What do Glennville, Georgia, and Youngstown, Ohio, have in common? The small town in the Deep South and the mid-sized Midwestern city both have lost their sole local newspapers in recent years.
A virtual what? asked the perplexed high-school principal on the other end of the line. I was halfway through my one-minute pitch of the BEST Virtual Newsroom, a new cross-cultural media-literacy program for German and American teens. Apparently in a hurry, he huffed and quickly passed me on to a teacher of English at the Hamburg school. To my relief, she was more enthusiastic about the opportunity. She promised to distribute the call for applications.
I made that first cold-call in spring 2021. The Amerikazentrum Hamburg, a binational cultural institute, had approached me a few weeks earlier with the germ of an idea. Why not develop a virtual program to teach teens in Hamburg and its U.S. sister city Chicago the basics of journalism? A firm believer that media literacy is needed now more than ever, I loved the idea. I threw myself into the planning right away.
Are German-American relations in a critical state? If public opinion surveys are anything to go by, perhaps so – at least according to Germans. While Americans generally still hold on to a positive image of Germany, the same cannot be said for the way most Germans view the United States. A jointly conducted poll by the Pew Research Center and the Körber-Stiftung revealed late last year that while “three-quarters of Americans see relations with Germany as good,” nearly “two-thirds of Germans (64%) see relations as bad.” More alarmingly, the New York Magazine quotes a survey conducted by YouGov revealing that Germans view President Trump as “a greater threat to world peace than any other head of state” – a noteworthy distinction, especially in light of the existence of other controversial leaders, such as the likes of Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin.