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German Newspapers and Print Media

Although German newspapers come in an extraordinarily large and diverse number of titles, they are currently going through hard times. Owing to strong competition from TV and online media, German newspapers have been pressing and selling lower and lower numbers for the past couple of decades.
The newsstand at the main station in your city has a gigantic range of newspapers and magazines.

The variety of German newspapers has decreased as well (although, in 2005, there were still over 1,500 papers, local editions included). Considering that revenues from ad sales have gone down, too, competition amongst German newspapers is rather tough.

And yet, newspapers continue to be the leading advertising medium in Germany, with ad sales in the billions. 23 million newspapers are sold every day. German newspapers reach an audience of about 70% of the population older than 14 years. Among the nation’s most popular dailies, the Bild-Zeitung plays a prominent role. With a circulation of 3.5 million copies per day, this tabloid (Boulevardzeitung) outsells all other German newspapers – celebrated for its economic success, maligned by intellectuals for its sensationalist coverage. Other important German newspapers (Tageszeitungen) are:

  • Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ): a slightly left-of-center daily from Munich
  • Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ): a conservative broadsheet from Frankfurt
  • Die Welt: a socially conservative and economically liberal daily produced in Hamburg
  • Frankfurter Rundschau: a liberal Frankfurt newspaper
  • die tageszeitung (taz): left-wing paper from Berlin

In addition to these broadsheets, there are lots of weekly newspapers and magazines in Germany, such as Die Zeit or Der Spiegel. (The latter has an English-language website too). They are currently doing a bit better than daily newspapers. The wide range of special-interest magazines and popular gossip magazines (Boulevardpresse) is the most successful branch of print media in Germany.

German Newspapers on the Decline?

Since the overall decline of German newspapers and print media in gerenal has become obvious, a heated discussion about causes and consequences has been going on. Neither the recent economic crisis nor the emergence of the Internet can explain the decline of German newspapers to everybody’s satisfaction. This tendency is actually not a recent phenomenon. Newspaper sales have decreasing since the 1950s.

However, editors of leading German newspapers do blame the emergence of free online journalism for their recent financial troubles, and it certainly is one of the causes for their struggle. As in most parts of the world, the audience’s media consumption is shifting away from the traditional newspaper to news portals, blogs, and social media on the Internet. German newspapers promptly reacted by providing websites of their own, where their content is available for free. To make matters worse from the papers’ point of view, advertisement revenues on the internet are considerably lower than those for printed ads.

Protecting the diversity and variety of independent print media, it is often argued, is an indispensable feature of German democracy. German newspapers and other journalistic outlets are referred to as the fourth estate in Germany’s political landscape, with the power of the press as an essential instrument for checks and balances. The Internet, according to its opponents, can neither assume this role nor guarantee high quality journalism.

German newspapers do indeed serve quite often as a battleground for public debates. Editorials, opinionated statements and interviews with influential public personalities, as opposed to matter-of-fact reporting, make up a large part of their news coverage. The individual tone and political bias of German newspapers and weekly magazines are widely regarded as essential features. On the other hand, investigative journalism does not play as important a role as the media’s assumed function as the fourth estate would suggest.

German Newspapers: Freedom of the Press

In Germany, the freedom of the press and free speech are both protected by article 5 of the German Basic Law. They can, however, be restricted more easily than in some other countries. In Germany, freedom of speech or press does not cover holocaust denial or the glorification of fascism. But limits to free speech may include more controversial issues as well. When an individual’s personal dignity is damaged, even factually true reporting by German newspapers can be forbidden by court rule.

It seems that the German print media as an institution is often considered more important than the abstract ideal of free speech as such. How Germans relate to their media is certainly an interesting, complex and ambiguous part of German culture.

International Newspapers

Of course you do not only have the choice between German newspapers: Lots of international newspapers are available in Germany as well, particularly influential papers and magazines from the Anglophone world, such as The International Herald Tribune, The Guardian, The Times, The Economist or Newsweek. Sometimes, you can find a surprisingly large variety of foreign language newspapers at the train station of a smallish town. Generally speaking, if the paper you are looking for is not available at the station, you will not find it anywhere else in town either. k presse + buch shops at the central stations in Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich offer current print-on-demand copies of more than 850 newspapers around the world.

Other places to purchase international newspapers, journals and magazines are big bookstores, business hotels, and, of course, airports terminals. Also, lots of small Asian, Arab, or Turkish grocery stores sell newspapers related to these regions or may order them for you. If you want to buy an international newspaper, talk to the vendor at your local kiosk. If you promise to purchase the issue regularly, they may get the paper for you. This can be faster than an international subscription by mail.


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