It is an uncommon message from a newspaper owner, however Holger Friedrich desires everybody to know that he has a low opinion of reporters.
The German media, in accordance with the writer of Berliner Zeitung, has “very low” belief amongst the public and poor skilled requirements. He informed the Financial Times: “I would advise any person with responsibility or [a public] exposure level to avoid 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 day by day with a wealthy historical past. Under his possession, Berliner Zeitung’s monetary bleeding has stopped and on-line readership has swelled. But its proprietor has grow to be entangled in a string of controversies.
Within weeks of buying the broadsheet, Friedrich was outed as a former Stasi informant. He later confronted accusations of utilizing his newspaper to offer a platform to Covid vaccine sceptics and Russia supporters following Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Most lately, he has induced 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 attempting to shake up a media panorama he argues has been debased by double requirements, West German cultural hegemony and narrow-minded group suppose.
Speaking in the newspaper’s historic workplace in Alexanderplatz, he says the German media is “discussing or analysing politicians or business leaders and not following our own same standards”.
First printed weeks after the fall of the Third Reich, Berliner Zeitung was certainly one of the most essential papers in East Berlin throughout the years of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Owned by the communist celebration, it had a day by day circulation of as much as 500,000.
After German reunification in 1990, it went by means of 4 house owners — 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 accumulate the title from Cologne-based publishing group Dumont in September 2019, describing the buy as a “romantic opportunity”.
His turnaround has concerned reducing prices, overhauling the web site and rising digital promoting.
While acknowledging that reader numbers are dwarfed by the largest German retailers, and that print circulation has fallen to 33,000, he claims to have reworked the enterprise and says on-line progress has been “very very good”. He provides that he “does not care” about print. The variety of visits to Berliner Zeitung’s web site and app is up greater than 40 per cent this 12 months 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 12 months, including that the good efficiency was persevering with in 2023.
Friedrich argues he’s searching for 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.
But, since his takeover, the paper has made waves for its owner 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 owner 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 secret police noting his detrimental views about 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 purported to spy on.
Friedrich casts himself as a freethinker. Earlier this 12 months, he backed a “manifesto for peace” that urged Germany to cease supplying Ukraine with weapons and in May he attended a reception at the Russian embassy. But he describes Vladimir Putin as a “criminal” and says that “Russia has to pay” for its aggression in Ukraine. He insists he has “no sympathy” for the GDR.
While relishing the thought of sparring with German media titans, he additionally seems to crave their acceptance, saying rivals have been by no means concerned with views “as an outsider” or how his expertise in finance and tech may be useful.
Friedrich is now dealing with 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 dealing with allegations of mendacity to his employers over sexual relationships with junior female staff. Reichelt denies having deceived his bosses.
Friedrich says that Reichelt provided him explosive details about a compliance investigation performed by Bild’s father or mother firm Axel Springer, the owner of US-based retailers Politico and Insider. Declining the scoop, 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 former editor to courtroom to demand that he return his €2mn severance pay. Reichelt has mentioned he didn’t share inside Axel Springer paperwork.
While Friedrich was cleared of authorized wrongdoing by courts in two complaints introduced in opposition to him by Reichelt, his actions induced 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 a press release vowing to at all times defend sources. However, a couple of months later Kurianowicz testified in a civil case about materials that had been shared with him by Reichelt. Kurianowicz informed the FT he had been requested to offer his account of the occasions after Reichelt sued Friedrich and the publishing home. Friedrich mentioned the paper needed to defend itself in opposition to Reichelt.
Friedrich says he was appalled by the delicate nature of the paperwork he claims to have been provided — and, extra usually, by what he sees as the eagerness of the German press to publish embarrassing materials for little purpose aside from titillating readers.
He is on a mission to boost the bar he insists. “The open question is how we can improve our standards.”
This article has been up to date relating to courtroom testimony given by Kurianowicz about materials shared with him by Reichelt