The Economist on NZZ

Yay! I just found this story in my preferred English language magazine about my preferred German language newspaper. Since the article is subscription only, but rather short, I'll make an exception to my usual linking policy & quote it in full:

The old aunt of Zurich
Mar 31st 2005 | ZURICH
From The Economist print edition
A traditional newspaper struggles in a competitive world

IF YOU glance at racks of European newspapers, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 225 years old this year, and said to be Europe's oldest quality paper, stands out like a tombstone amid bold headlines and colour photographs. Barring a daring switch from its gothic typeface in 1946, the NZZ has changed little since the 1930s, when it was banned in Germany for suggesting that Hermann Göring was responsible for the Reichstag fire.

Affectionately known as "Die Alte Tante", the NZZ prides itself on the background to its analysis. The emphasis is on international news (the paper has 40 foreign correspondents), business, finance and high culture. Features and lifestyle stories are kept to a minimum. Snippets of gossip are out of the question: any story must be backed by two separate sources. As Salomon Gessner, printer, poet and friend of Goethe, who founded the NZZ in 1780, put it, the aim is to "catch up with the world".

The NZZ still has a reputation as a world-class newspaper. A Zurich banker who is one of the paper's 1,500 shareholders claims it is second only to the New York Times. But, as Hansrudolf Kamer, deputy editor, admits, the average reader is now over 50. Falling sales (the paper sells just under 160,000 copies, of which 4,000 are in Germany) and fewer ads have led to a 65% drop in the NZZ's (unquoted) share price in the past five years. Yet, even as Germany's sober-minded Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has cut costs and modernised, the NZZ clings to high-brow austerity, sometimes holding back big stories so they can be reported "dispassionately".

In the 1930s Thomas Mann, exiled in Zurich, chuckled at the paper's caution. A recent decision to break up long stories with sub-headings was taken only after years of debate in the NZZ boardroom, says Thomas Maissen, a professor at Heidelberg and author of one of two new books on the paper's history. Elaborate jargon-filled sentences are now discouraged, but the NZZ recoils from widening its appeal. "We don't think it's clever or expedient," says Mr Kamer.

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