Baking Vlog: German Brötchen and Journalism

In this episode of The Baking Journalist a German theme: breakfast rolls or Brötchen, and three differences between journalism in Germany and the U.S.

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***This is another video in a series of vlogs meant to help me work on video editing, and my amateur bread baking. It’s not perfect, but I hope I show some improvement over time. Thanks for being with me as I try to improve myself, and hopefully add some interesting content to the world***

Brötchen Recipe*

(Skip to journalism comparisons)

2 cups bread flour/good unbleached white flour
1+ cups whole wheat flour (or rye)
.25 oz (1 packet/2.25 tsp) active dry yeast
2 tsp salt
1.3 Tbsp olive oil
1.3 cups cold water (300dl)
Edam cheese (if you want to do yourself a solid)
Patience

1) To start, literally mix everything in a big bowl and get it into a blob that sticks together. Almost every time I’ve made this it’s been very wet, so I’ve been adding a little more flour, but not too much! 

2) Once your dough is mixed,  cover it and leave it on your counter, preferably with a lid and towel covering it for about 7-10 hours. The yeast are already working, so let them do their thing.

3) After your dough has worked the night shift, dust your workspace with flour, and scoop out the dough. If it’s too sticky, add some flour, but not too much! You can fold the dough into a workable chunk to weigh it, and then divvy it up into pieces. The original recipe called for 90 gram pieces, but I sometimes reduce that weight to get more Brötchen.

4) Form into balls by the method of your choice. (the video shows one option.) Put them on your baking sheet, or in my case pizza pan, and let rise another 20-30 minutes or so. Pre-heat oven to 485 F, and if you can put an oven-safe bowl with water in it on the bottom of the oven.

5) After the Broetchen have risen, you’ll want to score them, just a single cut through the center will do. You’ll also want to give them a spritz of water. And if you want to…you can add shredded Edam cheese to create Käsebrötchen, a cheese breakfast roll. Bake time is 20 minutes.

6) Enjoy!

*This recipe is inspired by one seen on the Thomas Kocht YouTube channel, which is similar in a book of German breads I have. I’ve been experimenting with different flours and ratios, so the recipe is always in flux!

Journalism Differences

1. Suspects of crimes or scandals are not often identified right away.

It might be hard to imagine not knowing a suspect’s name when reading about a crime or scandal in the US, especially with cable news and ever more aggressive and sometimes very sensationalized online media outlets.

Even with the principle of being innocent before proven guilty, suspect names are often in the public as soon as news outlets get them.

In Germany, and some other countries, it’s not the same.

Unless someone has been convicted, they’re afforded a level of protection. You’ll often see outlets use a first name and last initial. This makes sense on the surface of it–if someone is not convicted, then they should maintain a right to their privacy.

There are wrinkles to this.

One is that international media outlets have different standards, so Reuters might identify a suspect by their full name, while domestic German outlets keep it to first name and last initial. The name is out there in the world, but domestic outlets keep to the anonymity.

Another issue? If someone is not yet convicted, but there’s the potential for widespread abuse or serial criminality, would publishing accusations with the full name help prompt more public response, and maybe similar cases?

Anonymity in the US is often limited to the names of victims of crime, especially abuse or sexual assault, or children. Germany has a different standard.

2. There are many ways to not be full time in German media…and it can create issues.

I was fortunate to work with German media outlets on a number of occasions on fellowships, staying embedded for as long as five months with an outlet, other stints of two, or three months.

These short stays always made some people think I was an intern, or in German a Praktikant. This level of employee is the same in both countries–recent grads, or still students, are looking for experience.

Now because so many German journalists have a lot higher level of education compared to Americans (at least in my experience that seemed to be so), many professionals are older. So I as a journalist in my mid 20s with five years at a major market public radio station was weird for many of my German colleagues to understand. So they saw mid-20s and said, ‘oh…intern, Praktikant.’

German outlets also have something called a Volontariat (for example, a two-year paid position in which one learns the trade in the hopes of receiving a contract), or a limited contract.

The vast majority of workers in the German public media system are hired on these limited contracts becoming freelancers with regular, scheduled work. These limited workers (called Feste-Freiers, or regular freelancers) have little job or income security, and often work hard to prove their worth—not out of pride for the job or loyalty to the company but out of fear of getting dropped.

At the top of the food-chain are festangestellt, or full-time, vested employees.

Once a person achieves this stage in life, labor protections make it almost impossibly difficult to fire someone. One colleague told me this can sometimes tempt people to not innovate anymore, or take risks, because they are already vested.

Limited contracts seemed to be the norm when I was in Germany, and that same German colleague told me freelancers had launched a kind of rebellion decades ago, but the system didn’t much change because the workers didn’t keep up the pressure.

3. Letting sources review the story, or quotes after an interview, or know questions before it.

In the US, journalists will typically not give questions to an interview partner beforehand. You can tell someone what the interview will be about, and give examples of questions, but it’s considered a no-go to give questions before.

Time and time again in Germany and Switzerland I would be pressed to give questions beforehand. This is somewhat common of governments and corporations no matter where you are, though.

A bigger difference is the idea of allowing someone to check how they are quoted in your piece, or review your piece all together.

I remember in Germany I was going to listen to a presentation from a German bank about renewable energy investment, and the executive and press officer said the talk was off-the-record unless I would send them a copy of my story and how they were quoted before publishing. I balked at that, and I didn’t end up including their information in the story.

In Switzerland, a person has a right to review how they are quoted, and it’s explained as a way to ensure accurate quotes. I can see a slippery slope if something massages their language, or tries to pressure a reporter after-the-fact. Still, that’s the law of the land, so when I write for a Swiss media outlet I have to follow their rules.

In the US you don’t usually show someone a story before it runs. The press is independent, and the story is written based on the reporting done. And even if I wasn’t primarily an audio guy, I would record interviews to make sure I got things right.

Read a longer essay on my observations of German media outlets

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