Journalist Elisabeth Weydt was awarded a fellowship for digital journalism for 2016 at Akademie Schloss Solitude. With a focus on the topic »civil society,« she has worked for many established online news and media platforms in Germany. In an interview, she gives insight into where her passion for stories started and her thoughts on new possibilities for telling these stories through digital journalism.
CH: You are a freelance journalist working for radio, TV, and newspapers such as NDR, WDR, Deutschlandradio, and Der Freitag, among others. What made you want to become a journalist and how did you start your career?
Elisabeth Weydt: I wanted to become a discoverer when I was a kid. Then I found out that there was no land left to discover. So now I try to discover stories. I love stories. As a journalist, you have the right to ask anyone to tell you his or her story. The first real journalistic thing I did was taking pictures of a paramilitary trying to provoke a group of peasants in Ecuador. I was doing voluntary work there and they were using tear gas and guns. More and more, people came to the valley to protest. In the end, the copper mining company that had hired the paramilitary were kicked out of the country and out of their home stock market in Canada. The sad thing is that they are now operating under another name.
CH: Your focus lies on civil society in economy and politics as well as on Palestine and Latin America: What initiated this focus and what are your most important questions and works in this field?
EW: There is so much power within civil society. Normal people can influence politics and economy when they manage to get organized. I experienced this in that valley in Ecuador, with child workers in Bolivia, in towns in Israel and Palestine, in Burma, and in my current hometown Hamburg. On the other hand, civil society is the weakest part of a society. They are the first to suffer when something goes wrong. So civil society is some kind of nucleus of almost every tendency and therefore a fountain of great vivid and important stories. They fight for big things in small spheres: for peace, nature, freedom, and justice in their neighborhoods. But they are also challenged by big things: corruption, selfishness, and abuse of power. So there is a lot of drama, but also humor and high spirits within their stories. And the reason why I am curious about Latin America and Palestine is that I just happened to get to know amazing people from there. I wanted to know more about their background.
CH: For NDR/WDR and the Süddeutsche Zeitung you worked as an investigative journalist. What was this work like?
EW: I was working in one investigative project with NDR/WDR/SZ and other internationals journalists from ICIJ (http://www.icij.org/). It was a great experience. We wanted to show how the World Bank sometimes causes more harm than good. It was inspiring to work with these professional story hunters. And sometimes it was tiring to read through all those documents and numbers. But in the end, we could prove that there is something wrong within the system of the World Bank and that there are millions of displaced people because of World Bank projects. And we could tell their stories.
CH: Digital journalism seems to change traditional journalism and opens up new dimensions in storytelling, but it also comes with some dangers concerning quality journalism. How would you judge the situation? How did the developments change your work – for the better or for the worse?
EW: The future of journalism is digital journalism. There is no doubt about that. Nevertheless, it seems that we are still unsure of exactly what that means. Very often, digital journalism looks like somebody just grabbed newspaper or TV content and put it online. However, sometimes there are remarkable projects. Developments always come with dangers and opportunities, sure. I try to focus on this one’s opportunities: Data can be used more easily; research in general is easier; collaboration with other journalists, experts, or artists is easier. Users can become part of the research, distribution, and progression of the story. The most fascinating aspect for me are the new possibilities to tell a story, to mix genres and formats. This can’t be just a mash-up of pictures, sounds, and text. You still need some kind of narration of course, whether linear or nonlinear. But how exactly, I am still not sure.
CH: You have worked with artists before. What were the projects like? What is your relation to art concerning your work?
EW: The projects I was working on with artists were a fictional movie, visual performance, and documentary films. I love working with artists because they have a more playful and less rational outlook upon the world. This can be inspirational, but sometimes also tiring.
CH: What is a good story?
EW: A good story for me is a story I keep on thinking about: pictures and sentences popping up, and reoccuring ambiances/atmospheres.
CH: What was your motivation for applying for Solitude?
EW: What could be better than a place with lots of diverse and creative people, and freedom and free time to develop new ideas? I assumed that Akademie Solitude is such a place, so I applied. And I am happy that I have received this opportunity now.