Newspapers and Magazines

The New York Times of Munich – Portrait of the Süddeutsche Zeitung

Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa It is the oldest of Germany's major, national, daily newspapers and has the highest circulation. What makes the Süddeutsche Zeitung so successful?

The Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) was first published on 6 October 1945 in Munich. Its two competitors, Hamburg's Die Welt and the Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ), followed suit on 2 April 1946 and 1 November 1949 respectively. 60 years later, the SZ's circulation reached an all-time high. More than 441,955 copies were being sold every day in the fourth quarter of 2004. In the same period the FAZ was selling 373,439 copies on average and Die Welt, which is now in Berlin, had an average circulation of 235.520.

Secret to its success

What makes the Süddeutsche Zeitung so successful? Is it because it offers "the latest political, cultural, business and sports news", from Monday to Saturday, as the sub-title says? Unlikely – the conservative newspapers competing for the patronage of influential readers offer that as well. It could be that the SZ is so highly regarded because of the extremely informative reports, the special features and investigative journalism as well as the pointed criticism of the opinion pages and the timely analysis of the cultural and social changes taking place in Germany and the rest of the world.

But the real secret to the success of the newspaper probably lies in the principles it upholds. This, is particular, is why so many people in Germany consider the national newspaper from Munich to be indispensable for opinion-making. According to SZ reader surveys, the readership is primarily made up of high-income professionals and executives with higher education. A target group which is steadily expanding.


What does the Süddeutsche Zeitung stand for? Five months after the end of the Nazi regime's assault on the freedom of thought and expression, the chief editors and publishers declared on the first page of the first edition that the Süddeutsche Zeitung was not an organ of the government or any party, but a "mouthpiece for all Germans who are united in their love of freedom, their hate of the totalitarian state and abhorrence of all that is National Socialist." In the editorial statute of 1981, which is still in force today, this credo was fleshed out with left-wing, liberal principles. The SZ, as stated in the first key sentence, "defends and fights for free and democratic forms of society based on liberal and social principles." It continues: "It respects the individual's freedom of religion, thought, conscience and speech and rejects all activities by radical groups which endanger the rule of law."


Today there would not be a Süddeutsche Zeitung if it had not been for US press officers. They searched the American zone looking for publishing figures untainted by National Socialism who they then appointed as licensees. This is how Edmund Goldschagg, Franz Josef Schöningh, August Schwingenstein and, later, Werner Friedmann came to acquire "License No.1" in Bavaria and thus the necessary paper to print the first Süddeutsche newspaper.

These press officers didn't just help steer Germany's post-war press towards free and democratic expression, they also had clear visions of the role it should have. "Founding colonel", Bernard B. McMahon, for example, expected the SZ to become the most important newspaper in the new Germany. His colleague David Davidson set the standard even higher. He wanted the Süddeutsche to become "world famous like the Manchester Guardian and the New York Times".

1945 - 2005

In 1945 the Süddeutsche 's first year was dominated by headlines like "30000 die in Dachau concentration camp. The world prosecutes in Nürnberg. Are all Germans guilty?" In the classifieds, the hardship of the people was particularly evident in the exchange ads: "Will swap violin for hotplate. 35mm camera for pram. Ladies winter coat for men's winter coat."

Sixty years later, in 2005, the aftermath of the Hitler dictatorship is still an issue. The 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was commemorated with more than extensive coverage. SZ editors urged their readers in editorials and commentary not to relax in the fight against neo-Nazis and anti-Semitism: "Auschwitz will never fade."

This stance and the quality of the reporting are probably the main reasons why the Süddeutsche Zeitung is also perceived as an important voice of the press abroad. A study by the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2000 placed it among the five daily newspapers in the world most worth reading. The New York Times was in first place. Since 2004 SZ readers have been able to enjoy a 16-page supplement in English with the most interesting articles from this international paper in the Monday edition of the SZ.

Recommended literature

Lutz Hachmeister, Friedemann Siering (ed.), Die Herren Journalisten, Die Elite der deutschen Presse nach 1945, 328 pages, Verlag C.H.Beck, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-406-47597-3 (with a detailed chapter on "The beginnings of the 'Süddeutsche Zeitung'")

Klaus Stahl
Freelance journalist, Bonn

Translation: Marsalie Turner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion

Any questions about this article? Please write!
April 2005

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