The weekly press in Germany Backgrounds Instead of Day-to-Dateness

The weekly press in Germany
The weekly press in Germany | Photo (montage): © PR

Weekly political periodicals don’t have to be current every day. They focus rather on the background stories, analyses and developments that remain interesting for somewhat longer periods. In Germany there are four large weekly publications.

Daily publications around the world have been suffering for years now. Revenues have been dwindling along with their importance as more and more people get their news from the Internet. Weeklies, on the other hand, may cover the same stories as dailies, but they do it in a more comprehensive manner and don’t have to compete with regard to staying current. The texts are more concerned with presenting interrelationships, exploring back-stories and drawing conclusions from historical experience.

Opinion leaders

The most well-known of the weeklies is Der Spiegel (Hamburg), a news magazine that appears every Monday with a weekly circulation of about 950,000 (Q2, 2011). The periodical features in-depth background stories on political topics in Germany and the world as well as scandals, sex crimes and even revelations from Nazi Germany. Twenty years ago, Der Spiegel was a rather left-leaning operation. Today it is considered liberal with a business-friendly stance. Critics often accuse the periodical of spreading propaganda, but the fact is, Der Spiegel polarizes and often provokes heated debate. In 2010, for example, the magazine published excerpts from a controversial book by Thilo Sarrazin (Deutschland schafft – lit. Germany Works) before the book was released.

Founded in 1947 by Rudolf Augstein, Der Spiegel was a fierce advocate of freedom of expression and the press in its early years, often breaking stories on political affairs. In 1962, the “Spiegel Affair” made the magazine famous: After strongly criticizing the defense concept put forth by NATO, police raided the editorial offices and some of the staff was arrested. The public reacted with fury and the cases were dropped. Der Spiegel, meanwhile, experienced a massive surge in readership, including students and intellectuals, who saw the magazine as a vehicle for guaranteeing freedom of expression in Germany society.

Photos and stories

Stern, another weekly, has traditionally placed more value on photography, featuring fewer articles than the other magazines in its segment but luring readers with its glossy, full-spread images. Political topics are covered, but not with as much depth and analysis. Stern provides stories in a lively, pictorial way, with an aim to entertain, and often reports on celebrities. Gruner+Jahr (Hamburg), the publisher, found itself embroiled in a scandal in 1983 in which the staff believed to have discovered secret diaries from Adolf Hitler. After publishing some excerpts, the books turned out to be a hoax just a week later.

Text tidbits and graphics

Burda Publishing (Munich) launched a news magazine in 1993 called Focus. With shorter articles divided into small sections and featuring colorful graphics and illustrations, the weekly was meant to compete with Der Spiegel for readers. Focus is targeted toward ambitious entrepreneur types and career-oriented professionals that want to stay informed at a glance – without debate and discussion. The articles tend to have a functional feel to them and the editorial staff likes to provide consumer tips such as cost comparisons for telephone providers, investments or doctors.

The big intellectuals

Academics and the educated ranks of society tend to gravitate toward Die Zeit (Hamburg), a weekly that appears every Thursday in the format of a daily newspaper. It combines all of the virtues of the weeklies mentioned above, but it is rather weighty stuff as a result. Many of the articles take up an entire newspaper page, featuring background information, analysis and a variety of perspectives on a given topic. Despite a slightly liberal bent, the rag allows for a range of opinions and when controversial subjects such as genetic engineering or Euro bonds are covered, the editorial staff typically juxtapose two contrasting opinions in their pieces. Readers can then form their own opinions on the matter at hand. Feuilleton, which provides reviews of theater, exhibitions, books, films and music from pop to classical, is widely considered Germany’s leading source of information and opinion in arts and culture.

Berlin’s little lefties

In 2009, Jakob Augstein, son of the Der Spiegel founder, took over a new weekly paper called der Freitag, a collaboration with Guardian (London). The print and online versions are closely linked. The Internet site even invites readers to write their own pieces in a part of the site designed specifically for that purpose. The circulation is just 15,000 a week, but the magazine may gain in relevance as one of the few media outlets to experiment with new ideas and concepts in publishing. The left-leaning Jungle World is also worthy of mention here, an idealistic rag that appears nationwide in Germany.