Introducing our News Lab Fellows in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria

This past year, we’ve brought the Google News Lab Fellowship to the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Korea. Last Friday, we were excited to kick off our first class of Google News Lab Fellows from Germany, Austria and Switzerland at the Google Office in Berlin.

The program across all of our geographies has been unified by a common purpose: to develop the next generation of reporters working at the intersection of journalism and technology by providing students the opportunity to work with some of the best journalism organisations in the world.

In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, however, we structured the program slightly differently. We partnered with sixteen media organisations across the region to give young data journalists and developers a two month placement. We believed this emphasis on building both reporting expertise and technical skills could empower media organisations to foster innovation in digital journalism in Europe. Over the next few months, we look forward to seeing that vision put to action.

Our Fellowship Day

We kicked off the Fellowship day at the YouTube Space in Berlin to visit the studios and learn best practices around building a brand on the platform. Of course, no YouTube Space visit is complete without testing the equipment — so the fellows were able to try out Google Tilt Brush, exploring a virtual world and discovering their hidden talents as artists.

We then came back to the Google office in Berlin, where the fellows learned more about the Google News Lab and discussed what the current trends in digital journalism mean for young data journalists and developers. We asked each fellow to name three words that came to mind when thinking about the future of digital journalism and got some fascinating answers.

We also wanted to open the door to Google and give the fellows an opportunity to learn more from Googlers working in the broader media ecosystem. Gerrit Rabenstein, Head of Strategic Relations News & Publishers, shared insights about the Digital News Initiative, the second round of the Innovation Fund, and trends in digital journalism. With the U.S. election in full swing, Lutz Mache, a policy analyst in the Berlin Office, talked about how he sees technology playing a role during the upcoming German elections in 2017. Kristina Leipold, a project manager at the Cultural Institute, discussed her work using cutting-edge technology to digitize and preserve artistic and cultural artifacts.

During the course of the day’s discussion, the fellows also hit on a great idea for bringing the News Lab community closer together: a News Lab Fellowship hackathon. With such a diverse group of fellows — data journalists, developers, graphic designers, machine learning experts — we felt there was great potential for this idea and are looking forward to bringing it to fruition. (Stay tuned for more on that front!)

Meet Our Fellows

Here are our new Google News Lab fellows in their own words — as they describe their backgrounds, their thoughts on the future of journalism, and their favourite journalistic work.

Alexa Steinbrück, Zeit Online

Background:

I studied Fine Arts in Dresden, Aix-en-Provence and Toulouse as well as Artificial Intelligence in Amsterdam. I love finding answers and solutions for technical and visual challenges that require research, empathy and sensitivity. I currently work as a freelance web developer.

Thoughts on innovation in journalism:

I believe it is important to build new forms of communication that are responsive to the ways people perceive information. For example, for me, I find it helpful when textual content is not simply presented linearly. More broadly, I believe journalism should be willing to innovate formats that both surprise and enhance understanding of content.

Favourite piece of journalism: Radiolab about “Musical Language“

Christina Brun, Express

Background:

I am a multimedia producer. I try to tell stories that reach people, are honest, and provide food for thought. I enjoy working at the intersection of art and journalism and like to grapple with the symbiosis between the two. In 2015, my project “Stories beyond the wall” was awarded by the Jugendprojekt-Wettbewerb.

Thoughts on innovation in journalism:

In today’s media landscape, we too often neglect constructive and positive journalism. The media is too influenced by what’s going wrong and the various disasters in this world. Our world is fast-paced and while it is important to report on breaking news, we should also turn our attention to persistent social and cultural issues.

Favourite piece of journalism:

Fractured Lands: How the Arab world came apart” by The New York Times

Deniz Örnek, VOCER

Background:

I studied Marketing / Technical Business Administration (Bachelor) and Next Media (Master) at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW). My work as a journalist started at Radio ZuSa, Gruner + Jahr AG & Co KG, and the Bauer Programm KG.

Thoughts on innovation in journalism:

I am very interested in the the change brought on in journalism by digitization. I like to focus on the positives: it helps journalism become more effective, faster, and cheaper.

Favourite piece of journalism:

During my Masters, I focused on recommendation systems and its challenges through filter bubbles. Here is my Master’s thesis ;)

Diego Wyllie, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Background:

I studied business computer science at the Technical University of Munich and have been a software developer and journalist working in the IT industry for the past ten years. I specialized on web and mobile applications and am the co-founder and CTO of TrackingTime , a startup that offers productivity software for small and medium-sized enterprises. As a journalist, I also write for Computerwoche, t3n, TecChannel, PC-Welt, CIO and some other publications.

Thoughts on innovation in journalism:

The Panama Papers, which includes more than 11 million documents, shows that today’s media needs new tools and working methods. Innovation in journalism therefore means one thing to me: equipping journalists with modern technology and the best tools in order to tell the increasingly complex stories of tomorrow.

Favourite piece of journalism: I am a big fan of Vice News, and in particular, their stories about the Islamic state or the refugee crisis in Europe.

Elena Erdmann, Wirtschaftswoche

Background:

I studied computer science and mathematics at the University of Dortmund and
at the Tec de Monterrey in Mexico. I learned so much in Mexico — from complexity theory to participation in the Robot Soccer World Cup. Today, I am doing my PHD at the department for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at TU Dortmund. I am also part of Journocode, a group focused on journalism and coding.

Thoughts on innovation in journalism:

The internet today is documenting so much information and data. We can now use that data to more effectively conduct complex research. The methods don’t differ significantly from conventional research — but technology has made it faster.

Favourite piece of journalism:

I am fascinated by how machine learning can already be used to simulate creativity. Recently, Google presented WaveNet, a technology with which a computer can read text in the voice of a random speaker. Wow!

Felix Michel, Correctiv

Background:

I’ve been fascinated by natural and artificial languages my entire life. During my studies in language and communication, I worked as a translator, writer, web developer and teacher for German. It wasn’t until 2014, during the Basler TagesWoche, that I realised that I want to work as a journalist. Today, I work as both a journalist and a web developer.

Thoughts on innovation in journalism:

Innovation in journalism starts with discussion at the ground level. Readers can’t be perceived as simply consumers anymore. They also give input. They also share and distribute knowledge. And modern technologies are at the foundation for this interaction.

Favourite piece of journalism: A piece by Zeit Online about the most critical days in September 2015

Fidel Thomet, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Background:

I’m an interaction designer with a passion for data stories, web-based technologies, and interactive installations. After I graduated at the Zurich University of the Arts, I specialised in data visualisation and data literacy — focusing on open data — at the statistics office of the city of Zurich.

Thoughts on innovation in journalism:

Only “good” stories can exist in the digital battle for attention and reach. Therefore, innovative journalism is about finding new journalistic narrative forms that allow us to convey content in the best way. This development requires courage for experimentation, interdisciplinary teams, and time.

Favourite piece of journalism: I have two favourite stories: 1) “Your phone is now a refugee’s phone” by the BBC; 2) “M29 — Berlins Buslinie der großen Unterschiede“ by Berliner Morgenpost

Hans Hack, Berliner Morgenpost

Background:

I studied film and animation in England and world heritage studies in Germany. Since 2006, I’ve worked as a freelance artist. In 2013, I began to program and develop my first web applications by specialising on map solutions. For a few years now, I’m working as a freelance web developer for Heinrich-Böll-Foundation, Lokaler, and giz.

Thoughts on innovation in journalism:

I’m excited about experimenting with new narrative formats without losing sight of the story. I also enjoy using complex data sets to develop a story that was not apparent from just looking at the raw data.

Favourite piece of journalism:

The “Zugezogenen Atlas” by Berliner Morgenpost

Katharina Zingerle, Der Standard

Background:

I am about to complete my M.A. degree in Journalism and Communication Studies at the University of Hamburg. As an undergraduate at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies at the University of Vienna, I specialised in broadcast and radio journalism. So I’m currently working as a speaker at Audio2, a company that specialises in audio description for the blind and visually impaired people. After running my own actors agency, I wanted to get back into journalism and gained experience at NDR, Geo, Stern and Spiegel.

Thoughts on innovation in journalism:

The technology is changing and so are the ways we display content. We should not lose our focus on well-researched content and keep journalistic quality high.

Favourite piece of journalism:

I am a big podcast fan and podcasts are finally arriving in Germany. I really like “Der Anhalter” by WDR.

Nikolaus Kommenda, Die Presse

Background:

I studied computer science during my Bachelor studies in Vienna but didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it. Then I discovered the Masters program “Computational and Data Journalism” in Cardiff (Wales), which combines web development with classic journalistic disciplines. This where I belong — exactly at this intersection.

Thoughts on innovation in journalism:

Someone is innovative when he or she never says “but we’ve never done it” as a reason to reject a proposal, a story, or a technology. I look forward to boldly experimenting with new ideas.

Favourite piece of journalism:

Great data-driven story by the New York Times on “The new geography of prisons”

René Bucken, Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung

Background:

I studied German and Social Sciences in Münster.

Thoughts on innovation in journalism:

Innovation in journalism to me means being able to provide readers with new access to information. For example, it can mean anything from providing readers with new apps, platforms or channels to consume news to letting readers play with interactive and more complex graphs.

Favourite piece of journalism:

My internship with the “Audience Engagement” team at Rheinische Post had long-lasting impact. I was so impressed by their listening center and the way they systematically filter relevant news for the region.

Sakander Zirai, Rheinische Post

Background:

I have Russian-Afghan parents and came to Germany when I was a baby. Until graduating from high school, I’d continually asked myself if computer sciences or journalism would be the right choice for me. I began by studying computer sciences at TU Dortmund but also ended up taking on science journalism. I’m a part of Journocode, a group of journalists with a passion for programming, which has become a very important resource for ideas, inspiration, and joint projects. Last year, I had the chance to spent a year at the University of Tokyo, which demonstrated the endless possibilities of data journalism.

Thoughts on innovation in journalism:

Innovation in journalism means one thing: cross-functional teamwork. I also believe that there is still so much potential for crowdsourcing, open source intelligence, gamification, virtual reality, and machine learning in journalism.

Favourite piece of journalism:

Not a new story but I was impressed by Reading the Riots from The Guardian.

Sarina Balkhausen, Kurier

Background:

I am Sarina, always on the hunt for new things, and a European citizen by heart.

Thoughts on innovation in journalism:

Innovation is reflected by inclusive work ethics and the right usage of technology to make information available for everyone.

Favourite piece of journalism:

Fractured Lands — how the Arab world came apart” by the New York Times was an eye-opener for me. This interactive documentary helped surface trends that I wasn’t familiar with in a very impactful way.

Sebastian Bayerl, Mittelbayerische Zeitung

Background:

I am currently studying interactive Media Systems in Augsburg in my last semester. I’m mostly fascinated by the intersection between technology and the user. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are areas in journalism that really excite me and where I see great potential.

Thoughts on innovation in journalism:

I think combining new technologies with new narrative formats by also using gamification elements will offer users new perspectives and a different experience of news, particularly for daily consumption.

Favourite piece of journalism:

My list of great examples for augmented reality and virtual reality is long — especially because everyone is currently experimenting with this new form of storytelling.

Konstantin Seitz, Mittelbayerische Zeitung

Background:

I am studying Applied Information Technology and Media information at the University of Regensburg. For the past 3 years, I’ve also been working as a freelance journalist, photographer, and filmmaker.

Thoughts on the future of journalism:

Journalism has dramatically changed. We are moving away from print to digital-first journalism. This is an opportunity to combine different formats and develop our stories in a more dynamic way (i.e., videos, audio, interactive maps). I think there is still much room for experimentation and this is just the beginning.

Favourite piece of journalism:

Definitely, the Panama Papers. I am still so impressed by the extensive and thorough research effort that went into the publication of the Panama Papers. The fact that 376 journalist across 76 countries worked collaborated secretly and under a lot of pressure showcases the technology can play in empowering great journalism.

Simon Huwiler, Spiegel Online

Background:

I grew up in a small village in Switzerland — far away from technology :) Still, my passion for technology grew over the years and so I became a software engineer. I eventually realised that my passion also lies with journalism and started to study journalism and organisational communication at the ZHAW Winterthur. Now, I am ready to discover the future of journalism.

Thoughts on the future of journalism:

Innovation in journalism means surviving in the media landscape. Today, readers and users are even more picky on where, when, and how to consume information, and the competitors from abroad became a bigger threat than ever. Innovation (internally & externally) is the only solution in order to position yourself well for the future.

Favourite piece of journalism:

The complex and award-winning documentary “Uni Transparenz” by the SRF Data team about vested interest of Swiss universities.

Yasmine Sihite, Blick

Background:

I am a multimedia producer with a passion for animation and innovative news formats. I am currently finishing my Bachelors as a media engineer at the HTW Chur. My Bachelor thesis was focused on millennials and their usage of social media platforms as a source for news.

Thoughts on the future of journalism:

Innovation will require existing and new resources. I believe it’s a false assumption that content has to be simplified or shortened for online publications. Quality reporting should still be the first priority, both online and print. Journalists should use all available technology to experiment and develop new multimedia formats.

Favourite piece of journalism:

The documentary “Secrets of a Global Super Court” by Chris Hamby (Buzzfeed News) impressed me because of his combination of a global perspective and the personal stories.

Huge congratulations to our News Lab Fellows in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and thank you to our 16 media organisations for participating in this program! We look forward to seeing you experience the fellowship, develop innovative projects and news products, and further pursue your careers in journalism. This is just the beginning of a community that we believe will continue to power innovation in journalism in Europe.

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