Europe's newspapers struggle, too
When a German newspaper group cancelled its DPA wire service subscription, a fresh debate was sparked over government subsidies of the news media.
Not long ago, Germany's second-largest newspaper group, WAZ, made what many saw as a seismic decision. Citing financial pressures, it severed its long-time ties with the German Press Agency, DPA. Instead, it vowed to get its news more cheaply by renewing its contract with France's Agence France-Presse only.Skip to next paragraph
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For the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung publications, which reach 2.9 million readers in the country's' most populous state of North Rhine Westphalia, the decision was sound economic thinking. It meant saving $2.7 million and preserving the jobs of 25 journalists.
But editors at Germany's main wire service, DPA, say losing such a formidable client will have consequences on journalism.
"A news agency doesn't function like a car factory," DPA chief Michael Segbers says. "If you build fewer cars, you need fewer tires, less paint, etc. But at a news agency, the loss of revenues shows in news coverage."
The spat between the French and German news agencies is part of a growing crisis hitting Europe's ailing newspaper industry and highlights differences over the role of government in supporting the press.
At the heart of the tension is a clash of systems, with an independent agency, DPA, accusing a government-subsidized rival, France's AFP, of unfairly luring clients with artificially low prices. Some in Germany say it's time for their government to support DPA.
"If the press can't fulfill its public function anymore, we have to think about state aid or some sort of broadcasting regulatory model," Dieter Grimm, a former judge, said recently.
Editors of the WAZ group say that not one reader canceled his or her subscription since the DPA wire reports were dropped. Yet the papers' depth of German-based coverage has become undeniably more shallow.
A race to the bottom?
"Journalism culture – the whole media culture in this country – is going to be affected," Mr. Wilke says.
Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti, a Bonn-based investigative reporter and creator of a media-watchdog Internet forum, adds. "The German press agency calculates its prices based on everybody participating. When a major client goes away, it becomes more expensive for all the others."
Frankfurt-based Peter Zschunke, author of a German-language book on news-agency journalism, fears that journalism is increasingly driven by the bottom line. He also says that newspapers must now make difficult decisions in order to survive. "Newspapers are under huge cost pressures," he says, "and they have to have the freedom to say, 'This is too expensive for us.' "
Whatever the reason, WAZ's favoring French AFP over German DPA has brought attention to how France – unlike Germany – subsidizes its newspaper industry.
Europe's news juggernaut