Why do we read the newspaper

: “Do we need newspapers?”: 24 minutes a day to read

A year and a half ago, 120 former daily newspaper readers in Berlin, Hamburg and Leipzig were asked why they had canceled their newspaper. “There were more and more reports in the newspaper that didn't interest me,” they complained. Or: "... often couldn't see what was really important ..." and: "Often the reports only contained what I already knew about radio or television." There was criticism for too much irrelevance, superficiality, too little personal effort and research . Has the local paper run out?

“Do we need newspapers?” Asks former journalism professor Michael Haller in a book with this title. The question is meant rhetorically. Regional newspapers are still part of the basic equipment in order to inform citizens and to shape the will in our democracy. Haller relies on ten years of work as director of the Institute for Practical Journalism and Communication Research (IPJ) in Leipzig. He has observed many helpless attempts at this.

Regional daily newspapers are continuously losing circulation and blaming the Internet for causing ads and readers to migrate. Haller argues that the shrinkage started long before the Internet and newspapers put themselves in danger by neglecting the needs of their readers. You are to blame for your crisis. Regional newspapers in Germany still reached more people than TV stations.

A few years ago Haller propagated journalistic storytelling, gathered noble feathers from home and abroad in Leipzig. He has evidently deviated from that. The reporter forum, in which the Edelfedern around Cordt Schnibben from Spiegel organized, has meanwhile become suspicious to him. In the summer, Schnibben published a series on the newspaper crisis and, as a result, developed an app for an evening newspaper. Haller thinks this is the wrong approach because she “practically only offers services and after-work entertainment”. The majority of readers, he says, referring to his research, want something else, namely relevance and orientation in the morning. After all, both see the future of the daily newspaper in the app. And they both know that newspapers have to get young people to read in particular.

While the journalist Constantin Seibt from the Tagesanzeiger in Zurich preaches style and demeanor with his column Deadline, the Dreispalter is elegantly condemned and widely praised among colleagues for it, Haller calls him an egomaniac and steamy chatterbox. The differences of opinion between Schnibben, Seibt and him went “much deeper than just whether an app comes for breakfast or after work or whether you tell nice stories or not.” Calligraphers have their place, but you can only leave them with the supplements. If they also took on the main task, newspapers would be in greater danger because they offered too little information and orientation.

It is false wishful thinking of journalists that newspaper readers in the "Internet age" would rather find narrative stories in the daily newspaper than current and "hard" researched news. Data analyzes showed that the people (regardless of whether they are 30 or 60 years old), depend on the content: They wanted to convey many events in an informative manner according to classic journalistic criteria such as topicality and relevance.

Local newspapers reacted helplessly to the crisis, says Haller. According to him, the evening newspaper in Munich is the example of a newspaper that has made itself superfluous because it offers too little guidance on the really important issues. The same thing happened to the Hamburger Abendblatt, which was losing readers dramatically.

Ten days ago the Donaukurier in Ingolstadt reported on page one under the lead story about the Crimean crisis in three columns that a farmer had run over his own grandson - he almost overlooked him while reversing. The one-year-old boy was taken to the hospital; No injuries were found there and the father was sent home with the child. A typical example of the compulsive attempt to give meaning to local events and put them on page one. Readers don't care whether such news is on page one or page 25. The only effect is that the readers perceive their paper as provincial.

How can the daily newspaper regain its status? Better educated people wanted to start their day-to-day work with an “overview” of the relevant events - and not end it. They would have an average of 24 minutes a day to do this. Seibt's proposals ended up "in the niche of zeitgeist and gonzo journalism". The real future problems are "completely different".

For Haller, media competence means acquiring the cultural technique of "reading newspapers". Because many young people can no longer say what the difference is between a report and a comment. In a test in Hamburg and Leipzig with vocational school students who were presented with six newspaper articles, 66 percent thought the factual report was an expression of opinion and 59 percent thought the commentary was a factual report. So you do not understand the technology, which is one of the foundations of political will and opinion formation.

Haller therefore makes ten suggestions, all of which go in a similar direction. He wants to promote the reading skills of young people. Publishers should introduce newspapers to children in preschool and school. Free subscriptions and support programs are also useful for this.

Michael Haller: Do we need newspapers? Halem-Verlag, 248 pages, 18 euros.