„sprengsatz“-Weblog From Niche Phenomenon to Successful Blog

Michael H. Spreng and his blog “sprengsatz”
Michael H. Spreng and his blog “sprengsatz” | Photo (detail): Peter Garbet © iStockphoto

There are no photostream widgets or visual knick-knacks. Journalist and political expert Michael H. Spreng’s blog “sprengsatz” (explosive) takes a refreshingly purist approach. He wields a sharp pen in his analysis of political events in Berlin.

Herr Spreng, an article in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” refers to you as a “voice reading in a blogosphere otherwise short of smart political thinkers”. What do you hope to achieve through your political blog “sprengsatz”? Nomen est omen?

The name was an obvious choice and attracts attention. I aim to analyse Berlin politics for people who are interested in the subject, and to make it comprehensible and transparent. What is politics and what is stage management, what is to be taken seriously and what is electioneering? And I also aim to give one or two colleagues food for thought. This sometimes works, as demonstrated by the frequent quotations from sprengsatz in other media.

In your view, what is the significance of weblogs in Germany?

They could be more significant. But they put the spotlight on politics, can prompt discussion, put subjects on the agenda and coin phrases. In my case, for example, the expressions “Schwarmfeigheit” (cowardice of the masses) to refer to anonymous revelations on the Internet and “Missfelderisierung” (Missfelderization, after the CDU Bundestag deputy, Philipp Missfelder) to refer to the new generation of superficial, conformist young politicians who are existentially dependent on politics. Or the suggestion that the political situation in Lower Saxony be referred to as “Erbfreundschaft” (long-standing friendship between big companies and political parties) – a term that has caught on.

Why is it that the development of blogs in Germany is lagging behind the United States and other European countries? It can’t have anything to do with a lack of fast broadband Internet connections. Are we a developing country when it comes to blogging?

Blogs do not earn you a living. Many people are put off because blogs only incur costs and do not generate any income. And in Germany, there is no equivalent of the Huffington Post with high-quality content.

From grass-roots journalism to the much-cited “virtual counter-reality”: to what extent do blogs influence or have blogs influenced the traditional media?

As I have said, the best they can do is to put subjects on the media agenda or the political agenda. So far, the only ones to have had any real impact are the Wikipedia platforms like GuttenPlag, which cost Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg his job and have destroyed other politicians’ careers.

What dangers are there in blogging?

None, if you deal with subjects responsibly in terms of the language and contents. It is the commentaries on articles that can be dangerous. A lot of radical right and left-wingers and crackpots give their opinions anonymously. That is why the only commentaries I put in my blog are ones I have checked to see if they may be subject to criminal law or are grossly disparaging. It is also a financial risk for blogs when the courts treat them like powerful media conglomerates and impose all the costs of a counterstatement and a cease-and-desist on them. That can put a blog out of business.

How in your view has journalism changed as a result of weblogs? Is it realistic to believe, as is often predicted, that printed newspapers will one day disappear? Is “netizen journalism“ the journalism of the future?

Yes and no. The greater danger is from what the media offer online free of charge. We will only have a more powerful blog scene in Germany when blogs can be refinanced. The good newspapers that offer added value with their clever analyses and commentaries, their brilliantly written reports and revelatory stories, will survive.

One last question, how would you like your blog to develop and what are your plans?

Since my blog is my hobby, I will continue to try to reach as many users as possible with my views and analysis and the anecdotes. At the moment, the website has between 170,000 and 200,000 visits a month. And at some point I will have to try to raise some income through advertising. I do not have any other plans. sprengsatz is to remain a purist blog for readers who do not want any photostream widgets or visual knick-knacks.

Michael H. Spreng, was born in 1948. He is one of Germany’s best-known and polemical journalists. From 1989 to 2000, he was editor-in-chief of Bild am Sonntag. Until the end of 2008, he was a political columnist for newspapers including the Hamburger Abendblatt. In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, he referred to his activity as Edmund Stoiber’s election campaign manager during the Bundestag election campaign in 2002 as a “unique adventure holiday”. Today, he works as a media and communications consultant and is a frequent talk-show guest.

In 2009, Spreng became a blogger. In his frequently-visited weblog sprengsatz, he comments on and analyses current events in Berlin politics. His articles Schwarm-Intelligenz und Schwarm-Feigheit and Die Jäger müssen sich stellen, in which he takes a critical look at cases of plagiarism and anonymous plagiarist hunters, attracted particular attention. He sees his blog as the “extended workbench of his journalistic pleasure in writing, analysing and commenting”.