Editor as star

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.

  • Peter

    But, Jeff. Why isn’t Kai answering in his own blog, with … errrr another comment? Craze.

    • Das stimmt. He should.

      • Gregor Heinzelmann

        Oh yes he should. Everybody thinks that. I think it will cost him a lot of interesting readers.

      • Gregor Heinzelmann

        (he never answers comments)

  • I’m sorry. The “BILD-Zeitung” used to harm people in need for profit and is nowadays a cheap pr tool to appeal to the baser human instincts. It’s adventurous to draw a line between its editor, who’s completely unknown as a journalist in Germany, to editors of eg. The New York Times.

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  • We must praise audacity. In a world of beige, the red hot chili paper is the way we should be looking at the Boston Globe and all the other recycling bin opportunities.

    Come to think of it, maybe I can buy a newspaper. Hmmm.

    • The typical US newspaper site is just as boring as the daily print effort, because most are simply a less funded appendage of the print product.

      Chris Brogan is right, a little bit of audacity would be a welcome sight to most readers of newspaper websites. My fear is what happens when the audacity wears thin and we’re right back to the thin content and non-engaging design.

      • You need a voice. No one could get it by being an experienced journalist. It is not enough being a famous guy. And besides, blogging for 100 days is the kind of task that makes blogging look so easy. To keep it up is the hard way. Not to look for audience but to look for your own voice. In the end this will pay. But as a matter of fact, Dieckmann is the first editor-in-chief to do this experiment. Big hands.

  • Jake

    What about Arianna Huffington?

  • I absolutely agree with you that in comparison to a lot of editors of American and British newspapers, Mr. Diekmann is quite innovative. And I guess it is pretty good to have someone from another country have a look at the whole stuff we are into here in Germany.
    Just that there’s another story about Bild. As charming as its editor might be face to face with people he isn’t regularly involved with – as the boss of his newspaper, he has been and is in charge of a lot of not so pleasant things. Manipulating things, looking for a certain angle long enough so that it suits your rather preoccupied view, campaign journalism, viewing facts as a not so important element of reporting. It might have to do with German urge to criticize, just as I am somehow doing now: even a watch blog of its own (www.bildblog.de) has evolved. And they have a fair deal to do every day.

  • Rob Levine

    >>>I can’t imagine Bill Keller or Marcus Brauchli doing this, can you?

    I also can’t imagine either one of them adding an “Erotik” section to their publications, Jeff. Can you really defend the Bild as journalism?

    • Well, Rob, it’s the largest newspaper in Europe – on paper. That, at least, should warm your heart if not other parts of the anatomy.

      • Robert Levine

        I’m more interested in Die Bild’s fantastic coverage of Knut the cue polar bear – they really owned that story. Not many others, though.

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  • Dominik

    Kai Diekmann is not a journalist and Bild is not journalism. It’s a business model. They’re not dealing with truth and information. It’s just about the profit. No matter what.

    That business model is doing so bad on the print market (http://www.bildblog.de/auflage.php), that they had to put all their effort on the new market: the internet. There, they doing rather well.

  • Jeez, guys. Stop the press! I’m tempted to say Bild is the German version of FoxNews so please don’t call him witty or innovative. That hurts!

    • Andy Freeman

      Ah yes. It’s good for the “legit” press to pick up stories from the DNC and various party organizations, but wrong to cover a story broken by Fox.

      I’m beginning to think that excess alcohol consumption made the golden age of journalism possible. When you folk stay sober and talk in public, you’re pretty much a disaster.

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  • Sebs

    Diekman and Bild are the wors Germany has to offer. He and his paper is continuing a german path that we aleady walked: Rise sensiments on marginal groups, reporting on content that simply is wrong (nazi flying sausages appear again and again), works towards a more cassism based looks o the society by reporting on theft of social help by those who have nothing, reports biased to big comapnies etc. etc.
    Diekmann is simply covering the fact that in newspaper and offline, both, he has not the relevance he would like to be and tries to ephasize the fact by behaving like the worst of the worst of our society.
    If it comes to the methods of bild product they are pulling off the whole set of tools we do not want to see in journalism

    1. They “fix” their numbers offline and online
    2. The so called “Volksprodukte” besides the WWII soundish name are clearly a breach of the indipendence of journalism (compare the list of best tested notebooks of computerbild and contendor chip.de …. computerbild seems to be biased towards medion, which is the manufacturer of the “Volks-PC”).
    3. The main theme seems to be bashing the poor and FUD in the Bildzeitung
    4. It’s NOT quality journalism, any studen of a journalism school here in germany can tell you that
    5. They are requarly violating the rules of humanity by for example showing faces of people accused of criminal acts (which they are not allowed by journalism regulations)

    Yeah, he is a attentionwhore. We give him what he wants.

    • Evil Pundit

      Nazi flying sausages? I’d pay to see that …

  • David

    As far as I know, Diekman doesn’t plan to write ‘his’ blog-articles himself, but lets some BILD-editors write them.

  • Jeff –
    I am sorry to say this, but your approach is rather naive. This has nothing to do with transparency, but is all about PR and ego boost. A journalist using a new tool is not a good thing per se, this use has to add value. This is l’art pour l’lart by a the chief editor whose company does not do much to bring the industry forward, but often harms its reputation by intruding into other people’s private sphere.

    I will give Mr. Diekmann credit if he really manages to get involved into a dialogue and uses his blog to respond to criticism other sites like bildblog.de articulate every day. Until he does so, this is nothing but another channel for his PR.

    • I didn’t say it was transparency. I said it was brand. Different discussion.

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  • I think he should be do it.

  • hi Jeff

    As of today the french government is giving away 200 000 free newspaper subscriptions to youths aged 18 to 24 in an attempt to save the print press…
    read a summary here


    would be glad to have your thoughts on this…

  • Rob Levine

    Jeff, you might also note that Springer supports a proposal in Germany to protect the value of news online. (Details: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/29/business/global/29copy.html?ref=business) This seems like a much better plan than promoting a cult of personality around an editor with an attitude.

  • I didn’t get the point!

    • Eric Gauvin

      Jeff’s just taking the jiffy pop balloon for a spin, as usual…

  • H3

    Hi Jeff,
    I listined today to your inspiring keynote at Munich Medientage.

    It’s so sad you were not attending the following discussion.
    Nobody of the panelist understood that the brands of the publishing companies (or they don’t dare to say so) are just nothing with those key journalists, like Kai for bild and bild.de.
    If those guys (and I guess Kai got the point) discover their value in terms of direct profits by publishing on their own brand and further realizing how to get the bugs directly (more or less easily, if you know how to handle Google ;-)), they will fade away instantly and the users as well.

    That’s the main task for publisher! How to be attractive to top journalists (= top ego) and that those guys will stick to the publisher brands.
    Beside the monetary aspect, there is one solution: Unique users!
    Journalist want as many people as possible listen to them. If the reach of an old economy top print brand is lousy in the web, why a top journalist should write for them? Reach-investments in terms of unique users should be the prior strategy for publishers.

    • Rob Levine

      >>>Journalist want as many people as possible listen to them. If the reach of an old economy top print brand is lousy in the web, why a top journalist should write for them?

      This might be an odd personal quirk, but I like to – and need to! – get paid decently. Old media brands tend to pay very well. New media organizations usually pay really badly. It’s very difficult to make money on a blog without giving speeches or consulting – which creates the kind of conflicts of interest that serious journalists need to avoid.

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  • Hans Wurst

    Lucky you, America ….

    “Kai Diekmann (…) is a journalistic celebrity of a sort we don’t have here:”

  • miT

    Jeff i always thought ure a very intelligent person, so please get some more informations about the Bild. Its so ridicilous that u give the newspaper/theirEditorInChief a platform on ur blog.

  • Torsten

    from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bild


    It is argued Bild’s thirst for sensationalism results in the terrorizing of prominent people (such as TV presenter Charlotte Roche) and stories are frequently based on the most dubious evidence. The journalistic standards of Bild, or the lack thereof, are the subject to frequent criticism by German intellectuals and media observers.

    * BILDblog ([1]), a German weblog that when founded was dedicated solely to documenting errors and fabrications in Bild articles, is among Germany’s most popular blogs. In 2005, BILDblog received the Grimme Online Award for its work. Since 2009 BILDblog also reports on errors and fabrications in other newspapers from Germany and elsewhere.

    * Heinrich Böll’s 1974 novel The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, and the 1975 movie based on it, used a fictional stand-in for Bild to make a point about its allegedly unethical journalistic practices. Böll’s public words on the Bild’s coverage of the Baader-Meinhof Gang activities in the early 1970s were: [what Bild does] isn’t cryptofascist anymore, not fascistoid, but naked fascism, agitation, lies and dirt.

    * In 1977 investigative journalist Günther Wallraff worked for four months as an editor for the Bild newspaper in Hanover, giving himself the alias of “Hans Esser”. In his books Der Aufmacher (Lead Story) and Zeugen der Anklage (Witnesses for the Prosecution) he portrays his experiences on the editorial staff of the paper and the journalism which he encountered there. The staff commonly displayed contempt for humanity, a lack of respect for the privacy of ordinary people and widespread conduct of unethical research and editing techniques.

    * In 2004 Bild was publicly reprimanded 12 times by the Deutscher Presserat (German Press Council). This amounts for a third of the reprimands this self-regulation council of the German press declared that year.”

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  • Udo

    BILD is not a newspaper. It’s a tabloid. It claims to be opinionated, but in reality it’s just a remotely news-like service for stupid people. “BILD” means “image”, and that’s what it is. There are lots of colorful images, and what little text exists in between is utterly moronic.

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