Meet your Colleague: Michael Schrøder

Michael Schrøder’s office is located on the third floor of building 1443 in Tåsingegade 3. He has been a press consultant for Aarhus BSS since 2016. In this interview, we discuss childhood dreams and what it is like to collaborate with researchers who are passionate about their work.

2019.02.04 | Amanda K. S. Ringberg

Photo: Sinne B. Jakobsen

It is a chilly day in January when I invite Michael into my office for a chat. We work for the same department, so he does not have to travel far. We begin at the beginning.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background – what did you work with before you came to Aarhus BSS?

I got into the Danish School of Media and Journalism in 1986. That was a childhood dream although it was very difficult to be admitted. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to write. I got an internship at Midtjyllands Avis and that further convinced me that I had made the right choice.

So your childhood dream was to become a newspaper journalist?

Yes, and I wanted to work with news. My first job was as a temp at Fyns Stiftstidende in the 1990s; they had a lively interest in sports back then, which was great. Afterwards I mostly reported on local politics and business, and then I began working freelance in 1997. I did some work for Aarhus University and just as I was about to finish, Jens Christian Skou won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. This came in very handy for me as a freelancer as it meant I had lots of work to do for Aarhus University.

After that, I was offered a job at JP Aarhus and it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I’d always dreamt of working at Jyllands-Posten. I covered local politics and Aarhus Municipality in general -  including the 2001 election. Then I got the chance to work as a press consultant for Aarhus Municipality and I took it. After seven years in that position, I wanted to try something else, and in 2016, I got the job as a press consultant here at Aarhus BSS. I very much enjoy working here.

Why did you stop working in the news industry?

With the arrival of online news media, having a critical approach towards the truth value of whatever you were writing became less important; speedy delivery became more important than relevance and accuracy. This went against my journalistic integrity, and I’ve always tried to stick to my beliefs.

What is it like to work for a research institution?

I very much enjoy working with the researchers and communicating their research in accordance with their high professional and academic standards of which they are naturally protective. It’s my job to disseminate their research to the press, but also to feature it on our own online platform, Insights, which features all our articles and podcasts. It’s exciting to work so closely with the researchers and cooperate with people who are so passionate about their research fields. I wrote many pieces for Jyllands-Posten for which I interviewed both researchers and various other specialists of sundry topics. I‘ve I always particularly enjoyed writing these kind of stories. People with specific interests are usually very engaged in their subjects, and you can feel how passionate they are about the knowledge they accumulate. That kind of passion is contagious. I’ve always found it interesting to communicate scientific knowledge and make it more accessible to everyone. I get to do that here; I have a veritable goldmine of knowledge to draw from at Aarhus BSS.

What is a day’s work like at a university compared to a municipality?

It’s very different. As a press consultant for the municipality, my former colleagues regarded me as something of a defector. They‘d call me up and ask for all kinds of critical perspectives. At the university, my job is to offer a service to other journalists and the researchers across our departments. It seems to me that people generally appreciate the help. I feel surrounded by much more happiness than I did three years ago. Back then, when a journalist called us, it usually meant trouble.

This job is a lot more similar to that of a proper journalist rather than a press consultant, since so much of my time is taken up by communicating knowledge, writing articles, making podcasts etc. I’ve returned to my professional roots, my original passion, which is writing. I consider Aarhus BSS to be the sender although it’s my name on the articles and I collect the content. That‘s different from working for the municipality where you’re usually aiming to deliver a much more specific message from the sender.

Other than writing, I also fulfil the more traditional role of a press consultant when the press calls us and asks us to comment on a certain topic. However, this doesn’t take up that much of my time. At the municipality, journalists would usually say something like, ‘we need a comment from a council member or the municipality, we have a bad case here, do you have a comment?’ Then you had to research it and try to prepare the spokesperson with facts and a salient message – it’s entirely different here. Most journalists call us to find an expert in a certain topic. These days, my interaction with the press is much more positive, people actually say “thank you” when I get off the phone.

Is there a specific identity tied to working at this university?

People consider Aarhus University to be a credible research institution and it’s our job to protect and enhance this credibility. By disseminating research and working with the press, we in the communications department are attempting to express a unique Aarhus BSS identity. Not at the expense of Aarhus University, but rather as an additional part of the university. This is an exciting challenge.

That is about it for the questions…

…I didn’t even get to say something I’ve always wanted to say.

Which is?

That I have “No comment”

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