Germany’s Daily Newspapers Cornerstones of Democracy

Germany is Europe’s biggest newspaper market.
Germany is Europe’s biggest newspaper market. | Photo (detail): © FAZ

In Germany, daily newspapers are regarded as a major cultural asset and a pillar of democracy. They prompt socio-political debate, helping to shape the country’s public opinion. The eight national dailies play a particularly important role.

Germany is Europe’s biggest newspaper market. Seven out of every ten Germans over the age of 14 read a newspaper regularly. They can choose between 351 different titles. Most of these are regional newspapers, i.e. papers published in a certain area and only available there. Most of their coverage is about their region. The national newspapers cover national and international news. They are available throughout Germany and are known nationwide.

Top sales for tabloids, highbrow culture takes second place

Germany’s biggest newspaper, though, is entertaining rather than informative. Bild sells some 2.9 million copies each day (second quarter 2011) and is published by Axel Springer Verlag in Berlin. The newspaper is in colour and is written in simple language. It contains lots of photographs and big headlines – a typical tabloid read mainly by members of the lower and middle income groups, or by workers and employees. Bild loves to report on scandals, crime and famous people and is not very objective, but dramatises and simplifies. Politically, it has close connections with the ruling Christian Democrats (CDU).

The Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), published in Munich, is Germany’s second-largest daily newspaper, selling some 430,000 copies (second quarter 2011). It is the flagship of a socio-liberal middle class that takes an interest in cultural affairs. Its commentaries do not swear by the free market, but argue in favour of a social market economy. The SZ constitutes high-quality journalism. Its hallmarks are its extensive cultural section, covering literature, theatre and classical music, and Page 3, with daily in-depth reports and background articles on current affairs. On Mondays, it includes articles in English from the New York Times and on Fridays it comes with the SZ-Magazin, featuring younger cultural journalism that combines pop and highbrow culture.

Business focus

Business people and educated people with a special interest in business read the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). This conservative, middle-class paper not only reports in depth on companies, but also in greater depth on foreign affairs than other newspapers. In its cultural section, it publishes texts that have triggered social debates on various occasions. It was in an interview with the FAZ in 2006, for example, that Günter Grass spoke for the first time of his membership of the Waffen SS, a revelation that later sparked off heated discussion. The FAZ consists mainly of long, complex texts that are rarely livened up with photographs. Until 2007, no photographs were used, even on the front page.

Die Welt is the quality newspaper of the Axel Springer Verlag. Like the FAZ, it also has an extensive business section. The language is easier to understand, however, and its layout makes it easier to read than the FAZ. Die Welt is read by entrepreneurs in small and medium-sized businesses and by self-employed people who appreciate conservative values. In 2004, Welt kompakt came onto the market, a reduced version in compact tabloid format.

The Handelsblatt, based in Düsseldorf, and the Financial Times Deutschland, based in Hamburg, are two daily newspapers with a business focus. They are read almost exclusively by business people. The Handelsblatt has been an established part of the German business scene since 1946, while the Financial Times Deutschland was first published in 2000. These two newspapers mainly provide information about companies and financial markets, but also about politics and technology. They are only published from Monday to Friday, the days when the stock exchange is open.

Social justice takes priority over free market

For decades, the Frankfurter Rundschau was the defining medium of left-leaning intellectuals. Its commentaries took up trade-union positions and appealed for social justice and the welfare state. In 2006, the newspaper was sold to the Cologne-based DuMont Verlag, which publishes a number of regional newspapers. It has been reduced to insignificance. Since mid-2011, the national section has been produced in Berlin together with the Berliner Zeitung. Only a few local and online editors work at the once-large editorial office in Frankfurt.

The Green-left-leaning paper die tageszeitung (taz) from Berlin is the only national daily not financed by advertising. It was set up in 1979 by people who were not only seeking an alternative to the middle-class media, but journalism that was completely economically independent. The taz reports more critically than other newspapers and also devotes attention to themes that are not mainstream. Social themes dominate its domestic and foreign policy sections, and ecological themes its business section. The taz is notorious for its irreverent headlines: Es ist ein Mädchen (It’s a girl) was its headline when Angela Merkel was elected German Chancellor in 2005, and it printed a photograph of the new head of government when she was a baby. Because it is constantly balancing on the edge of a financial precipice and pays only low salaries, many good journalists soon leave the paper. It is seen by journalists as a career stepping stone. Many well-known journalists began their career at taz and that is still the case today.