Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Bild: Tag 1 (Day 1)

Bad omen: they forgot I was coming. And the lady who set the whole thing up...on vacation until June 10. It must be nice to take 12 day vacations.

But they very graciously fetched me and brought me upstairs. It turned out 2 of the 3 big time editors were also on vacation, and the third hadn't arrived yet (it was 9am). It must be nice to wander into the offices of Europe's largest distribution newspaper sometime later in the morning.

Daniel soon shepherds me. He talks very fast, very authoritatively and it isn't long before he's stopped by a tall, slender woman ( I later learn her name is Inge - more to come on her later). There's trouble brewing, according to her.

Here's the thing: Bild just moved their headquarters to Berlin (formerly had been in Hamburg, media capital.) But Berlin is symbolic, especially for the Axel Springer publishing house. Springer put his building defiantly facing East Berlin. The publications are committed to a few basic principles: a unified Germany, support Israel, a unified Europe, embrace a free market economy, and reject all forms of political extremism.

You might say they have an agenda. In fact, they set the agenda for Germany on several occasions.

But the Bild, and all of its other publications are facing what every printed publication is facing: fewer readers. More folks are going to the web. They've started pumping millions into their online departments. And they're in the process of integrating the print department with the online department.

There's trouble brewing.

Inge in short order informs Daniel that a print guy doesn't want to take part in a session on how to build a web page. Bild Digital has a slick computer system - and its awesome, I want one to play with - where they can build a web page using a template that allows to upload, video, audio, photo galleries, surveys (what they call mini-voting). It's incredibly efficient (what else would we expect from a German media outlet?)

Some of the print guys don't want to learn - they want to turn it over to the online folks. But that's not a very efficient use of resources - Bild wants to free up bodies to generate more original content for the website rather than dedicating resources to reformatting the print content for the website. In short, they want the print reporters to do more work. Capitalism is such a cliche.

Daniel's job is to integrate online with the print department. He's organizing all these seminars. And he tells Inge they have to learn it. Period. That's the order from up high. And it will happen. But he points out they don't have to learn video, they don't have to shoot footage. What they're being asked to do is quite minimum.

They go back and forth. I can tell Daniel is a pit bull. Inge gives up after all, but tells him she's caught in the middle. I feel bad for her - she's on the front lines of the battle to change internalized practices. Short of dragging the print people to the 3rd floor (the print department is on the 16th floor) there's not much anyone can do.

But this is classic. I've heard stories like these before. Tension between online and print. Fear of being asked to do more with fewer resources. Fear that journalism is going to be sacrificed. (This is not much of a concern for the Bild.) But clearly a fear of change.


wallraffs erbe said...

It's not that the Bild is the beacon of hope for the soon-to-come first German multimedia outlet ever. The truth is more that Germany doesn't really need another outlet for the below-par Bild contents.... be it multimedia, print or whatever else. The organisation is an unchecked, illegitimate and abusive agenda-setter for German politics.

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