What have you achieved today

ZDF "heute" presenter Petra Gerster"I now have to act as a role model myself"

Credibility, professionalism and seriousness - these are the most important attributes for presenters of news programs. And like few others, Petra Gerster stands for this brand essence. Gester has been working for ZDF since 1989, and has been presenting the "heute" program at 7pm for more than 20 years. She will host the newscast for the last time on May 26, 2021.



Isabelle Klein: For many viewers you have become a regular companion of the evening, a familiar face and a familiar voice. How does it feel for you to be moderating the "heute" show the last time at 7:00 p.m.?

Petra Gerster: Yes, strange. I can't say now that the audience has become familiar for me, but somehow in the abstraction they are. I always addressed the audience directly and somehow I will miss them, I think.

Small: You actually wanted to quit with the heute news much earlier. How did it come about that you stayed a little longer than planned?

Farewell under corona conditions

Barley: I had a contract up to the official pension limit; I think that is also common practice on ZDF. And then half a year beforehand - that was last summer in the pandemic - our then new head of department Bettina Schausten asked me if I could hang on for another six months. And I didn't have to think about that, I immediately said yes. I still enjoy my job. It was just nice to do another six months.

At the time, however, I also thought optimistically that the pandemic would be over if I stopped and I could celebrate my big break at my farewell party. That's still something in the stars at the moment ...

Small: ... and the party then shifts a bit.

Barley: Yes, exactly.

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Small: You have been a journalist for a long time, and in 2020 you received an award from the Journalists' Association for your life's work. Let me name a few stations: Started at the "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" with a traineeship, then went to television, to WDR. You had your breakthrough, I would say, with the so-called women's magazine "ML mona lisa". You started as a presenter in 1998 and then became the presenter of today. How was it for you to make a career in the then still very male-dominated journalism industry?

Barley: Well, a lot has changed in that time. When I started - I remember it well ... We have such a huge open-plan office, where all of the editorial departments today sit together except for the heute journal. If it were fully occupied, that would be a hundred people. But of course there are always considerably fewer, because the layers are also different. So there were a maximum of ten percent women in this open-plan office and none at all in the hierarchy. All of my bosses, from the editor-in-chief to chief department manager to editor-in-chief and so on - all men.

And in the meantime, so much has changed, at least at the lower level, that we have almost 50 percent women or even 50 percent. So that always varies a bit. And now we finally have a head of department for the first time in a long time. Before that, however, we also had an editor-in-chief. And in that respect a lot has already changed. You don't feel so lonely as a woman anymore.

The challenge of work and family

Small: You have now also made it, have made a career. Have you ever somehow felt that infamous glass ceiling? So have you reached your limits?

Barley: Nope. Not insofar as I am free. I used to have a permanent job at WDR, but then I was always free at ZDF. That means: I actually didn't aim for a career in the hierarchy. Well, I think this glass ceiling would come when I really wanted to become an editor-in-chief. Then I would have had to proceed differently. Then I would first have had to aim for a permanent position and then work my way up there.

But it was clear to me that, with two children, I would also have a very emancipated, feminist-minded man by my side who always took over half, if not more - that I would still prefer to stay free and have time for my children also would have. In retrospect, that was the right thing to do.

Small: So career only with an equal partner, would you say?

Barley: Yes, in any case. That two people have a career and have children if they don't just want to delegate them to so-called staff or to boarding schools - that's difficult. Of course, hopefully that will change too. But it is still difficult for people, simply because we have too few offers of help from the government, unlike France, for example.

My husband - who was now also a journalist - wanted to register our daughter in the day care center when he was three and was laughed at because there were no places for three-year-olds at all. And it was said: if so, then only for single parents and for a working couple there was no chance at that time in Munich. Today there is a right to it. But I don't think it will be redeemable everywhere either, as I judge the situation.

"Had no role model to orientate myself to"

Small: Well, different standards are set for women in front of the camera than for men. Appearance is often in the foreground, not necessarily for the audience, but it is often commented on, including by the media. In 2007 you told us something about getting older in front of the camera in an interview. You had just written your book "The Graduate Examination" about women aged 50 and over. They said: There are hardly any role models for you - aging in front of the camera is not yet a matter of course for women. That was a couple of years ago. How do you feel about that today?

Barley: Yes, it is actually the case that I am the first to be on the screen in prime time for so long, if I see that correctly. When I wrote the book - and that's why I only wrote the book at all because around my 50th birthday, I was mostly asked by male colleagues - or even among friends and acquaintances: Yes, how long are you allowed to do so because now still moderate?

So the word 'allowed' bothered me in particular. I felt somehow at the peak of my work and at the zenith in general and felt great and thought: At 50 men are heaved into offices and only really get going. And then somehow I have an expiration date on my forehead. That really can not be. And then I looked around and found that I was actually the oldest back then in the evening from 7:00 p.m. That has not changed insofar as in the last 16 years I actually had no role model to orient myself by. Well, I now have to act as a role model myself.

"Language has to change"

Small: This visualization of women also happens through language and I also noticed that: Now and then you use the gender asterisk, for example when you speak of journalists with a short break. But sometimes you also say of journalists that they vary a little. Why did you choose to do this?

Barley: I also rejected the gender asterisk for a long time because it seemed awkward to me orally. But I have to say, I've really gotten used to it now. When it comes to listening, I can't find anything at all anymore. But I vary simple ones so as not to be pushy. I know that a lot, especially older men, are very annoyed by this and I also want my viewers - I say viewers especially now, not viewers, because it is mostly the men who are outraged - so I want the viewers too don't offend. And you don't have to try to push through anything with a crowbar, I think it's important that women are made visible.

And you can't always use these double forms. A news program is all about seconds and always mentioning both forms can be tiring. You also use other forms such as cyclists or demonstrators, so sometimes a participle. I think the variety is really nice. And it remains to be seen whether the asterisk will prevail in the long term.

I am not ideological either, whatever is then assumed. But I just think it is time to really make it clear that the world is not all men and that man is not the measure of all things either. And this generic masculine, which is always mentioned, simply emerged historically from patriarchy. You just have to see it that way. From a world where men ruled and men worked and men were in public. That's where it comes from. And now the world has changed and I think the language has to change too.

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Small: There is also a kind of information offensive going on in the private media. "Mister Tagesschau", as he was called, Jan Hofer, has just said goodbye to RTL. The former Tagesschau presenter, Linda Zervakis is now with ProSieben. And now you come into play, sort of as "Miss Today". What does your future look like after today's news?

Barley: So first of all not in the private media, but I'll write another book with my husband. But I'll say right away: I'm not going to reveal what about yet. But it will be a current book and it has nothing to do with Corona.

Small: So they stay busy.

Barley: I stay busy, exactly. And when the book is finished, a dog comes into the house. And then I'll be busy too. And then I'll see.

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