Industry News Weekly Digest

Weekly Digest: Axel Springer Troubles, Russian “Black Fridays”

Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every week, we bring you important news stories from the world of media – and try to put them in a wider context.

Axel Springer, European largest publishing house, has been all over the media news over the past week.

Last Friday, Wall Street Journal reported that the company plans to eventually launch a paywall at Politico, US media outlet Axel Springer purchased this year. According to WSJ’s Bojan Pancevski, the company’s CEO Mathias Döpfner said “he expects Politico’s main news offerings, now free, to go behind a paywall in the medium term.”

This statement contradicted Döpfner’s previous words; speaking with Politico staff later, he acknowledged his choice of words while speaking with WSJ was mistaken, Axios reports. Döpfner assured Politico’s reporters that no decision has been made yet.

Axel Springer has also had a far bigger problem this week, however. On Sunday, New York Times’ media columnist Ben Smith reported on the accusations of sexual misconduct and toxic work culture at Bild, a large German tabloid owned by Axel Springer. The allegations concern Julian Reichelt, Bild’s chief editor; he was fired the next day after Smith’s report. On Monday, German outlet Der Spiegel followed up with further details of the scandal. 

Axel Springer and its chief executive have been accused of having known about the allegations and turning a blind eye before an American newspaper shed the light on them. When firing Reichelt on Monday, the company said it learned new details about the editor’s misconduct from press reports. This claim has been disputed by journalists who note that press reports about misconduct at Bild are based largely on the company’s own internal documents. 

The story also has an important press freedom angle to it. As Jon Allsop writes for Columbia Journalism Review, “perhaps the most damning revelation in Smith’s column concerned not Bild but Ippen Media,” a rival German publication that was preparing to publish an investigation into misconduct at Bild, only to have the story killed after the company’s largest shareholder Dirk Ippen intervened. 

On Monday,  As New York Times highlights, “[Reichelt’s] dismissal marked the belated arrival of the global #MeToo movement at Axel Springer” and comes at a time when the publishing house expands its global ambitions. The Guardian notes that “the German firm is being held to higher international standards” with Politico’s acquisition.

More From The Fix: Axel Springer becomes a global player overnight

“Foreign agent” designations in Russia have become a widespread way for the authorities to target remaining independent media outlets. Every Friday has become a “black Friday” for journalists and free speech activists – the register of “foreign agents” by the Ministry of Justice gets new additions every week, featuring around 90 entries now.

Last Friday, two more publications got the designation. Rosbalt is a popular news portal based in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, while Republic is an analytic outlet that has long worked under the paywall model. Republic’s chief editor noted that “of course” his outlet doesn’t have foreign financing and works thanks to subscribers’ money. 

This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the topic, asked by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov during a public conference. Putin defended the concept, claiming that the practice doesn’t prevent news outlets from an operation and simply “colors foreign money.” (The Russian president claimed there are no felony penalties associated, which Meduza says is simply not true). He said, however, that the authorities will look into the law to see how it can be improved, with “foreign agent” criteria made more clear. 

More from The Fix: Weekly Digest: Crackdowns & New Media in Russia, Changing Audio Scene

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Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash


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