Der Spiegel (German for "The Mirror") is Germany's biggest and most influential weekly magazine, published in Hamburg, with a circulation of around one million per week.
The first edition of the Spiegel magazine was published in Hannover on 4 January 1947, a Saturday. Before that, there had been a short prelude under the name Diese Woche (This Week), which ran for a few issues starting in November 1946 and was initiated and sponsored by the British occupational administration. After clashes with the British, the magazine was handed over to the principal German editor, Rudolf Augstein, and was renamed to Der Spiegel. From the first edition in January 1947, Augstein held the position of an editor, which he retained right up until his death on 7 November 2002, and of the editor-in-chief.
The magazine was owned by Augstein and John Jahr after 1950; Jahr's share was taken over by Richard Gruner in 1962. In 1969, Augstein bought out Gruner for DM 42 million and became the sole owner; in 1971, the Gruner + Jahr company bought back a 25% share. In 1974, Augstein restructured the company to make the employees shareholders. Every employee who works at the magazine for more than three years is offered the opportunity to become an associate and participate in the management of the company as well as in the profits.
Since 1952, Der Spiegel has been residing in Hamburg. It occupies its own building in the old town.
Der Spiegel is similar in style and presentation to American newsmagazines such as Time or Newsweek, but its long, in-depth articles are more comparable to the Atlantic Monthly or the British Economist. It is known in Germany for its distinctive, academic writing style and its incredible heft. A typical issue is over 200 pages, despite being a weekly and even while retaining a content to advertising ratio of 2:1.
Affairs and Scandals
Der Spiegel has a long track record of uncovering political misconduct and creating scandals, earning itself the moniker "Sturmgeschütz der Demokratie" (assault gun of democracy). In fact, it became notorious for this role as early as 1950, when the federal parliament had to launch an inquiry into the Spiegel's accusations that bribed members of parliament had helped make Bonn (rather than Frankfurt) the seat of the West German government.
The incident that cemented the magazine's image as a sentinel of democracy, however, was the so-called Spiegel scandal in 1962. After an article had been printed that reported on the low state of readiness of the German armed forces, minister of defence and notorious right-wing figurehead Franz Josef Strauß initiated an investigation against the Spiegel, causing the editorial offices to be raided by the police and Rudolf Augstein as well as several other editors to be arrested on charges of treason. Although he had no authority to do so, Strauß even made sure that the article's author, Conrad Ahlers, was arrested in Spain where he was vacationing. The legal case collapsed soon, and the whole affair led to a major shake-up in the cabinet of chancellor Konrad Adenauer, including Strauß's resignation. It was widely viewed as an attack on the freedom of the press, with the Spiegel being the bastion the assault on which would rather lead to the downfall of the administration than to that of the bastion. Since then, Der Spiegel has played a significant part in uncovering various political grievances.
One of the main points of criticism that is brought against the Spiegel concerns the language that is cultivated in the magazine. In 1957 the writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger published his essay Die Sprache des Spiegel (“The Language of the Spiegel”), in which he criticised what he called a "pretended objectivity". Wolf Schneider, an eminent journalist and stylist has called the Spiegel "the biggest mangler of the German language" and used quotations from the magazine as examples of bad German for his style guides. Recently the Spiegel has joined the ranks of the language guardians with the "Zwiebelfisch" column on the magazine's website which even spawned a best-selling book.
Some critics, in particular the Augstein biographer and former Spiegel writer Otto Köhler, have brought charges against the magazine's dealings with former Nazis, even SS officers. It is alleged that the Spiegel, which at other times had no qualms about exposing the Nazi past of public figures, may have distorted history and protected perpetrators when it hired these insiders to write about Third Reich topics.
Politicians who had to deal with the magazine often voiced their disaffection for it. Outspoken conservative Franz Josef Strauß contended that Der Spiegel was "the Gestapo of our time", and Socialist Willy Brandt called it "Scheißblatt", i.e. a "crappy paper".
The Spiegel's circulation rose fast, and so did its influence. From 15,000 copies in 1947, it grew to 65,000 in 1948 and 437,000 in 1961. By the 1970s it had reached a plateau at over 900,000 copies. Since then the circulation has gone up and down but overall changed little. The one million barrier was broken in 1990, perhaps due to a great number of new readers in East Germany. The influence that the magazine enjoys rests on two pillars; firstly the moral authority that was established by notable pieces of investigative journalism during the early years and reinforced by a number of impressive scoops during the 1980s; secondly the power of the Spiegel publishing house. It has been producing a TV programme since 1988, and further diversified during the 1990s. Among other things, Spiegel Verlag now publishes the monthly Manager Magazin.
In 1993 the publishing company Burda introduced the weekly magazine Focus which was designed to be an alternative to the Spiegel, featuring a flashier layout and a political slant that was more right-wing than the Spiegel's. It has been successful, eventually reaching roughly the Spiegel's circulation.
Spiegel Online was introduced in 1994. Initially, it was only available to Compuserve users, the first web issue followed about half a year later. Original content produced by its own editorial team is complemented by content purchased from news agencies. In addition to that, selected articles from the print edition are available online at no cost (this selection used to be quite comprehensive). The rest of the print publication is available in PDF format for a fee. Spiegel Online has been on a tight budget since 2000. Its editors are not compensated as well as their print counterparts, they receive special Spiegel Online rates. In 2002 archived articles were declared premium content; they are no longer freely available and have to be purchased. On 21 October 2004, an official English version called "Spiegel International" was introduced.
Editors-in-chief of Der Spiegel
1962-1968 : Claus Jacobi
1968-1973: Günter Gaus
1973- ?: Erich Böhme and Johannes K. Engel
- ? -1989: Erich Böhme and Werner Funk
1989-1994: Hans Werner Kilz and Wolfgang Kaden
1994-: Stefan Aust
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13