It’s an uncommon message from a newspaper proprietor, however Holger Friedrich desires everybody to know that he has a low opinion of reporters.
The German media, in response to the writer of Berliner Zeitung, has “very low” belief among the many public and poor skilled requirements. He advised the Monetary Occasions: “I might advise any individual with accountability or [a public] publicity degree to keep away from contact with most journalists.”
The 56-year-old tech millionaire entered the newspaper enterprise alongside his spouse Silke in 2019 to rescue a struggling Berlin every day with a wealthy historical past. Below his possession, Berliner Zeitung’s monetary bleeding has stopped and on-line readership has swelled. However its proprietor has turn into entangled in a string of controversies.
Inside weeks of buying the broadsheet, Friedrich was outed as a former Stasi informant. He later confronted accusations of utilizing his newspaper to provide a platform to Covid vaccine sceptics and Russia supporters following Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Most lately, he has brought on an outcry amongst journalists in Germany, earned a reprimand from the press council and triggered lawsuits after exposing a supply.
Friedrich, who grew up in communist East Germany, says that he’s making an attempt to shake up a media panorama he argues has been debased by double requirements, West German cultural hegemony and narrow-minded group suppose.
Talking within the newspaper’s historic workplace in Alexanderplatz, he says the German media is “discussing or analysing politicians or enterprise leaders and never following our personal similar requirements”.
First revealed weeks after the autumn of the Third Reich, Berliner Zeitung was one of the essential papers in East Berlin through the years of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Owned by the communist get together, it had a every day circulation of as much as 500,000.
After German reunification in 1990, it went by means of 4 homeowners — together with a short stint with notorious British media baron Robert Maxwell — and have become caught in a spiral of declining readership, dwindling promoting revenues and mounting losses.
Friedrich, a former McKinsey companion, paid an undisclosed sum to amass the title from Cologne-based publishing group Dumont in September 2019, describing the acquisition as a “romantic alternative”.
His turnaround has concerned reducing prices, overhauling the web site and rising digital promoting.
Whereas acknowledging that reader numbers are dwarfed by the most important German retailers, and that print circulation has fallen to 33,000, he claims to have remodeled the enterprise and says on-line progress has been “very excellent”. He provides that he “doesn’t care” about print. The variety of visits to Berliner Zeitung’s web site and app is up greater than 40 per cent this yr to 17.6mn in July, he says.
After mixed working losses of €8.4mn between 2019 and 2021, the publishing home disclosed in July that it made €1.2mn in working revenue final yr, including that the nice efficiency was persevering with in 2023.
Friedrich argues he’s in search of to democratise journalism by publishing reader contributions on subjects from the state of the Russian opposition to the historical past of a Berlin motorway bus cease.
He says Russia supporters and vaccine sceptics need to be heard in addition to these holding opposing views, including he trusts readers to type their very own opinions.
However, since his takeover, the paper has made waves for its proprietor as a lot as for its journalism.
Friedrich and his spouse used a joint article in November 2019 to thank the final communist chief of east Germany Egon Krenz for not ordering the capturing of protesters who toppled the regime in 1989 and questioned his later jail sentence.
Days later, the conservative broadsheet Welt am Sonntag revealed that Friedrich served in his youth as an unofficial collaborator for the Stasi.
The media proprietor claims that this account was incomplete. An independent investigation commissioned by the then-editor of Berliner Zeitung discovered that Friedrich himself was a longtime goal of Stasi spying, with the key police noting his adverse views concerning the GDR. As a 21-year-old, he was coerced into co-operating with the Stasi for 3 months after being arrested on suspicion of planning to flee the GDR, then a legal offence.
The investigation additionally discovered that the co-operation was ended by Friedrich, who claims that he warned these he was speculated to spy on.
Friedrich casts himself as a freethinker. Earlier this yr, he backed a “manifesto for peace” that urged Germany to cease supplying Ukraine with weapons and in Might he attended a reception on the Russian embassy. However he describes Vladimir Putin as a “legal” and says that “Russia has to pay” for its aggression in Ukraine. He insists he has “no sympathy” for the GDR.
Whereas relishing the thought of sparring with German media titans, he additionally seems to crave their acceptance, saying rivals have been by no means concerned about views “as an outsider” or how his expertise in finance and tech could be useful.
Friedrich is now going through widespread media opprobrium after breaking journalism’s precept of supply safety.
In April, he was approached by Julian Reichelt, who had been fired as editor of newspaper Bild in 2021 after going through allegations of mendacity to his employers over sexual relationships with junior female staff. Reichelt denies having deceived his bosses.
Friedrich says that Reichelt supplied him explosive details about a compliance investigation carried out by Bild’s mother or father firm Axel Springer, the proprietor of US-based retailers Politico and Insider. Declining the inside track, he wrote to Axel Springer executives to inform them over Reichelt’s leaking.
That enabled Axel Springer to launch a legal battle against Reichelt, taking the previous editor to court docket to demand that he return his €2mn severance pay. Reichelt has stated he didn’t share inside Axel Springer paperwork.
Whereas Friedrich was cleared of authorized wrongdoing by courts in two complaints introduced towards him by Reichelt, his actions brought on horror amongst journalists. The German Press Council, the sector’s self-governing oversight physique, issued a rebuke.
His personal outlet felt it wanted to publicly distance itself, with editor Tomasz Kurianowicz releasing an announcement vowing to all the time defend sources. Nonetheless, a couple of months later Kurianowicz testified in a civil case about materials that had been shared with him by Reichelt. Kurianowicz advised the FT he had been requested to provide his account of the occasions after Reichelt sued Friedrich and the publishing home. Friedrich stated the paper needed to defend itself towards Reichelt.
Friedrich says he was appalled by the delicate nature of the paperwork he claims to have been supplied — and, extra usually, by what he sees because the eagerness of the German press to publish embarrassing materials for little motive aside from titillating readers.
He’s on a mission to boost the bar he insists. “The open query is how we are able to enhance our requirements.”
This text has been up to date concerning court docket testimony given by Kurianowicz about materials shared with him by Reichelt