Party press is revamped and still read all over: John Eisenhammer in Dresden finds former Communist papers are keeping their readers' loyalty in difficult times

THE Haus der Presse, a dull, concrete blockhouse in the centre of Dresden, seems an unlikely place for a successful experiment in defying the laws of gravity. None the less, inside, those same journalists who just three years ago were penning columns about the party's infinite wisdom, and vitriolic articles about the capitalist enemies of the West, now dedicate their efforts to extolling the beauty of Bavaria and the joys of driving the latest Volvo. And the readers love it.

Before the collapse of Communism, the Sachsische Zeitung described itself as the 'official organ of the regional section of the Communist Party'. Now, it is simply 'independent'. The nearly half a million readers appear not to have noticed anything amiss. Where, before, people had to read the regional party paper because there was no other, they now buy it out of choice.

A similar phenomenon is repeated right across eastern Germany, utterly confounding the confident expectations of most western German media bosses. Under Communism, the old regional party papers like the Sachsische Zeitung had 92 per cent of the market; today they still have 85 per cent. Efforts to introduce established western papers into the east, or start up new 'westernised' ones there, mostly proved dismal failures.

'The newcomers just do not have the right feel. East German journalists write differently, they understand their readers' problems, they share the same past,' says Jorg Wagner, the economics editor at the Sachsische Zeitung.

It has been a sobering experience for the western publishers, who were convinced that only they knew how to produce real newspapers. For even though all the former regional party papers are now western owned, and in many cases the old Communist editor has been replaced, that is about as far as the changes have gone.

There are just four western journalists on the Sachsische Zeitung, now owned by the western publishing house, Gruner and Jahr. The rest are former party hacks, trained in the 'Red Cloister', as the national journalism school at Leipzig university was known. Those new owners who tried to westernise further, as did the liberal Munich-based Suddeutsche Zeitung, which took over Dresden's other paper, the Union, were rewarded with more than a 50 per cent drop in sales.

Just as unsettled by having to adjust to new times as the journalists, the eastern German readers clung to the local papers they knew. An independent study commissioned by the Interior Ministry in Bonn found that eastern readers 'believed their newspapers to be more objective and credible than western ones'.

Shortly after taking over the Sachsische Zeitung, Gruner and Jahr did a poll of its readers, asking them which political party was felt to shape the paper's reporting. The result was evenly split between all the main parties, from the former Communists to the Christian Democrats, with a slight leaning towards the right. For writers moulded in the 'Red Cloister' that was no mean achievement.

A glimpse at the front pages of a regional western and eastern paper leaves little doubt that, by the choice and presentation of stories, they inhabit different worlds. The criticism is frequently heard in the west that, by their obsession with problems such as unemployment, western arrogance and sharply rising crime, the eastern papers have done much to undermine the early spirit of unification.

'People who say that do not live in eastern Germany,' says Edith Giert, editor of the Sachsische Zeitung. 'Our newspapers must be different, we have much more urgent, dramatic problems. We have to show we understand our readers. In 10 years' time, the newspaper will be different when the conditions are different. We have to live with the people and the times.'

That is something she should know. For Mrs Giert is one of the few senior former Communists still in charge of a major regional paper. Deputy editor for nearly 20 years, she was elected editor by the staff when the paper went 'independent'.

'Red as sin' is one insider's description. Mrs Giert states bluntly: 'No one here was a resistance fighter.' She oversaw the paper's transition during the past three years. However, it has all finally become too much for Gruner and Jahr. Mrs Giert is taking early retirement at the end of the year; a western editor is moving in.

It will make little difference to one aspect of life in the newspaper, which has already undergone dramatic transformation. 'In the old days,' laments one of the journalists, 'you could not say a word against Honecker, but you could be very free in your discussions with the editor. Now, you can write every day that Chancellor Kohl is a cretin, but woe betide anyone who lets slip a careless word about the boss.'

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: We are currently looking for a Geog...

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee