The Mario Blog
My first visit to Bild Zeitung : lessons and surprises in big type

TAKEAWAY: It is two weeks before Christmas, but I already got one of my wishes—-to visit Bild Zeitung and to sit down with the editors and to get my first taste of how this phenomenally popular newspaper does what it does to attract 12 million readers everyday. After meeting editor Kai Diekmann, I think I know why.

This blog post will be updated throughout the weekend. Updated 03:34 EST

TAKEAWAY: It is two weeks before Christmas, but I already got one of my wishes—-to visit Bild Zeitung and to sit down with the editors and to get my first taste of how this phenomenally popular newspaper does what it does to attract 12 million readers everyday. After meeting editor Kai Diekmann, I think I know why.

Bild Zeitung’s world: Made in Germany for Germans

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Here is today’s front page of Bild Zeitung: this is the page that was created while I visited Bild’s newsroom

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Editor in Chief Kai Diekmann and me in his office

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Photos everywhere: “2500 may be looked at for consideration on any given day”

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Front pages of the last four days line up the wall, within easy view by all editors working on today’s front page

As i reached the entrance to the offices of Bild, in the Axel Springer House in Berlin, I was ushered into editor’s Kai Diekmann’s office, but, first, I found myself in front of a huge replica of an iconic Bild front page, with a huge photo of Pope Benedict XVI, and the headline over it, reading “We are Pope”.

Indeed, “we” are (if you are a German on the day this major announcement was made April 19, 2005 ).

Bild and religion. Not just on this front page, but in the German psyche as well. Everyone has something to say about Bild in Germany. Bild is religion.

Take the reaction of my assistant, who is a German transplanted to America via marriage. She is in her 60s, grew up in Bremen and has her memories of Bild: “Oh, Mario, perhaps you don’t wish to get involved. It is sort of a boulevard newspaper.”

Or my pilot friend, the Lufthansa captain, with whom I had dinner last night here in Berlin: “You don’t want Bild as your enemy, they can really go after you….you just don’t mess around with Bild, no, sir.”

Big newspaper. Big reputation. Big headlines.

And a bigger than life editor: Kai Diekmann

If Diekmann was not Bild’s editor in chief, he would be one of the personalities appearing often in its colorful pages.

I never met a German editor along the way more animated (could he have a Latin grandfather?), passionate or absolutely sure of what he is doing and how he does it than Kai Diekmann.

Bild is Kai and Kai is Bild

Enter Kai Diekmann—-yes there are T-shirts which readers buy that read I love Kai—-and those who wear it truly mean it. Diekmann’s blog is where you can find them.

Kai welcomes me into his ample office, where he can check website updates on the wall as he talks to me.

“I am so happy and honored that you are here, Mario,” he tells me with a big smile. “It means a lot to us at Bild that you would choose to want to come visit us and do things with us.”

The reason for Bild’s success

This is a getting to know you session. I still have a few weeks before the January visit when I actually sit in meetings and help with the layout of pages.

It is my turn to get first hand information about the success of this phenomenally popular daily that is read by 12 million in its printed editions, and over 6,3 million online.

But, first, I have to relate my biggest surprise.

I came here expecting to find a dozen cantankerous, older male editors running the show and shouting orders. Sort of “get me rewrite!”.

Instead, I am met at the door by Michael Paustian, Deputy Chief Editor, a youngish man with blond hair and glasses, wearing sneakers. A trip to the newsroom confirms my impression that this is closer to a university classroom than an old lions’ journalistic den. And, indeed, many young women in positions of authority, like the one who was editing Page One for the next edition, and the one sitting next to her, as well as the art director, Veronika Illmer, a transplanted Austrian (more on her later).

In fact, the online editors—-sitting right around the same circle as the other editors—-are a bunch of young men who could probably do a gig singing in the Vienna Boy’s Choir (or the Berlin Boy’s Choir, if one exists).

That such young people can roll up their sleeves, get into character and produce a product that reads, smells and looks like a piece of old time journalism, is part of what excited me about this first visit to Bild.

Back to Kai Diekmann and our chat as I assume the role of interviewer here:

What is the basis of Bild’s success?

“It is simple,” he says, showing the excitement and pride he feels discussing his Bild.“we do things with passion. We reflect what Germans feel. The other newspapers in Germany report factual reports, objective stories, press conferences. We don’t. We report what the people feel. On the day a German Pope was named, our headline was “We are Pope,”, not because we were really popes, but because that is what the man in the street was feeling. A German had become The Pope. Reason to celebrate, to be proud. We reflected that with our headline right on Page One.”

It is called “community”

Diekmann feels that we have lost a sense of belonging and community in the world. So Bild provides it.

“Used to be that there were two television channels and we all watched the same TV. So, the next morning, in the office, or on the train, people would talk about similar shows they saw on TV. Today, my editors and I all watch TV, but we rarely coincide on our choices of programs. In other words, we have lost that sense of community. Bild Zeitung takes care of that. We are like a big community and we present and reflect the passions, feelings and things that the German people are talking about, reflecting upon, discussing—-that is what makes us what we are. That is our uniqueness. In a sense, the reason for our success”

Success that Diekmann immediately supports when he tells me that Bild Zeitung has been one of the few newspapers in the world with profit margins for both 2008 and 2009, and actual increases in circulation.

Diekmann does not buy the idea that newspapers are dying, or that people stopped reading newspapers.

“It is all about the stories, the content, ” he says. “We have seen increases here. We simply provide the type of stories and coverage that people feel they need and crave for. That is the key.”

Digital versus print

I immediately get a sense that this is, indeed, a multi platform newsroom. Nobody has to tell me, you sniff it in 10 seconds, and then Kai Diekmann confirms it:

“We produce content here,” he says. “We don’t aim at one platform. It is the story first. We let the storytelling take its course. The best platform for the story, or various platforms for one story. We also do our own type of videos. And we now have the #1 mobile application. In each case, we do our own thing. I am always seeking ways to put a distinct imprint in what we do here, not just another video or another photo, we aim higher.”

Bild and outsourcing/citizen journalism

“We have created the phone number 1414 that readers can dial on their mobiles and communicate instantly with us to send us photos or videos. That way, we have gotten visual images from our readrs that are exclusive, that not even the photo agencies had. Big success for us and our readers.”

Indeed, a success, and on a good day over 4000 photos are sent in by readers.

In addition, when Bild decided to market itself through a new advertising campaign, it turned to its readers to create the best such campaign.

More than 12000 ideas came in, and, Diekmann says that many of them were absolutely magnificent.

The art director at Bild

I, too, was surprised when I met Veronika Illmer, Bild art director.

An art director in this visual no man’s land????? How could that be? Who could she be?

“I figured you were hesitant to take the job,” I tell her.

“Yes, I was,” she says, “but I quickly started to like it, and to enjoy it, and now I have brought some order to the pages,a s much as one can expect,and we do have a style, a system, and even a grid—-although it might be difficult to identify it.”

We are all smiling at this point.

Grids. Typographic schemes. Modules. Stories that respect their physical boundaries.

Toss them all to the wind here. Veronika agrees, as we all move to the newsroom, where Page One for tomorrow is almost finished (see final page above).

On the screen, cut out photos of a variety of celebrities who are part of a gala event to raise funds for children’s charity, sponsored by Bild Zeitung.. Among the page one silhouettes Mexican actress Selma Hayek with a decoutage ample enough to show her biggest assets.

“This is a special front page,” Veronika tells me, as she instructs the young woman editor working on the page to adjust a headline here, a photo there.

The background of the page is all red.

A front page to grab you and seduce you, oozing with celebrity photos, and those mega narrow columns.

“They are part of a grid,” the designer tells me, “we can get 16 of those narrow columns on a page here.”

“Tell me, Mario, is there anything you would do differently here?,” Veronika asks me, and three or four editors around us are looking intensely, waiting for my answer.

“No, not a thing, Veronika, this page truly sings,” I say, and they all smile.

Of course, this front page sings.

It sings the Bild-Zeitung song.

Unique. Melodic. The chirpy sounds that its readers want to sing along with.

And I have until mid January to learn Bild’s kind of music.

I told Kai during our meeting today that I usually come into these newsrooms to effect change.

This time, however, I am here to let Bild change me, to teach me a new song,

What a better time to learn a new song than when I am getting ready to celebrate my 40th year in this business in 2010.

To be continued.

Previous entries related to Bild Zeitung

Handelsblatt: marketing its product across platforms

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Front page of this weekend’s edition of Handelsblatt

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Handelsblatt online marketing image to promote its storytelling across platforms

As you know, we accompanied the German financial daily Handelsblatt as it made the transition from broadsheet to “business express” (compact) format.
Two months later, the editors report reader satisfaction with the new Handelsblatt.

I have come across this marketing use online to present Handelsblatt as what it is: a media house devoted to financial news and analysis in a variety of media.

We at Garcia Media also assisted with the design of, as well as the look and feel for its mobile phone applications.

All previous posts about Handelsblatt relaunch—business_format_is_here_today

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