Earlier this month we had a visit from Rainer Hasters, the executive director of RIAS Berlin, a commission dedicated to the binational understanding of broadcasting in Germany and the United States.  Rainer came to the class to give us a perspective on coverage of news in Europe.
Rainer Hasters (right) with Ambassador William R. Timken Jr. – Chief of the Diplomatic Mission of the United States of America

Mr. Hasters’ visit focused specifically on how Germans get their news.  What seemed to be most shocking about his talk was that having a television required a usage fee.  Thus, many Germans get their new from other sources.  In Europe, Mr. Hasters says, people are more inclined to use older and more traditional sources for news, specifically newspapers.  This was especially interesting since in the United States, newspapers are in trouble, and one can use as many televisions as one desires without paying a usage fee.  In this way, we were introduced to how the Europeans get their news from a completely different perspective.
Part of this perspective comes from the fact that the newspapers aren’t the same type of paper.  In the United States, it is the goal of many papers to offer as close to a non-biased perspective as possible.  In Europe, the opposite is true.  Often, the newspapers are written to support a particular political party or movement.  They are written to discuss not only the event, but also what that party feels should be the response to that event.  While there are suggestions that certain papers have certain political influences (i.e. the Wall Street Journal or any other NewsCorp. paper having a more conservative bias), there is nothing that even approaches this type of coverage.  In the US, something like this would be covered in a newsletter or other secondary source of information.
Another interesting perspective on news in Germany is in regard to its television coverage.  Unlike its print news, German television focuses on one particular show, the Tagesschau.  As Mr. Hasters said “Everyone in Germany watches the Tagesschau.”  This is the main source of television news for the entire country, a drastic difference from the United States where people watch any of the networks or the cable news channels.  This is an important aspect of how the Germans recieve their news since it focuses people’s attention on particular news events, it also focuses discussion on those events for a greater understanding.
Other important aspects of German television news, is its lack of advertising and lack of onscreen personalities during reports.  The lack of advertising allows for more stories to get covered and for greater analysis of stories.  This provides a more focused look at the news and allows for more details to be laid out.  The lack of onscreen presence for its reporters is important since it focuses the audiences attention on the images from the stories themselves.  It is also important to note that the one person who is on screen, the anchor reads from paper on the desk as oppossed to from a teleprompter.  This is due to the fact that “Germans are used to more traditional news coverage, and so they continue to read from paper in front of them” says Mr. Hasters.  From an American perspective, this is very different since television news in the United States is always about the latest and greatest technologies, most recently high definition programming.
Mr. Hasters visit was eye-opening.  It provided an in-depth look at how other people in the world get their news and forces people to consider whether some of those conventions should be used in American news.  This consideration is at the heart of RIAS’ mission, and part of why they continue their exchange program to this day.  It forces one to consider that perhaps there is a better way to cover news.