Visiting faculty testimonial: Nea Matzen

Read about journalist and lecturer Nea Matzen's exchange from Hamburg University to UC Berkeley in March and April, 2014.

Nea Matzen, German journalist and freelance lecturer at Hamburg University, and several other journalism schools in Germany.

It was amazing to see the students' projects. I got very useful hints for creating games with a journalistic approach, and advanced data journalism projects. What was most impressive for me was an interactive game giving the user the choice of how a woman in India should move around in public, trying to find a safe way.  

Joan Bieder welcomed me at the UC Berkeley School of Journalism on Monday, March 31st. She gave me a tour of the building, and introduced me to some colleagues who were in the building at that time. My plan was to stay until Friday, April 11th. But two colleagues invited me to join their seminars on the following Monday and Tuesday, which I gladly accepted. So I stayed in Berkeley from March 31st to April 15th. The following report documents my time on the exchange. 

1. Seminars attended

Ethic, Laws, and Public Purposes/James Wheaton, Edward Wasserman

An introduction to the legal and ethical conflicts reporters in all media face, with particular emphasis on the role of professional journalists in a news environment where we are no longer the only players.

My insights: A very interactive teaching style! The focus during the session I was visiting was the First Amendment and its significance for current media law.

Edible Education: the Rise and Future of the Food Movement/Michael Polland

This course aims to develop the intellectual context in which to understand, and connect, the many food stories now finding their way to the front page.


My insights: I was at first surprised to learn that it’s difficult for journalists to enter farm grounds. But I quickly realized that there are similar scenarios in Germany, when you want to report about intensive pig fattening, or laying batteries. It was fun to listen to the very enthusiastic grass farm owner telling his audience about the Europeans destroying the natural cover by taking over the grass land of the American west and growing other crops.

Photo Essay / Ken Light

Examining the process of telling stories with pictures. Students were required to complete two picture stories/photo essays of their choice. 

My insights: This class was focused on war photography. Ken Light gave an overview of the history of the profession: From Roger Fenton working during the Crimean War 1855, the work of photographers durring the Civil War, Andre Kertesz’ in World War I, Robert Capa in the Spanish Civil War, David Douglas Duncan (i.e. Second World War), Catherine Leroy and Don McCullin (Vietnam War), and David Leeson (Iraq War), as well as several more. We discussed shortly the working conditions of war correspondents, only several days after the German photographer Anja Niedringhaus had been killed in Afghanistan. Afterwards, some students presented the progress of their photo projects, and got detailed feedback. 

Advance Multimedia / Paul Grabowicz, Jeremy Rue, Richard Koci Hernandez

Two-semester class is for students who want to do a multimedia master’s project and specialize in digital media or multimedia reporting after graduation.

My insights: Amazing to see the students' projects. I got very useful hints for creating games with a journalistic approach, and advanced data journalism projects. What was most impressive for me was an interactive game giving the user the choice how a woman in India should move around in public, trying to find a safe way. The lecturers gave one-to-one advice. The first third of the class was devoted to the topical discussions, while the remainder of the class was spent reviewing and critiquing individual student master’s projects with faculty advisers. I had the opportunity to look them over the shoulder, availing myself of the profound knowledge of the advisors.

Advanced Narrative Writing / Adam Hochschild

Writing workshop, not a lecture course. Adam Hochschild (born 1942) is an American author, journalist, and lecturer. His works include King Leopold's Ghost, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914–1918, Bury the Chains, The Mirror at Midnight, and The Unquiet Ghost.

My insights: The class was talking about writing examples of two  students. It was very intense. I made more than two pages of notes. Here are some examples:

- Think of the reader as somebody who is not interested in the subject at the beginning: Our job is to invite them in.

- Frame it at the beginning.

- Ask yourself: What does the reader know about this subject?

- Relate directly o the core question, i.e. how it makes life better or not

- Is it possible to have a victim as a protagonist?

- Seeing it with the eyes of ... a truck driver, a victim, a villager, etc.

- Policy slows stories down.

- Scene, scene, scene, and characters.

- Building up to it: Climax, anti-climax, waiting, waiting … climax...

- It’s important not to have too many characters.

- Write a scene that shows the problem; let the reader see.

- You have tob e clear what your judgment is, for example: What is wrong with this program, and why is it wrong?

- What information can be boxed of? (extra pieces).

Advanced Television / Joan Bieder, Linda Schacht, Christopher O'Dea

Students learn the basic skills of reporting, producing, shooting, editing and writing for non-fiction Television.

My insights: Joan had invited an alumna. Claie Major is currently working as a freelance video reporter. It was amazing watching her unpacking her equipment: She brought everything from cameras to try-pods to lightning tools. She gave valuable hints to the group of students, focusing on typical faults of beginners, for example showing material from an interview shooting with an influential (and arrogant, as she said) business man who made her a little nervous – as a consequence she didn’t realize that he was sweating, making pit stains visible on the film. By telling so honestly about her inadvertence she made a great point: that it is the responsibility of the reporter to present the people in a respectful way. Also very helful: Her explanations of every single piece of her equipment, naming, on request, also the prices.

Longform Television / Bob Calo

Students taking this year long production seminar intend to produce work that comprises their thesis project in television reporting or video storytelling and/or producing. The primary emphasis is the production of thoroughly reported stories of the highest possible editorial and technical quality. There is an intense focus on story premise and reporting and writing style.

My insights: In this class the atmosphere was loaded with professional energy. Rough cuts, raw material and – for the guests – a finished film were shown. Bob’s and the group feedback was constructive, pointing out openly the chinks but also giving helpful advice. “Experimentation  and innovation – both in visual style and storytelling approach – is encou-    raged”, does it truly say in the comment about this course, to be found in the online program. I would have loved to come again, but I had to leave Berkele

Online News Packages / Paul Grabowicz, Jeremy Rue, Richard Koci Hernandez

How to develop interactive online news packages using best practices in design and web development.

My insights: From basics like “Writing for the Web” to advanced knowledge about online journalism, this course bundles the most important aspects for online news editors. For me it was a very interesting experience because I teach the same topics in Germany, and work part time as a news editor. Some keywords of the presentations:

- “The medium shapes the form.”

- Crucial is: Where the people read it.

- Mobile devices

- Attention span very short, two minutes average time on site

-  Web content characteristics: visual; scannable; scrollable: scroll to the bottom, more content appears; interactive; participatory; sharable.

- Structured text

- Straight leads

- Lists (gives a sense of accomplishment)

- People read during office time

- Nielsen rules: concise writing, 50 per cent fewer words than in print, one idea per paragraph, inverted pyramid, summarize what’s next, get people hooked in the first paragraph, and they will read more, bulleted lists, meaningful informative subheads, break stories up in sections, or media wise, main bars and side bars

- Best practice examples: cnn, claycord, mashable; subheads: and bbc; lists: buzzfeed, politico, mashable

- Good web writing = good SEO: the lead should be clear and contain specific, important information, and proper names; headlines should be descriptive, not clever; use sunheads with clear words; 200 words minimum (Google otherwise: not important)

Data Journalism / Tom Peele

At the conclusion of this introductory class, students will be able to both acquire, and independently build data sets and produce stories from those data sets.

My insights: Real nerds! This course was really fun, but also about very serious stuff. Peele and a friend of his taught the handling of numbers, excel sheets, and programs with such a enthusiastic approach that I visited the class twice. We learned how to analyze data through sorting, filtering, pivot tables and how to import it from excel to data base managers. But to be honest: Without practice I forgot most of it already. But nevertheless it gave me a good idea of the topic. And I like Peele’s approach: Always doubting the accuracy of data, and always connecting the numbers to journalistic questions that matter. Some tools/programs: navicat, tabula (conversion of PDF), open refine.

Earth Journalism / Mark Schapiro, James Fahn

The aim of this class is to learn about global environmental issues and review methods to report on them in a manner that is accurate, appealing, and relevant to local audiences.

My insights: As a German lecturer and journalist, I was stunned by the possibilities the students are given to travel around the world for their stories. The funding is organized by James Fahn, who was (and is) raising money given to the school’s research projects by several sponsors. He must have done a great job. Students travelled to the Philippines, East Africa, several places in the United States etc. All students presented the follow-ups of their film projects. Most impressive for me was the story about the coconut milk market: How the growing demand of this product changes the coconut farmer’s life on the other side of the word, the Philippines. The industry has exploded into one of the fastest growing beverage categories in the US. Where the water of an unripe green coconut was once regarded as waste, it’s global demand is now expected to reach around 350 million liters by 2020. Attaining coconut water is a complex and relatively expensive process largely affected by unpredictable climate change. One of the Berkeley students has been visiting the farmers on site, and is going to describe the change of their lives. The growing demand is not only advantageous for farmers.

The second time I joined the course, Mark Schapiro gave an overview of his research for his book “Carbon Shock A tale of risk and calculus on the front lines of a disrupted global economy“, which will be published on August 13th. He laid out the basic lines of his argumentation, starting with the English philosopher Thomas Hobbs. As a conclusion, he told the students that grey zones are always interesting for journalists. “There’s never an only bad, or an only good guy – if it seems to be that way: Be on alert!” And stay close to the numbers and facts: Talk fiscal consequences, talk money, not moral: Money > interests > collisions/conflicts.

Investigative Reporting Workshop / Isaac McGirk, Matt Isaacs

Led by two veteran investigative journalists from the Investigative Reporting Program, students were taken through the crucial steps of investigative reporting, from finding a story, preferably within the region, to making the pitch to researching and organizing it into a compelling narrative worthy of publication in a prominent media outlet.

My insights: The session I joined was completely hands-on. The topic: Story leads. Basic information but important for young journalists. The idea is to state the major aspects of the news story at the beginning of the piece. Some clues from this course:

- Drama, humor, facts – what works for your readers?

– Get as close as possible tot he core of your story

- Embody as many aspects of your story.

- After the outline/roadmap write the lead: it helps me to hit every point I want to read about. –

- The lead should be: inviting, as effortless as possible

- Have a single thread, not too many characters –

- Avoid clichés

- Nut graph: A paragraph, particularly in a feature story, that explains the news value of the story: this is new, this is unexpected, this is a character you never heard about

- Why does it matter to you as a reader, why should I keep reading the story

- The reader expects that you’ll come back to every point

- What would you tell a friend about it?

- Come back to the anecdote, don’t abandon it

- Read: Follow the Story, by James Stewart

- Boil down the story: what is the essence of the story? Does it have some kind of global relevance?

Investigative Reporting in Print, Broadcast and the Web / Lowell Bergman 

This class is both an introduction to the theory and practice of investigative reporting, as well as an opportunity for students to gain practical experience working collaboratively on a major in-depth reporting project. The seminar is both a place for students to be exposed to potential sources and practitioners of the craft as well as a venue to discuss and debate what we mean by “investigative reporting.

My insights: Just across the street from the Journalism School at Northgate is the Investigating Reporting Program, which is where this class takes place. Investigative research is a seldom and difficult issue for sport journalists, also in Germany where especially doping and corruption of sport managers are current topics. So it was fantastic that Pulitzer Prize wining George Dohrmann was the special guest in this seminar. It was eye-opening to hear him talking about the taboos in sport journalism, especially the NFL, about nationwide networks, the power of attorneys, FBI agents involved – and about how few stories are published. Some important quotations (not connected to each other): “People pay with their taxes for NFL stadiums.” “Which bloggers and local media are in their pockets?” “Spots journalism makes money, that means jobs.       

Class of the Erasmus Mundus students / Alan D. Mutter

Erasmus Mundus Journalism students meet and exchange their experiences, presentations of media politics and situation of journalism in their home countries.

My insights: I met several students from all over the world, listened to a very interesting up-to-date presentation about media situation in Kenya, focusing of a bill from 2013 which forces the media to reveal their sources (a consequence of TV stations publishing video material showing army people looting shops and taking money from ATM machines in the      attacked Westgate Mall in Nairobi).  

Entrepreneurial Journalism  / Alan D. Mutter

This class helps students refine and advance their own ideas for innovative journalistic and other information-delivery projects. Projects may cover any or all media and may be envisioned as either for-profit or not-for-profit ventures. 

My insights: Most importantly - I love the idea of putting this workshop in the school’s program. Every student has the possibility to discuss his or her own business idea during class. Mutter gave an overview of disruptive changes in technology, consumer behavior and economics and the enormous opportunities to develop innovative new products and technologies to inform the public. Very helpful nowadays!

Alan Mutter also gave a talk, “Who owns the media”, explaining the two sides of media business: Consumer facing, and advertiser facing. He talked about the consequences of the breaking of the old advertising model, the change from mass to individual adds, the shifting from desktop to mobile usage. Mutter is convinced that “long form journalism doesn’t go along with the digital world”. Medias' task today: Build and gin trust old times: we know what is good for you. These are only some remarks about his one hour talk. His blog: newsosaur.


Amidst attending these classes I gave my presentation about the German media system. We had a lively discussion about public broadcasting compared to state owned TV and radio, as well as about the influence of parties on newspapers.

?2. Extra curricular excursions

Before my arrival I contacted Lanita Pace, formerly at Berkeley Journalism School. She organized several visits at San Francisco based institutions on April 9th: Twitter, KQED, and Al Jazeera America.

Our first stop was at Twitter headquarter where we met with Karen Wickre, director of editorial. She's gave us a one-hour tour/overview of how Twitter has integrated into the news and social media ecosystem. We had a lively discussion with Karen about workflows and strategies for journalists using Twitter, the cooperation with politicians and journalists, as well as trainings for these opinion leader, user behavior and the consequences for possible redesigns of the Twitter platform, and several tools being helpful using Twitter, like lists and Tweetdeck. Some of Karen’s insights:

- Have several tweets for one story: different nuggets of the story;

- Post a Twitter list;

- Interaction is key;

- Build a strategy before the event;

- Behind the scenes information is relevant;

- Take advantage of Q&As;

- It all depends on whom you are following;

- People on the ground can report at least some of what happens;

- 75 per cent of Twitter usage is mobile.

Our second stop was KQED, one of the most watched public television stations in the US, also a leader in digital innovation in the public media space. There we met with the News Director Bruce Koon, who oversees a 28-person newsroom that produces news and features for regional newscasts, the website and a statewide news program, The California Report.

Our final destination was Al Jazeera America where we met with several UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumni who work for the cable news station. They are Carrie Lozano, Serene Fang and Maggie Biedelmen. Collectively they gave us an overview of the editorial products produced out of the San Francisco studios. 

3. Evaluation

According to my observations the Berkeley Journalism School for Journalism stands for several first principles in teaching journalism: 

•   Intensive training in practical skills: peer-to-peer professor-to-individual trainings in software programs

•   Motto: “After two years the students are ready for the job.” Professional know-how and entrepreneurial knowledge was a key facet of the program

•   Work samples: Production of advanced journalistic pieces during the master’s program

•   No PR

Further observations:

•   Surprising: Social media was only a touched on as a marginal topic (during my stay at least)

•   Background knowledge (law and ethics, journalism as business, conditions/market for freelancers, etc.)

•   Meeting experienced journalists / guests in seminars

•   Providing contacts to media

•   Meeting alumni / guests in seminars; also calling them

•   High identification with the school as an institution for high quality journalism as a base for a strong networks between the graduated journalists

•   Creative teaching: Drawing the content of an article

•   Journalistic entitlement: Explaining the journalistic approach to data journalism topics

•   Responsible teaching style: “Teaching teachers” and discussions; nearly no seminar papers (as common at German universities), but sometimes very long presenations of the professors without interaction

•   Practical teaching instrument: Collecting questions via Google Docs.

•   No limits of thinking: Open for creative journalistic forms/narratives

•   Great opportunities for students: Funding of research projects abroad

•   At the right time in Berkeley: Speeches of candidates for the vacancy at the school

•   Big event: Opening of the photo gallery, exhibition of Vivian Mayer’s photographs

•   Inspiring: Photographs of famous journalists in the seminar rooms, for example Dorothea Lange


4. Co-operation possibilities and suggestions for further Erasmus Mundus Staff Exchanges

I had intensive talks with Mark Schapiro and Bob Caldo about teaching possibilities at the University of Hamburg. The cooperation possibilities with Mark are already established; we are going to organize his visit at the Institut für Journalistik, hopefully in the fall semester of 2014, maybe in January 2015. I am going to stay in contact with Bob. It would be great to invite him as a guest lecturer, too.


Next exchange program visitors should – as I did – check the schedule of the Berkeley Journalism School in advance. It would be helpful if every staff member at the school would be informed via email about the guests, providing a short professional background and teaching experience. That would it make easier to involve the guest lecturers in their sessions. Also necessary is the information about when and with whom the Erasmus Mundus Journalism exchange students meet.