Kai Diekmann, the head of Bild, the gigantic German newspaper, is a journalistic celebrity of a sort we don’t have here: utterly charming, lustily egotistical, brashly opinionated, infuriating to those he infuriates (a friend of mine calls him Germany’s Roger Ailes), beloved to his fans, witty, quick, clever, innovative, and never afraid of the spotlight.
Now he has a blog. And a store. I’d heard about his blog for sometime but it wasn’t seen outside the walls of his office. Now it has gone public. He says he’ll do it for 100 days. I predict he’ll be addicted.
There’s a 360-degree tour of his office, starring him. Click on his possessions and learn more – about, for example, a piece of the Berlin Wall signed by Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev, and George Bush (41). He has a bio and lots of photos. Diekmann interviews himself (Why are you writing a blog, he asks. “I’m just incurably vain,” he answers). He posts video he shoots himself – “ich bin Videoblogger-in-Chief für Bild.de” – including one in Baghdad and another of him getting a shot. He brags about the commercials for Bild made by Bild’s readers, who understand its brand well. He links gleefully to an interview with a competitive publisher and scion of a German publishing family (founders of Der Spiegel) who says the esteemed Süddeutsche Zeitung won’t be around on paper in 20 years – but Bild will. He tweaks the liberal competition, the taz. On his “fan club” page, he shows his critics (and I thought I was brave exposing underendowment). In his store, he sells books (starting with his own) and hoodies, buttons, totebags, and mugs with his own mug (as Che Diekmann) and Bild branding as “the red-hot chili paper.”
The guy has balls. And he’s getting attention, which surely is the goal.
I can’t imagine Bill Keller or Marcus Brauchlidoing this, can you? Not even Alan Rusbridger or Will Lewis. Not even the editor of the New York Post (who’s he?). Piers Morgan is the closest thing I can imagine to Kai in the anglophone world, but he had to leave editing to become a star. In Germany, Kai is a brand. In the staid world of anglophone journalism, that’ll probably be sniffed at. But on the social web, I see little choice but to be open and human and even – gasp – have a sense of humor.
I have some personal history here to disclose. See my own story about introducing Diekmann to the Flip video camera here. I later went to speak to editors and executives of Bild’s parent company, Axel Springer, at their retreat in Italy. There, Diekmann was constantly recording every event with his own version of the Flip camera, to his colleagues’ grudging acquiescence. Does he do this all the time? I asked. Yes, they moaned. Sorry, I said. At that meeting, I pushed them all to blog and I’m not suggesting that has anything to do with Diekmann’s effort. But I’m glad to see lots of blogs emerging from Axel Springer. On a very different level, see the blog by the editor of Die Welt. The form knows no limits.
Diekmann took the Flip and surprised me by not just equipping his journalists – other editors’ reflex – but instead equipping his readers. He took interactivity and didn’t just allow readers to comment on what his paper does – as other editors do – but instead had them define his brand. He now has taken the blog and surprised me again, making a comment on the form and his paper and his industry and himself. And it’s fun to watch.
: Later: I left a comment on Diekmann’s blog and in no time, I got email from him. He’s reading what his public is writing.