Böll Foundation“ has been granting support to young journalists from immigrant families and PoC during their studies. The programme is supported by the Tagesspiegel, the taz, rbb, Deutsche Welle, Süddeutsche. de, the advertising agency Zum goldenen Hirschen, netzwerk recherche e.V. and the Neue deutsche Medienmacher:innen, among others.
  • The „Journalismus macht Schule“ project was initiated by editors of the Süddeutsche Zeitung and has since spread far beyond Bavaria. The project is not explicitly aimed at people with an immigrant background, but it goes where diversity has long been a reality: schools. In workshops journalists talk about their daily work and discuss topics such as fake news and news sources. The project is now supported by numerous other media companies such as DIE ZEIT, rbb, RBB and VICE Deutschland, and of course the Neue deutsche Medienmacher*innen. Other media organizations are invited to join.
  • The inclusive British talent agency  Zebedee promotes people who have previously been marginalised in media. These include people with disabilities, non-binary and trans* people. 
Guest Contribution: Diversity in Training Programmes

When approaches are changed

by Hadija Haruna-Oelker und Sonja Kirste

In addition to its digital guidelines, the Hessischer Rundfunk's current strategy aims at portraying the diversity of the people in Hesse. We were therefore asked to find suitable prospective candidates for the broadcaster’s trainee programme.

We are nine journalists, most of us freelancers, who work in different areas and bring in different qualities: female, male, young, old, queer and straight, white, black and PoC, with and without migration histories, journalistic career changers, with professional skills in human resources, journalism, diversity awareness and digital expertise.

In search of interesting people

For the management and the director, using our expertise means relinquishing responsibility for the entire selection process and letting us decide as an independent commission.

It quickly became clear that we would have to make many adjustments. We formulated a direct call for applications using the less formal "Du" to address young talent. We changed the entry requirements to honour different resumes and asked questions about everyone’s motivation. We said goodbye to the hurdle of a completed degree and did not offer any bonus that would automatically favour applicants with a migration history or a disability.

Our goal was to get to know interesting people, their thoughts, and their potential, especially their journalistic potential. This was the basic requirement.

You are invited

We sent out the call for applications using various distribution lists such as those of the Neue deutsche Medienmacher*innen or Leidmedien. We produced videos for platforms such as YouTube and Instagram with the message: "We are looking for journalists of the future" and by portraying different protagonists who work for Hessischer Rundfunk we showed what we meant by diversity, fully aware that very few media houses or editorial offices in our country present society in its diversity. We did all this to signal to potential applicants: Yes. We mean you.

It goes so simple

The selection process, as we discovered, was not only about the applicants, but had a lot to do with self-reflection as well. As we discussed the influence that unconscious stereotypical thinking (bias) can have on our personal, inner decisions as a jury, we also agreed on clear selection criteria to come to a unanimous decision with every chosen candidate.

During the four days in the assessment centre, we met 36 candidates (chosen from around 300 applicants) with the most diverse facets and skills. Never had so many applicants from immigrant families made it into the company’s assessment centre. That's why we set a target shortly before the final selection process.

At least six of the twelve applicants that would be selected should have an immigrant background. We set three essential markers to be the decisive factor: journalistic potential, digital mindset and diversity awareness. In the end, we exceeded our target, and it all went so easily. Eight young journalists with an immigrant background and four without are currently working at Hessischer Rundfunk.

Hadija Haruna-Oelker is a freelance editor, author and moderator with Hessischer Rundfunk. She is a member of the Neue deutsche Medienmacher:innen and the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (ISD). Sonja Kirste is a freelance editor at Hessischer Rundfunk, activist and blogger for parents' and children's rights.

  1. 1 Vgl. Pöttker, Horst/ Kiesewetter, Christina/ Lofink, Juliana: Migranten als Journalisten? Eine Studie zu Berufsperspektiven in der Einwanderungsgesellschaft, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2016, S. 64.