Foundations: Newspapers in Germany during the Weimar Republic
This is a primer post for the new Foundations section on my website. I am neck deep in researching this subject (again) and one of the things I realized is how much I missed the first time around. I am not sure why or how some of this was missed but I am grateful for what I am doing know. Anyways, I am currently diving into a favorite subject of mine: journalism. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that given my profession that this topic is near and dear to my heart.
I cannot go into the full history of the newspaper history during the Weimar-era right now. I am still researching it. However, I have found this fabulous book titled Press and Politics in the Weimar Republic by Bernhard Fulda. Right now, I am only able to look at this nice work on Google Books. And just from the first thirty pages I have been able look at this far, it is definitely something I need to purchase. The cost, however, is not in my budget at the moment. The book is around $150 and I have yet to track down a local source for it.
The book, along, with a handful of others is on my list Amazon Wish List found here. Press and Politics in the Weimar Republic is the book at the bottom of the list (if you’re interested).
As you read the following, think of this as an exercise of “free writing.” I do these writings as I research to get my thoughts out there and it is something I can refer to later on as I write more on this subject. So it may appear disjointed, even rambling with weird prose or incomplete sentences—it is intended to be that way. That also includes any grammar errors and misspellings.
Fulda’s book is an extensive look into newspapers and politics in Germany during the Weimar Republic (1918-1932). Most of research seems to focus (at least from I have read so far) on the Berlin newspaper scene, however, he does mention newspapers across the country.
One of the interesting things about studying newspapers in Germany during this time period and even during the Nazi-era, as I have found myself, is how little research has been done on this subject. Most of the scholarly work focuses on film and art. Yet, during the 1920s, newspapers were the primary source of mass communication. Fulda is one of a handful of scholars to tackle this subject.
Full circulation numbers, Fulda notes, are not entirely known. Publishers kept these numbers secret. And what we do know about them comes from the private papers of publishers and editors and scant publicly reported data. We know more about the number of published newspapers exceeded three thousand during the 1920s and early 1930s. We do know that by 1931 newspapers throughout the country had a circulation of about 20 million. That number is likely higher because newspapers were shared between the people—putting the total significantly higher.
The amount of newspapers available to the German public led to a largely decentralized network. Many towns and cities had more than one newspaper. In Berlin there were about thirty dailies and when you expand to the geographic era, it was doubled. The total circulation potential for a Berlin paper was about three million.
The make up of Berlin’s newspapers fell into three distinct categories in 1925.
- Elite political papers had a circulation of about 600,000
- Berlin’s mass subscription papers featured one million.
- Tabloids had about 350,000 papers in circulation
The average German citizen gravitated toward newspapers that filled a need for whatever information they were seeking. And that said a lot of them as an individual. People on the right read conservative-leaning papers. People on the left had their own press. If politics were not your thing you had a general newspaper that had some politics but focused on things people wanted to read: sports, culture, etc. There was a healthy press for religious groups—Catholic newspapers were a big draw. The vast selection of newspapers meant most Germans could find something to read. This created different communication networks that often competed with each other. This was a central feature of Weimar Republic politics.
Another great source is The Captive Press in the Third Reich by Oron J. Hale. His work focuses how the Nazi Party turned its mediocre network of newspapers into a mass network. As I publish more articles about newspapers in Germany you will see how the Nazis seized control and forced some of the biggest publishing houses to give up property and circulation networks. The bulk of my research in 2010 was on this topic.
I bring up Hale’s book because the decentralization of newspapers in Germany would help facilitate the overall “cleansing” (for the lack of a better word) of the press during Nazi. Combined with economic depression, political unrest, and competition, the newspaper industry was an easy target for the Nazi party.
There are obviously other sources I am using, including journal articles written during the Nazi-era, articles from the New York Times, the Chicago Daily Tribune and other newspapers, and books written about the press, media culture, censorship, and propaganda.
All of those topics speak to the larger questions I am attempting to answer with these Foundation Articles. That said not all of the articles will focus on the press, some will focus on World War I, the inter-war years, the rise of political extremism in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s. This also means writing about some difficult subjects. Other subjects will also come up along the way.
As I write about newspapers and politics in the Weimar Republic, you may think to yourself there are some striking similarities. I just ask this of you: while we study history to learn from the mistakes of the past so that we find a better path forward, it is wise to keep in mind you can compare today to 100 years ago but you must get into the head of the people who lived through some pretty unusual and extraordinary times. Hindsight is not good when it comes to history. Understanding the problems and issues of the 1920s and 1930s and the decisions people made will go a long way in understanding our own world today.