Updated Thu, Jul 19, 2012 1:52 pm
Visiting the headquarters of Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk allowed me to experience a small part of the media industry in Germany. Headquartered in Leipzig, Saxony, the company broadcasts news and entertainment throughout southeastern Germany.
The company formed a few years after the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall, reuniting the western and eastern halves Germany. Many of the company's employees started working at the station when it opened in 1991. The company soon faced the problem of employing an aging workforce and needed to bring in some younger, creative minds. This opened the door for the education program, similar to an internship in the United States.
The interns explained the complicated process for landing an internship with MDR. It includes five written tests administered to narrow the pool of nearly 500 applicants to only 10. The selected interns then train at the station for around 18 months, all the time hoping for an unlikely job offer after successfully completing the program.
In the United States, many students intern between ages 18 to 23, however I worked with 26-year-old Caroline and a 31-year-old Torsten, both interns at MDR. Many Germans start studies at a university and internships later in life than a typical student in the United States, especially in the competitive media field.
Torsten grew up in northern Germany and spent a year in Des Moines, Iowa. He and I immediately connected when we discovered a common interest in the NHL and ice hockey in general.
He follows the New York Rangers, a huge interdivisional rival of my beloved Pittsburgh Penguins, but we set our differences aside and talked about NHL coverage in Germany and the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, the professional ice hockey league in Germany, at lunch.
Caroline also grew up in northern Germany on the Baltic Sea. She talked about the differences of growing up in a small town away from much of the political turmoil of the late 20th century and reminisced about her trips to New York City and San Francisco and expressed an interest to visit Athens, Ohio. We explained the Brick City is no Big Apple or San Fran, but offered her a place to stay if she ever found her way to Appalachia.
Torsten and Caroline thought up an idea for the "sports group" involving interviewing random persons on the streets surrounding the studio, challenging them to contests pitting Germans vs. Americans.
I served as the American representative in the arm wrestling and thumb wrestling contests, C.J. participated in the long jump and staring contests, and Carrie battled for the red, white and blue in a spirited rock, paper, scissors match.
Many Germans happily participated in the contests, and despite our best efforts, swept the United States in all five contests.
We convinced the owner of an "American" clothes shop called "The American Spirit" to take on Carrie in rock, paper, scissors. Apparently, all American men wear cowboy hats and boots and bolo ties, and all American women wear sundresses and oversized hats. The owner of the shop, Frank, needed some help understanding rock, paper, scissors, but ultimately defeated his American opponent. I blamed beginner's luck.
To film the recap of the news story, Torsten and Caroline took us to the highest point in Leipzig. The park at the top of a small hill offered a gorgeous view of the city and an excellent background for the announcement of our winner, Team Deutschland.
We learned a lot about German media from the interns and the presentations put on at the studio. Most journalists in Germany work as freelancers, fulfilling short contracts with different outlets. Only the best of the best of the best land a permanent gig.
On a more personal level, networking with the MDR interns offered me an incredible opportunity to establish a relationship with a young professional in the same field as me working thousands of miles away.
I hope to maintain a professional and personal relationship with the interns for at least a few years, talk about successful endeavors and failures, and develop ideas for future collaboration.
- Jacob Betzner