Interview with Carsten von Nahmen of DW-AKADEMIE”We’re competing with others – and boring news is news that no one will watch.” [Archives:2006/965/Reportage]

July 20 2006
Carsten von Nahmen
Carsten von Nahmen
Ismail Al-Ghabiri
Carsten von Nahmen, 37, heads the Middle East Regional Team of DW-AKADEMIE, the training department of Germany's international broadcasting service, DEUTSCHE WELLE. He currently is in Sana'a with two of his colleagues, Udo Prenzel and Charles Achaye-Odong, to conduct a workshop on “TV News and Current Affairs” with journalists and cameramen from Yemeni TV's Channel One and Channel Two. The two-week workshop is taking place July 8-19 at the Sana'a-based Mass Communication Training and Qualifying Institute, which has been cooperating with DW-Akademie for many years.

What is the purpose of your visit to Yemen?

We're here for a two-week project, a workshop on “TV News and Current Affairs” for journalists and cameramen from Yemeni TV's Channel One and Channel Two. DW-AKADEMIE, the training institute of DEUTSCHE WELLE, has been training journalists and technicians from Yemen for many years now. We hope we can even extend this cooperation in the next few years, thanks also to the support of our Yemeni partner organization, the Mass Communication Training and Qualifying Institute in Sana'a.

What are the objectives of this workshop?

Our main objective is communication – a dialogue between Yemeni and German media professionals about media ethics, journalistic principles and technical standards and similarities and differences in our daily work experiences. Of course, we're here as trainers as well and we surely believe that we have the competence to teach our Yemeni colleagues some new “tricks of the trade,” if I may say so. But at the same time, we're here to learn ourselves about how to deal with certain conditions in a political, material and cultural context, which is very different from our reality in Germany.

Also, it's a trademark of DW-AKADEMIE trainings that we don't come to another country telling people, “This is the way we do it, this is the only way to do it and you must do it this way.” That would be quite arrogant and also very naive because every country has its own history, culture and political reality. So, you can't simply take the German or European model and transplant it to another region of the world.

But what we can do, of course, is explain how we do things in Germany and why we do it that way. Very often, we then hear from our colleagues, the participants in our workshops, “This is all very nice, but we can't apply that here.” For us, that's not the end of the discussion – it's the starting point. Then we can ask, “Why isn't it possible? Has anybody ever tried? What would be possible in the context of your country's cultural and political situation?” because we believe that within any given framework, there's room for improvement somewhere.

Clearly, each country must find its own model for its particular political system – and for the role the media must play in that system. But there's something you might want to call “international standards,” both concerning technical quality and journalistic quality. And in the age of the internet and satellite TV, every broadcaster has to compete for its audience with dozens of media organizations from all over the world. So, it can't be in the interest of any broadcaster, not even a state broadcaster, to not meet those international standards and this is where we can help.

What will be the major contents of the workshop?

We're focusing on the main elements of TV news and current affairs shows; first of all, of course, how to write news with a clear emphasis on clarity, preciseness and simplicity. That means short sentences and simple language. Another emphasis is on reliability, which means checking and rechecking facts because credibility is the most important currency of any journalist. If viewers don't believe what we broadcast or if we make too many mistakes, they'll simply switch to another channel and we might as well stop working.

The second big topic we're looking at is the news report. Here, we have the conviction that in television, we must first tell a story through pictures. It's no good to write text and then put some pictures with it – that's radio with pictures, not television. We believe the pictures should carry the story, with the text as a complimentary vehicle for information. That means more work, but also a better result – a report that's both informative and entertaining for the audience. Once again, we must keep in mind that we're competing with others – and boring news is news that no one will watch.

The third big element we're looking at is the interview as one of the most basic and most important forms of journalism. The main emphasis here is that we want to encourage our colleagues to try new things, look at unusual angles and not be afraid of difficult questions. After all, a journalist is doing an interview as the representative of his or her audience, so his or her main concern should be, “What does my audience want to know?”

The most important thing in doing interviews is not to have a long list of questions, but to know what you want to know and listen what the interviewee has to say. It's the same principle as in any conversation between ordinary people – only if they listen to each other and react accordingly will there be a worthwhile flow of information.

How many participants are taking part in the workshop?

There are 16 in all: 12 journalists, including four women, and four cameramen. Most participants are from Channel One here in Sana'a, but five work for Channel Two and have come all the way from Aden for this project.

How can you assess cooperation between Yemen and Germany in the field of media?

Germany and Yemen have a long history of cooperation in many fields, including the media. DEUTSCHE WELLE and DW-AKADEMIE have played a leading role here over the years, but I think it's only fair to say that a number of political foundations and non-governmental agencies from Germany also have done their part. And I particularly would like to mention the German Embassy in Sana'a, which has supported us and others in every possible way. The most important factor, though, is that Yemenis, particularly those in the media, have met our efforts with great openness and a sincere interest in exchanging views and work methods. So, as far as DW-AKADEMIE is concerned, we're hoping we can further increase our engagement in Yemen from next year onward regarding both technical and journalistic training.

For me personally, Yemen is an extremely interesting and fascinating country with a rich history and culture, a country that, on one hand, is very different from my own in many ways, but on the other, has had very similar experiences to Germany, particularly when you look at our two countries' experiences of division and reunification. So, I guess there's a lot we can learn from each other especially in the media field.