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IMH: The first media assistance organization in the world

Founded in the 1990s, Internationale Medienhilfe (lit. International Media Help) is a network that represents both the interests of German-language media abroad and foreign-language media in Germany.

It was a combination of enthusiasm for media work and the interest in foreign cultures that inspired Björn Akstinat as a student in the 1990s to get involved with German-language media abroad. As an editorial and advertising department intern at the Prager Zeitung, a German newspaper in the Czech Republic, the Israel Nachrichten, a German online news site in Israel, and the German BBC news service he had the chance to work with media groups that didn’t know each other directly but that were obviously in very similar situations. “Most of them are Germans born abroad and know both cultures and countries very well. As agents for the German-speaking and foreign-language communities abroad they have a potential audience of nearly two million people, but they still get very little support from the government for their efforts and many of them have to fight for their very survival,” says Akstinat. He decided after his internships that he would take it upon himself to create a network of German-language media abroad: Internationale Medienhilfe (IMH). It was the first media help organization in the world and he is still the director.

An international network of volunteers

The IMH supports its members in all areas, from ad sales and the delivery of articles to employee recruiting and internship placements. According to Akstinat, the organization has about 20 volunteers that work in its Cologne and Berlin locations. “Most of them are students that want to provide friendly assistance to journalists from abroad. The work is very diverse and a lot of fun because you have so much contact with interesting people from all over the world,” he says. On top of that, there are hundreds of volunteers around the globe who are working at a wide range of member organizations. Among them are Beatrice Ungar from the Hermannstädter Zeitung, a newspaper in Romania that serves the German-speaking minority there, and Juri Klugmann from the international Deutschen Rundschau in Canada, which, as he describes it, strives to be a “platform for the exchange of ideas” for German-speaking people and, most importantly, for young people with German heritage from all over the world. According to Klugmann there are about 50 million people of German descent in North America alone.

Mouthpiece for dealing with the German authorities

Both newspaper publishers are thankful that with the help of IMH they have been able to build relationships with other German-language media overseas. “When you are able to work with other overseas German-language media groups and publishers, a sense of community develops even if their specific interests are different. Unfortunately, due to financial reasons, meetings are only possible every seven years but we are in contact via e-mail and telephone,” says Klugmann. Because there is no federal government or associated agencies to serve German-language media abroad, the IMH has become an important representative for their interests as well as a mouthpiece for dealing with the German authorities.

The IMH hopes to make readers and potential ad customers aware of the existence of its members. It recently published the Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Presse im Ausland, a manual for media representatives with a listing of about 2,000 newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, community newsletters and yearbooks published in over 80 countries outside of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Lichtenstein. Last year the IMH also began publishing a directory of foreign-language publications in Germany which, because of the similarity of the situation, has become another focus of the IMH’s work. By selling the publication and generating revenue from events, the IMH is able to then finance other projects.

Internship programs: a win-win situation

Akstinat says that the IMH connects hundreds of German interns with positions at member organizations. Anne Sophie Pfisterer, for example, is doing a course in media studies and found the IMH while searching for an internship. She quickly found a contact at the German-language culture and business magazine Discover ME in Dubai where she completed a three-month placement. “The small editorial staff at Discover ME made it possible to get more involved in real work compared to larger domestic media companies like the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich or Focus magazine where I have done internships as well. My ideas were met with enthusiasm and I was able to do a lot of research, loads of interviews, and even write articles for the web site and the paper. I also took part in a number of events where the main purpose was to help Germans living in Dubai. The international community at Discover ME allowed me to meet not only Germans but also Dutch people, South Africans and folks from the Emirates.”

Beatrice Ungar from the Hermannstädter Zeitung also had good experiences with the interns she found through the IMH. “It is difficult to find interns in the German minority in Romania because the pool of people is really small and most of them want go into business not journalism. The young people from Germany also often bring new perspectives on the local situation. For example, in a report on an event related to the tradition festival of driving away the winter demons, they may not focus as much on the historical perspective like the older people. Instead they might ask questions like ‚What does it mean today?‘ or ‚What relevance does it have for the youth?‘. That is a good thing.”

Source: Website of the Goethe-Institute