Tagesspiegel reinvents its print newspaper to appeal to more paying readers

By Lorenz Maroldt


Berlin, Berlin, Germany


By Christian Tretbar


Berlin, Berlin, Germany


When we decided to reinvent our core product, the printed Tagesspiegel newspaper, we asked ourselves many questions, such as, “What does an excellent newspaper look like?” and “How can we cater better to the needs of our readers?” 

We realised that a good newspaper works like a high-quality restaurant. For the paying customer, that means:

  • Not having to decide between dozens of combinable menus once a day, but instead being surprised by what the chef has selected from the market and finely prepared.
  • Being served the best of cuisine that is at once regional, national, and international.
  • Still having an appetite for the next course after each one, with the good feeling of being well served.
  • Being able to recommend it to friends and being happy to come back again.
Tagesspiegel reinvented its print newspaper to include more ways to access content.
Tagesspiegel reinvented its print newspaper to include more ways to access content.

Five things to avoid

Anyone who wants to run an appealing newspaper restaurant today must first clean up thoroughly — and avoid five mistakes when opening a new one:

  1. Chance. No matter how big an editorial team is, there is one thing it can hardly avoid: If the specialist for a particular topic or region is ill or on vacation (or doesn’t feel like writing it), the reporting disappears without a word to the readers. And even in the best of health, how is the Asia correspondent of a national newspaper supposed to reliably keep an eye on such a vast area with 1.5 billion people?
  2. The fleeting dependence on major events. A volcano erupts, an attack or a riot breaks out and everyone reports, sometimes first-hand, but usually only second-hand (agencies) or third-hand (social media). Reporting often remains on the surface. And after a few days, when the TV teams have taken down their cameras and switched off the lights, the area that everyone was looking at just a moment ago sinks back into darkness for newspaper readers.
  3. The verbiage. That sounds disrespectful to the colleagues who work on their literary reportages with passion and empathy, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. It’s about text that is artificially stretched out. But who benefits if the first 40 or 50 lines are pure ornamentation? Those who know their way around are immediately bored and turn the page; those who could be made curious are deterred by the mass of text that faces them.
  4. The journalistic longing for catastrophe. Few things are as misunderstood by editors as the classic motto, “Bad news is good news.” Sure, scandals, wars, and epidemics must be reported, and people read that — at least at first. Anyone who knows how to read the access and sales figures quickly realises this wears off every time. Weariness with the bad news develops.
  5. Polarisation. Research and analysis are time consuming and therefore expensive. Opinions, on the other hand, can be had cheaply — and they often come along just as cheaply: stirred together quickly and spiced sharply with irritant words so the readers’ pulse watches sound the alarm. But as with the “bad news” error, the effect soon wears off.

Building a better restaurant

A good newspaper restaurant knows what’s new in the world, uses the world’s knowledge, is as diverse as the world, and understands how the world is connected. It also values the quality of every ingredient.

To achieve this, a robust and resilient network is needed. It consists, of course, of journalists and cooperation with other media, Web sites, and blogs.

But at the heart of the kitchen is a database for systematic access to experts working in universities, foundations, or think tanks worldwide. They share their knowledge with the editorial team, far beyond the excitement of the moment. Their contributions are translated, curated and shortened by an editorial team that is full of expertise and contributes it.

This requires a different understanding of editorial journalism than the current prevailing one. But it is not a reinvention of the profession, rather it leads back to the origin, which happens to be the motto of Tagesspiegel: Rerum cognoscere causas — getting to the bottom of things, recognising and understanding the cause — and then sharing this knowledge. Not moralising, lecturing, or being polarising, but becoming source-transparent and profoundly informing.

People are happy to take time out of their day for a restaurant like this — and to pay for it.

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