Gorkana meets...Frédéric Schwilden, Reporter on the culture desk for Die Welt and Welt am Sonntag.
Why did you decide to follow a career in journalism?
I didn’t decide on a career in journalism at all. I think that people who plan their careers from the outset are also afraid of something. In order to find yourself, you first need to lose yourself. A city like Berlin is of course an excellent place to do this. What was clear, was that I always wanted to write, I always wanted to champion a humanistic world view and also be a bit loved. That’s how I ended up in journalism.
How does your experience as a Freelance Journalist differ from your current position at DIE WELT / WELT am SONNTAG?
Although it might sound absurd, as a reporter on the culture desk of DIE WELT / WELT am SONNTAG, I have considerably more freedom than before. Being a freelance journalist means in most cases waiting for fees. A business magazine once didn’t pay a fee of over €1000 for three months. Until I sent them a naked picture of myself with an empty bottle of Krug champagne to illustrate how poor I was. Three days later I had the money.
But apart from the financial side, being allowed to think and work in an editorial team with great colleagues has allowed me to develop further than most other experiences have.
The culture desk at DIE WELT / WELT am SONNTAG is a place where people who are more quirky and unconventional are taken seriously. Because these are the people who change the world for the better.
What does a typical day on the culture desk of DIE WELT / WELT am SONNTAG look like for you?
At 9:30am we start with a press review. A mix of gossip and admiration. What did the others do better than us? What did we overlook? What did we do better? What did we miss? And what I see every morning, with all this competitiveness, is with how much love and devotion journalism is carried out in Germany. No matter whether TAZ, Tagesspiegel, FAZ, FAS, SZ, SZ-Magain, Zeit, Zeit Magazin, Vice or Der Spiegel - in all editorial teams, whether print or online, people work with vision.
Can you describe your readership?
My mother is around 1.65 meters tall and a pharmacist, and my wife wears her hair in a bun at the top of her head and is in charge of the wonderful Kunstpalais, a museum in Erlangen. And my friend Sabine is a psychotherapist. I think above all things my readers are female, successful and smell very nice.
What is your approach to writing articles?
I write absolutely selfishly. I write about what interests me. I write very quickly and as if I’m in a frenzy. But sober. It’s a misconception that you can write while drunk or under the influence. I can’t. The important thing is not to take any breaks. No lunch. Writing. Writing. Writing. You can eat later. Smoking sometimes helps. Classical music always does. Recently while writing I’ve been listening to Smetana, Chopin, Elgar, Brahms, sometimes also Wagner. Or electronic music by Pantha Du Prince. There can’t be any singing. Singing is a distraction. How are you supposed to have a voice of your own when you have to listen to someone else’s the whole time?
What makes an interesting story for you? And what sort of topics get the biggest reaction from readers?
Every story can interest me. It needs to include something a bit absurd, something magical, that lets us gaze into the abyss. Recently that’s been a feature about the Bavarian finance minister Markus Söder, an interview with Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden and one with Erika Steinbach from the Christian Democratic Union.
I really don’t know whether most of the readers’ reactions come in. Readers are people who have read something. Often it seems to me as if people comment on texts and content which they have, if at all, only partially read.
But in my opinion, the biggest reaction from readers comes from German hip-hop and big political topics (war in Ukraine, Grexit yes or no) or social questions (Is Facebook dumb? Is Instagram worse than Ai Weiwei? Can Stefan Raab’s programme save lives?).
How do you use social media in your role?
I like best to post pictures of myself and regularly organise competitions. Most recently that was a for year’s subscription for the fishing magazine “der Blinker” or a bong with Swarovski crystals from Thomas Sabo. Next week I’m raffling off a Happy Meal in McDonald’s at Südkreuz station with cabaret artist LeFloid.
What influence do you think social media platforms have had on the media industry?
A bigger one than Sascha Lobo.
How can PRs help you in your work?
Make contact subtly and without verging on stalking. And actually think about whether your product fits. Years ago, when I was working solely for “Rolling Stone”, a woman called me up. “Vegan cooking is the new rock and roll, Mr Schwilden, and we immediately thought of you.” Unfortunately, with things like that you have to hang up straight away. I very much like to cook vegan food. But an approach like that on the phone, sorry, that’s not on.
How should PRs best contact you?
With my full and correct name is a start. And please not superyouthfulcleverturbofunny.
What’s the best thing about your job?
To be allowed to make the best newspaper (print and online) in the world with my great colleagues.
*Picture Christian Werner