Hannelore Veit with co-anchor Eugen Freund at the Zeit im Bild-studio
© ORF - Thomas Ramstorfer
by Anja Mayer
Thinking about Austrian news and news anchors, there is definitely one name that stands out. Hannelore Veit has been working for the ORF, Austrian Public Broadcasting, for more than 20 years. From 1993 until 2002, she was one of the lead anchors of Austria’s biggest and most popular news format Zeit im Bild. In 2002, she worked for the short news section of Zeit im Bild before resuming the position as lead anchor once again in 2008. Before her time at the ORF, Hannelore Veit worked as a radio correspondent for the Vienna office of Voice of America, and later as a Foreign Correspondent for European Business Channel in Japan. Since the beginning of this year, she is the Bureau Chief of the ORF office in Washington D.C. Upon her arrival, Austrian Information met with Hannelore Veit to ask about her expectations for her time here in D.C.
Can you tell us a little bit about where you were born and where you grew up?
I was born in Vienna and grew up in Stockerau, a small town just outside Vienna. I also attended high school there, but I moved back to the city as soon as I began my studies at the University of Vienna. Small town life is just not my cup of tea. I am a true urbanite, an inner-city person. Even moving to D.C. involved some getting used to a sprawling city with single-family homes and huge distances. But yes, it does have advantages: D.C. is the greenest city I have ever lived in.
When did you first realize that you wanted to become a journalist?
It just happened. I did not plan it but slowly moved into journalism. I graduated from the University of Vienna with an M.A. in interpretation and translation, and from the University of Notre Dame (yeah - football!) with an M.A. in American Studies with a special focus on government. I started freelancing for several magazines, including TIME magazine in Vienna. A job opening came up at the Voice of America’s Eastern Europe Bureau in Vienna. I got the job and with that the best possible training as a radio journalist. I started out in English, a language that really lends itself to journalism – much more so than German.
You have been a journalist for over 20 years now. Are you still excited to go to work every day? What is it that motivates you?
I have the most exciting job in the world. As a correspondent, I cover a huge variety of subjects. For example, in the past six months I have been on the steps of the Capitol to watch President Barack Obama take his oath of office, I sat down for a lengthy interview with actor Christoph Waltz in Beverly Hills, just the week before he won his second Oscar. I also went to Birmingham, Alabama to research a 30-minute radio feature on the situation of African-Americans in the U.S. today. As I am sitting here, my office puts out one story after another on the U.S. involvement in Syria. There is never a dull moment.
In your long career, what have been the most memorable moments?
One stands out: 9/11. I worked as an anchor for the evening news, Zeit im Bild, at that time. There was news of a plane, possibly a small plane - we did not know it at that point - flying into the World Trade Center, which came during our afternoon editorial meeting. I was on air within a few minutes and anchored the first hours of what would then become the ORF’s longest broadcast ever. We were on air for three days nonstop.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges for a foreign correspondent?
You have to be fast, very fast. You may have to go on air within minutes if something big happens. That, of course, also means you have to have some background knowledge, the more the better and the easier your job becomes. Also, you are not just responsible for one subject area. As a correspondent, you cover everything from cultural affairs to the White House; from corruption scandals to meetings of the U.N. Security Council.
You have previously studied at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Was it your wish to one day return to the U.S.? Have you settled in yet?
Yes, I always wanted to come back. I feel at home in this country, I like the openness of the Americans. It is so easy to make friends here. It was not difficult to settle in for me or my husband since he has lived in D.C. and New York before. It was more difficult for my teenage children, who had to leave their friends behind.
What do you find different about life in the U.S.?
This country is not as welcoming as it used to be when I was a student. Then, everything was easy. Now, bureaucracy has taken over. After 9/11, there is a mistrust of foreigners. Simple things like getting a driver’s license at the DMV are an ordeal. Without a U.S.-I.D. you are nobody. I lived in Japan back in the 1990s, a country that has a reputation of being extremely bureaucratic. I think the U.S. today is worse.
How would you compare the role of the media in the U.S. as opposed to Europe?
The U.S. has some of the best newspapers in the world – it is a pleasure to read The Washington Post or The New York Times. But Americans do not read as much. They prefer watching TV, and TV is all about ratings, not about substance. In Austria, we do try to have a healthy mixture of foreign and domestic news in our daily news program. I miss that here.
Back in Austria you have worked as a news anchor for the biggest Austrian news format Zeit im Bild. In what ways has your working schedule now changed?
It was a pretty tough schedule at Zeit im Bild, not because of the long working hours, but because I was working late and working every other weekend. Here in Washington, we are six hours behind Europe. That means I have to be ready to discuss our daily coverage with Vienna really early, between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. Sometimes I have to do a radio story really late - for the Morgenjournal, a morning show in Vienna. Oh, and there are the weekends, not as many as in Vienna, but it is close! My children complain a lot about me never being home. But these past months have been unusually busy, one big event was followed by another, there was never a lull in the news.
What are your expectations for your time here in Washington?
I want to travel as much as I can: understanding and covering a country involves reaching out. It is not enough to stay comfortably in D.C., and do your stand-ups in front of the White House. Other than that, I will take it as it comes.
Who would be your dream interview partner?
The Obamas, Barack and Michelle! Hillary and Bill Clinton (I know he is a has-been but a charismatic has-been)!