Interview
10/10/2022

Göran's treasure of experience

Around 11,000 people "create" at Hubert Burda Media - many of them for a really long time and some for a lifetime. For them, Burda is a little piece of home that has grown close to their hearts. In this new series, we introduce colleagues who have been working in the family business for at least 10 years. Today: Focus Online chief reporter Göran Schattauer (55), who had his first day of work with us 20 years ago in 2002 and since then has experienced a lot of exciting, unusual and literally "crime ripe" things.

How did you get into journalism?

I was born and grew up in the GDR. In 1987, after my Abitur, I got a traineeship at my home newspaper, the "Volkswacht" in Gera, Thuringia. I was 20 years old at the time. It was important for me to work in the politically rather unsuspicious sports section, for two reasons: Firstly, as a non-party member, it was easy to escape the pressure of the SED henchmen. Secondly, and this was the decisive factor: The job offered the perspective of coming to the "West", to European Cup matches or World Championships. That was my dream, my drive - besides the desire to write stories about people.

Then, at the time of the fall of communism, you switched from sport to politics. What did you experience there?

Shortly after the end of my traineeship in autumn 1989, I landed as a young editor in the politics and news department - and experienced the most exciting and thrilling times you can imagine as a journalist: The fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the communist regime, the change from a "socialist daily newspaper" under the dictates of concrete-headed state ideologues to a privately owned media company in which free, independent and non-partisan journalism were not empty words but everyday life. It was the biggest and most drastic transformation ever to take place in the German media landscape.

What was it like to suddenly experience freedom of opinion and freedom of the press after all the restrictions?

As a young reporter, I totally enjoyed the new freedom. Revelations about the Stasi involvement of GDR bigwigs, secret torture of opponents of the regime, uncovering scandals in the East German church and the inhuman system of GDR psychiatry - suddenly everything was possible. My new life as a journalist also included interviews with Willy Brandt, travelling to see the Rolling Stones and Neil Young, or taking a rickety truck from the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund (Workers' Samaritan Association) to bring relief supplies to war-ravaged Mostar in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina. "On the side" I studied communication and media sciences in Leipzig.

Nowadays, we all work on a PC or laptop. What was it like for you back then?

In terms of craftsmanship, my first years as a journalist fell into the era shortly after the Stone Age. I typed my texts on a clunky typewriter, covered mistakes and changes with a piece of tape and overwrote them. In those days, agency news was still carried into the offices by hand, black-and-white films were developed in darkrooms, typesetters joined letters cast from lead to form words and eventually entire newspaper pages.

How did you later come to work at Focus?

I worked for almost 15 years at what is now called the "Ostthüringer Zeitung", which belongs to the Funke Media Group. Sports, politics, culture, business, news, local affairs, reporting - I was able to gain experience in almost all departments and learned the job from scratch. It was a great time that I can only recommend to all young journalists. I was grateful for every opportunity to meet new people and to write down their stories. The fact that I enjoyed writing and that some good texts came out of it was also noticed by others. For example, juries of prestigious journalism prizes (e.g. Theodor Wolff Prize 1991, Ludwig Erhard Prize for Business Journalism 2000) or those responsible for large magazines and weeklies. I didn't accept the first or second offer, but the best one - from Focus in 2002.

At that time Helmut Markwort was Focus editor-in-chief. What was it like to work with him and what did you learn from him?

The step from the East German provinces to Munich, from a small regional newspaper to a modern, innovative news magazine, was the second transformation I underwent as a journalist. Actually, I wanted to stay for a year at most and then return home with new experiences. In the end, it turned out to be almost 17 years, which was due to the legendary founding editor-in-chief Helmut Markwort and his vice Uli Baur, who passed away much too early in 2018.

From them, I learned journalism all over again. Clarity, poise, fearlessness, courage, tenacity, precision, getting to the point quickly, faithfulness to the facts: I internalised the principles of success at Focus relatively quickly and have retained them to this day. I was able to learn a lot from seasoned reporters, brilliant writers and excellent commentators. As an editor in the "Deutschland" department, I was allowed to research many exciting stories, especially police and justice topics. This resulted in a number of exclusive stories that were the envy of our competitors - for example, on the rampages in Erfurt and Winnenden, on the NSU terrorist group or on internal affairs at the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). Business trips took me to Lyon, Singapore and New York, among other places, where I tracked down German victims of the attacks of 11 September 2001.

You switched from print to online at the end of 2018. What was your motivation?

At the age of 51, I "reinvented" myself once again and took the plunge into online journalism, to BurdaForward, to Focus Online. The team around the then editor-in-chief Daniel Steil and the current editor-in-chief Florian Festl made it easy for me to get started - with a responsible task that I had always dreamed of: As a justice reporter, reporting on everyday life in German courtrooms, from minor crimes to the big, important criminal cases.

Nevertheless, as a "print man" of the old school, I first had to get used to the dynamics, the frantic speed of the online world. At the magazine I wrote about 60 articles a year, at Focus Online it was now almost 200. Plus the completely new processes: no photo editing, no documentation, no final editing, no text editor, you had to do everything yourself, now even deliver three different headlines per text, link articles, insert advertising. And all that in a lively, not exactly quiet open-plan office. Some evenings I was really exhausted - and yet I always looked forward to the next day.

What was it about the lively spirit at BurdaForward that excited you so much?

What fascinated and inspired me at BurdaForward from the very beginning: the incredible team spirit and the innovative power. New ideas, new projects, new visions, permanent upheavals - no two days are the same, standing still is a foreign word here, transformation is virtually the order of the day. Learning, trying things out, making things better, that's part of BurdaForward's DNA and therefore part of my job. Once again, I got to know journalism in a completely new way - as a teamwork of editors, product developers, marketing specialists and other experts. I feel this is a great enrichment and at the same time a chance to help shape the future of a large publishing company. I like to be inspired by the ideas and enthusiasm of younger colleagues - and help them with my experience.

Despite all the changes - there are some things I have consciously retained, including basic journalistic principles such as "safety before sensation", the two-source principle, clean craftsmanship and Helmut Markwort's claim "Facts, facts, facts - and always think of the readers!" Important to this day: stay curious, be open-minded and don't cave in to media lawyers whose job is often to prevent exposé stories about their clients' misconduct. Whether it's a small daily newspaper, a big news magazine or a leading online portal - as a journalist you have the same responsibility everywhere for what you do and write.

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More images & downloads

Press card from 2022 and 1990 © HBM

Göran Schattauer currently works as chief reporter for Focus Online © HBM

With BKA mafia hunter Sabine Voigt © HBM

BKA crime scene group © HBM

BKA weapons experts © HBM

DDR fugitive Mrs Hellinger © HBM

Former Federal Prosecutor General Harald Range © HBM

Bavarian border control © HBM

Interpol chief Jürgen Stock in Lyon © HBM

Interview with Willy Brandt 1990 © HBM

Juvenile court judge Corinna Sassenroth © HBM

Leipzig's ex-police chief Bernd Merbitz © HBM

Duisburg homicide squad © HBM

Pastor Michael Schaefer © HBM

Head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution Stephan Kramer © HBM

Note Erfurt shooting rampage © HBM

Big Focus stories © HBM

NSU trial Munich © HBM

Advertising poster for Focus magazine © HBM

Göran's treasure of experience © HBM

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