‘Am Rhein, am Rhein, am Deutschen Rhein...’. Understanding of the Russian-German Mass Media
Another in the series of regular visits by German students to Moscow took place recently, as part of the student exchange programme between the HSE Business and Political Journalism Department and the Cologne School of Journalism. The programme director, Prof. Elena Penskaya talked to us about the programme’s aims and objectives .
- How long has this programme been running?
- Since 2006. We now have a standard programme;it's short (6 or 7 days), but very intensive. German students spend a week in Moscow, and Russian students spend a week in Cologne. The recent visit to the HSE was the fourth. Usually in summer, in late May or early June, 15 to 20 students from Cologne come here, become familiar with the Higher School of Economics and visit leading Russian mass media:VGTRK, ‘Mayak', ‘The Voice of Russia', ‘Kommersant', ‘Russia Today'and RIA Novosti. And in winter, in late November or early December, a group from the HSE goes to Cologne.
- What do they do there?
- Every day during the week they have lectures on German mass media, as well as on European and German economics. They visit German media companies in Cologne and in the nearby cities of Bonn and Düsseldorf.
- Do Russian students have the chance of visiting a large media company?
- Yes, of course. In fact, Cologne has a reputation as the capital of the German media! The largest companies are all clustered in this city. We visited "the holy of holies"- the headquarters of the renowned RTL Holding.
- What is it famous for?
- RTL is one of the largest and most well respected private corporations in Europe. It includes TV, publishing networks and a system of internet resources. Since its creation a quarter of a century ago, the RTL management has achieved a revolution in mass media technology and even the culture of the media business itself. Just imagine:during the last couple of decades their projects have become market leaders in the German TV advertising sector!
- That's impressive!
- Since 1992 a broad audience aged 17 to 50 has come to prefer RTL programmes. It is difficult to imagine such a situation in Russia. But in Germany it works.
- How did they achieve it?
- Firstly, the whole team of producers and managers has, consistently and effectively, in the best German traditions, implemented a concept policy and created their own, unique style. Their style unites different genres and is recognizable in dynamic talk-shows as well as news projects, analytical programmes and a whole range of TV series, from popular soap-operas to psychological thrillers and comedies. Add you can add sport programmes and such high-rated blockbusters as "Miami Vice"or "The Day After Tomorrow"into the mix. But the main strength of RTL-Television is a broad assortment of news projects, with such undeniable ‘kings of the genre'and audience favourites as ‘RTL aktuell', "Punkt 12", and "RTL Nachtjournal". Today RTL is very actively and sometimes even aggressively moving into new areas. For example, they are creating new radio stations, massive regional projects RTL NORD, Tele West and RTL Hessen, special news channels and digital interactive networks.
- How do they provide resources for such a rapid development?
- With a large conglomerate of satellite projects essential for such a fast growing media organism. Primarily, they have the RTL School of Journalism which trains personnel specially for the company. And then they have research and project media structures. They provide consulting services, conceptual expertise and analysis for the media industry.
- Have you met any of RTL's top management ‘stars'?
- Yes, we talked to Peter Kloeppel, one of the key people of the modern RTL and German journalism in general. We won't forget the excellent workshop he conducted for HSE students. It was dedicated to the corporation's ‘media know-how'. He left a very strong impression! Charm, openness, professionalism, accuracy! Kloeppel is both a special and at the same time typical case. And we somehow felt that he was very close and understandable to us. His path is instructive of itself. He was born in 1958 in Frankfort on the Main. He received a good education, and studied agriculture. Then he graduated from the Hamburg school of journalism and entered RTL in 1985 having already obtained good practical experience. At the corporation Peter tried many different activities before he became RTL's first New York correspondent in 1990. Kloeppel's moments and years of glory were his brilliant reports on the Gulf war in 1990 and 1991, coverage of absolutely all federal and state elections in Germany since 1994 ( he is second to none as a political commentator, and not only in RTL), and finally his round-the-clock coverage of the American tragedy of September 11th 2001.
The whole history of RTL's success over the last two decades is closely connected with Peter Kloeppel. He has been the engine of many new beginnings, a true lynchpin of the huge corporation. We have found mutual understanding very quickly. He thinks that ‘The main thing is the people'and ‘It is necessary to educate and develop the young generation'. This point is one of the key factors in the long-term programme of corporate development in which Peter is now engaged. In 2001 he founded his own school of journalism, and it has become one of the best in Europe. He dedicates much of his time to teaching at this school. RTL is happy, the competitors are envious:the owners have extended Kloeppel's contract till 2014. He is full of bold plans and hopes that the current economic crisis will not be an obstacle to their realization. One of our students said that visiting RTL and listening to Kloeppel was like viewing the city from the highest point of the Cologne Cathedral:the panorama is breathtaking.
The second royal gift from our hosts was a master-class by Gerd Ruge.
- Who is he?
- He is a living legend of European journalism and German television, who was the first ARD correspondent in the post-war USSR. He visited USSR several times in the early 1950's. Gerd Ruge was among those whose sketches and essays were published in the famous Anglo-American magazine ‘Encounter'. His essays were published alongside those by Isaiah Berlin, Wystan Hugh Auden, Saul Bellow, Irving Kristol, Aldous Huxley, Albert Camus and Arthur Koestler. In 1958 Ruge's ‘Visit to Pasternak'came out, and later he published the poet's biography as a documentary photo album of their meetings. Older generations still remember his 1955 reportage from "Vnukovo"airport on Chancellor Adenauer's visit to the USSR. For almost 50 years Europe looked at what was going on in our country through Ruge's eyes. In Germany they call him the man who was able to ‘bring Russia into the homes of the German audience'. Understanding this story is all the more important today, because the old image of Russia still prevails. Many journalists admit that it is very hard to bring reportage from Moscow to the air or to the press unless it is an act of terror or a catastrophe. Ruge believes that breaking this stereotype is the challenge facing young Germans and Russians. That's why it is so important to learn together.
- What was the language of communication?
- The main language of the programme is English, although some students speak German. It was a special pleasure for them to practice their German. At our department two foreign languages are taught as part of the basic programme:English and French. So, our guys feel comfortable in terms of languages.
- You said that the Cologne school of journalism is twinned with our Department. What is its structure like? How is it connected with the University of Cologne?
- The School was founded in 1968, on the tide of student protests in the University of Cologne, when they realized the necessity of working with young journalists. It has an unusual structure:it is connected with the University but functions independently. They have a minimum of staff employees, who do the organizational work. But all basic disciplines - Economics, Political Science - are taught by professors from the University of Cologne. They train journalists so that they are able to work in any type of media:network, television or press.
- Did the HSE students like Cologne?
- Yes they did! There was joy and curiosity. They were impressed with the combination of ‘living history'in the city which was almost totally rebuilt after being bombed in WWII. Heinrich Böll's post-war city, so precisely and sadly portrayed in his novels, has elements of the Middle Ages, the avant-garde XXth century, as well as the boldest architectural solutions of today.
In addition to this, the School of Journalism is located in a very special place. It is a ‘city within a city', a ‘state within a state'. An independent territory. A mass-media republic. Downtown. Glass and concrete. Modern offices. At the same time, the atmosphere is paradoxical:peace, quietness, no fuss. A still river with peaceful backwaters. You might occasionally see a hare on the picturesque lawns just in front of the school.
- What are the criteria for the selection of the students of Business and Political Journalism Department for participation in the programme?
- The selection takes into account their professional orientation, progress in studies, position in the rating. This visit is a reward for our students, since all costs are covered by the host organisation, and our hosts are always very welcoming. I'd like to express our gratitude to the project's life and soul, and one of the oldest employees of the School, Ingeborg Hilgerd.
- What are the future prospects for the programme?
- It is possible that a joint master's programme will be developed. A third partner should be involved here - the University of Cologne. We are currently in the process of developing joint workshops and research projects. Eventually our students will have the opportunity to work in the German media.
- How would you assess the results of the programme?
- I think that its main result has been achieved:we have established an active dialogue between German and Russian students. The cultural and professional experience and impressions from these trips can scarcely be overestimated. Very close professional and personal relations have been established. We have a lot in common, both professionally and ideologically. Gerd Ruge was right. The image of the country rests on our shoulders. And the role of journalists in its creation is essential.
Ekaterina Rylko, Sergey Stepanishev, HSE Web News Service