Our first scholar – The Helpdesk initiative

What is the Helpdesk

The Helpdesk responds to some of the challenges exiled journalists in Germany are facing – with the goal to empower them and to support them to continue  their journalistic work.

Besides co-ordinating and financing different support initiatives, like legal support and trauma therapy, we award micro-scholarships for internships to strengthen the professional development of exiled journalists.” says Katrin Schatz, Helpdesk Manager

And this is how I met Heba, our first scholar, who already impressed me from our first phone call – with her determination and great ambition towards journalism and her future.” 

If you are interested in ECPMF’s scholarship, we interview our first scholar, Heba, who tells us what this process has been like for her. 

Heba Alkadri working in taz’s Berlin newsroom | Photo: Heba Alkadri

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom: What draws you to journalism? And why do you want to be a journalist?

Heba Alkadri: As a child, I always wanted to be a journalist. My mother used to say I needed pens and paper more than food. But I don’t remember the times when print journalism was doing well and journalism was a respected profession. I only know journalism as a forbidden profession and journalists who have disappeared and were tortured. In Germany, I  constantly hear talk of crisis and underpaid jobs.

Nevertheless, there is much that attracts me to this career.

Individual stories create clichés. And the problem with clichés is not that they are untrue but that they are not complete. The media is often talking about migrants and refugees. But they are hardly ever given a voice. They are rarely well-represented. The problem is of course: there are not enough migrants in the newsrooms. Between 1 and 3 percent of journalists in the German media has a family history of migration. Therefore, I feel obliged to pursue this career and to tell the untold stories.

The media do not have a great influence on what the public thinks about individual topics but they have a considerable influence on what the public thinks about in the first place. I want to work in this job so that I can tell the stories that would otherwise stay unheard.

How did you find the Helpdesk scholarship?

Rebecca Roth from New German Media Workers (Neue Deutsche Medienmacher*innen) informed me about it.

How are you finding internship at taz?

The philosophy of the media house is dear to my heart. taz is an independent medium financed by the readers. On the inside, taz with its editorial leadership and flat hierarchy, is open and transparent. Hardly any newspapers are like that.

taz is like a home for many people – me included. I feel good, respected, like I belong here. “Your news is important to us. Your name must not be mispronounced”, that’s what they [my colleagues] said from the very first day. That gives me strength!

What kind of work do you do day-to-day at taz, and what new things are you learning?

Everyday we have a short meeting for our beat. Afterwards we go into the big meeting which often lasts for 45 minutes. Everyday we sit together with the editors and trainees and we all scrutinise the printed pages. Everyone has a say.

I’m learning here how to write a story that’s interesting to our readers. I learn how to get to the point and what terms should be used. I wrote a story about a Syrian woman. The editor pointed out that I had generalised it. I learn how a national newspaper works and how to get along nicely with the others. I have made new contacts.

Any published work? What kind of stories are they?

I did an interview with the district spokesperson for the Greens Ulrike Seeman-Katz. I’ve written about press freedom in Iraqreviewed a podcast and published a short story about what happened to me when I was 16. That was published on the sixteenth anniversary of our news desk.

At the moment I am working on an interview with a Lebanese journalist about the role that the media are playing in the non-violent resistance movement. And on an exciting story about a Syrian woman who has befriended an elderly German woman, and it’s not despite the age difference but because of it! 

Print Edition of taz | Photo: Heba Alkadri

How is the scholarship helping you complete your internship?

My plan was that when I accepted the internship at taz, I would get a part time job, on the side. That would mean working for sixteen hours every weekend, so that I could pay the rent. That would have been very difficult!

With the stipend I can pay my rent. At the weekend I can do research and write. I can relax and go to interesting events. I don’t need to worry about the money. I can discover Berlin and concentrate on what’s important. Since German is not my mother tongue I need twice as much time (to do my job) as compared to many of the other interns at taz. That’s why I often write at weekends, so that I can publish as much as possible.

You have done other unpaid internships, what makes this internship experience different, because of the stipend?

I did an internship in my city. I knew that it was unpaid. But I thought that I would be paid for my published articles. But that was not the case!

I associate journalism with quality. I would rather sell a good falafel than write a bad text. That’s why I also write outside working hours. I did long interviews. I was happy with my work. But in the end I was disappointed not to receive payment. It was frustrating.

You can say what you like about quality journalism. But when your bank account is empty you have to ask yourself, was it worth it? Or was I naive to do what I’ve done. This doubt poisons your mind. But the stipend made me stronger.

This interview was translated from German, and lightly been edited for clarity and brevity.

To read the interview in German, click here

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