Online–The Future of Newspapers? Germany's Dailies on the World Wide Web


  • Christoph Neuberger,

    Corresponding author
    1. Christoph Neuberger is Assistant (Wissenschaftlicher Assistent) in the Department of Journalism at the Catholic University of Eichstätt (master's degree in journalism, Catholic University of Eichstätt, 1990; Ph.D., University of Eichstätt, 1995). His research interests include computer-mediated communication, journalism (journalism theory, labor market, education) and television.
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  • Jan Tonnemacher,

    Corresponding author
    1. Master's degree in economics from the Free University of Berlin (1967), Ph.D. in Mass Communication Science (Free University of Berlin, 1975) and is a full professor for journalism at the Catholic University of Eichstätt. His main fields of research are politics of communication, media economics, audience and impact research, international communications, new information and communication technology and public relations.
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  • Matthias Biebl,

    Corresponding author
    1. Scholar at the Department of Journalism, Catholic University of Eichstätt. He wrote his master thesis about online editorial boards of German newspapers.
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  • André Duck

    Corresponding author
    1. Also studies at the Department of Journalism, Catholic University of Eichstätt. The subject of his master thesis was the user survey presented in the article.
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Lehrstuhl für Journalistik II, Katholische Universität Eichstätt, D-85071 Eichstätt (Germany).

Lehrstuhl für Journalistik II, Katholische Universität Eichstätt, D-85071 Eichstätt (Germany).

Lehrstuhl für Journalistik II, Katholische Universität Eichstätt, D-85071 Eichstätt (Germany).

Lehrstuhl für Journalistik II, Katholische Universität Eichstätt, D-85071 Eichstätt (Germany).


The research project “Online – the future of newspapers?” examined the producers, their products and the users of German online newspapers. The study on online editorial boards was carried out in the form of a standardized mail survey of all 81 daily newspapers with a WWW presence in May 1997 (return quote: 78%). A questionnaire for the users was placed in the Web, where it could be accessed via links to the homepage of 27 online papers (2524 respondents). In addition five individual websites of newspapers were examined (semi-structured oral interviews with the heads of the editorial boards, content analysis). Almost half of the staff in online editorial boards have journalistic duties. Technical duties are of growing importance. The majority of online editorial boards surveyed depend on the editorial decisions of the print editors. The news sections in online papers consist mainly of duplicates of the printed “parent” paper. Articles for the online version are rarely edited. Very few external links and no graphic or sound effects were added. About two-thirds of users would have chosen the print newspaper and just under a third would have preferred the online version if only one of the versions had been available. The case studies show that online publishers and users base their activities and/or expectations on the print newspaper and use or design their product accordingly.


The new information and communication technologies have been discussed as both an opportunity and a risk from the point of view of the traditional established media. As a form of computer-aided communication, the World Wide Web (WWW) is equally ambivalent for the print media. Its technical potential greatly surpasses that of the printed newspapers in a number of ways. WWW has the advantages of being interactive, multimedia, of providing internal and external networks and offering selection functions, the possibility of regular updates, access to archives, rapid access to a large number of newspapers, and being paperless, thus creating no problems of waste disposal. One advantage left to newsprint is that reading it does not require any sophisticated, cumbersome technical equipment. This offers the reader a high level of flexibility: newsprint can basically be read in any place at any time. The reader can absorb the information offered at his own pace. Even the fact that the reader can touch and feel the printed paper while turning the pages may be of some importance. On the one hand, WWW presents a threat to the traditional distribution system; on the other hand it gives publishing houses the opportunity to offer up-to-date information, advertisements and additional services via a further communication channel.

The appearance of the WWW at a time when symptoms of an approaching crisis in the daily press are becoming increasingly apparent in Germany, as in the United States, reinforces these hopes and fears. In the past decade the coverage of dailies has diminished only slightly, from 83 to 80%. Among 14–19 year olds, however, coverage sank by 11 percentage points to a mere 58% between 1987 and 1997. The newspapers seem to be losing “the readers of tomorrow” (Atanassoff, 1997, p. 205). While total circulation in Western Germany has remained constant at around 20–21 million copies since the 80s, there has been a dramatic drop in the circulation of papers in the East since unification in 1989. The number of copies sold has fallen from nine and a half million to 5 million copies in 1996, a reduction of almost 50%. Not only have subscriptions fallen, papers sold by newsagents have also suffered losses (Schneider, Möhring, et al., 1997, p. 380; Schütz, 1996, p. 324–336). Several of the factors which have led to an extreme reduction in readership in the USA, such as the growing number of single-person households, increasing mobility, the diversification of interests in society and the influence of television, are to be observed with a certain time lag in Germany (Schönbach & Peiser, 1997, p. 12f.; Ruß-Mohl, 1992, p. 17–24). Since the introduction of private broadcasting companies, newsprint has also lost to television its leading position as a carrier of advertisements; in absolute numbers, however revenues from advertising have risen (Heffler & Debus, 1997, p. 299).

The “paperless newspaper” now creates further insecurity. This is not the first attempt to provide online access to written texts. In the early 80s many publishing houses used Bildschirmtext (videotex) for this purpose. Btx was never very successful in Germany; owing mainly to technical inadequacies it had only a limited impact on the media. (Tonnemacher, 1983; Quandel & Tonnemacher, 1983). Progress in information and communication technology has since produced the Internet, a sophisticated, globally linked system. In the past two decades the print media headed off of possible competition from Btx, advertising magazines and local radio by participating themselves. The result has been a high degree of intermeshing between the media (Böckelmann & Hesse, 1996; Ridder-Aab, 1982). The publishers of daily papers are equally eager to assert market presence on the WWW (“Bundesverband Deutscher Zeitungsverleger e.V.,” 1998) as early as possible. In November 1997 eighty-three newspapers with full-scale editorial boards were already involved in one way or another in the WWW; at this time there were in total 135 newspapers with full-scale editorial boards in Germany (Schütz, 1997).

There is currently much speculation about the acceptance and consequences of the Internet; in this article we will present some of the results of the research project “Online–The Future of Newspapers?”1 conducted by the degree course in Journalism of the Catholic University of Eichstätt (Katholische Universität Eichstätt). In this project an attempt is made to find answers to the following question: how are production, supply, and reception of newspapers affected if the papers hitherto produced and distributed by means of printing and paper are given a new material basis? If the media contribute to the solution of communication problems, does the new material basis enhance the solution of problems and to what extent do suppliers and users fully exploit the technological potential? This study is the first in Germany to examine the producers and the users of online newspapers, as well as the product itself. Daily papers were chosen as the object of the study as this made it possible to observe the development within a single organization, where the same news is distributed via two different channels.


The study on online editing was carried out in the form of a standardized mail survey of all 81 daily newspapers with a WWW presence at the time (May 1997). Surface mail was chosen because the questionnaire was addressed to the editors-in-chief/project managers and they are often not reachable by e-mail. Also, e-mail has only restricted layout possibilities, which would have considerably complicated filling out a questionnaire with 50 questions. Sending the questionnaire as an attachment file would have required a greater degree of willingness to cooperate than we could assume, since many such surveys were being conducted at the time. Thanks to intensive follow-up measures we received 63 completed questionnaires, representing a return rate of nearly 78%.

Unlike the editors' survey, the questionnaire for users was posted on the Web, where it could be accessed during a period of eight weeks (June to August 1997) via links to the home pages of 27 online papers. Of these, 24 were local/regional subscription papers, one was a national subscription paper and two were “newsstand” dailies. Thanks to the support of the publishing houses, this part of the study also achieved a very satisfactory return rate. During the eight-week period 2524 questionnaires were completed. The sample cannot be regarded as representative, as it was self-selected. Nevertheless the size of the sample does permit some conclusions about the acceptance and use of online papers to be put forward from the answers.

In addition to the questionnaires completed by editors and users, five individual web sites were examined. The selection criteria were first, the type of newspaper (newsstand daily, local/regional paper, and national subscription daily) and second, the use that was already being made of the presentation possibilities of WWW. A further condition was that the newspaper had participated in the editors' survey. The following web sites were selected: SZonNet 2, (Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Munich), Express online3, (Express, Cologne), Nordbayern Infonet4, Nuernberger Nachrichten5, Nuernberger Zeitung6, and Nordsee-Kueste7, (Dithmarscher Landeszeitung, Heide).

The selection of only five papers permitted the semi-structured oral interviews with the heads of the online editorial boards (end of July/beginning of August) to be supplemented by a comparative analysis of the contents of the daily news presented by each publisher in the online and print version respectively. The news section was printed out in full from 12 o'clock on the days on which the survey was performed, mainly on the basis of the title of the sections (“SZonNet Aktuell”, “Nachrichten”, “News”, etc.). A precise classification was defined for each publication. Also included were those stories that were printed on the same day but were placed elsewhere on the web site. Not included was the “News Ticker”, which provides news from a news agency (with little editing work) several times a day, and supplements also presented online.

This content analysis represented a new methodological approach to online journalism research. So far, to our knowledge, only anecdotal descriptions of web sites of daily newspapers are available (for instance Brössler, 1995). Two levels of analysis were involved: the complete online or print edition of a paper, and the articles appearing in both versions. Three days were selected for the comparative analysis: Monday July 7th, Wednesday July 9th, and Saturday July 12th 1997.


Organization and personnel of the online editorial boards

The answers given by the editors show that the majority of publishing houses take a cautious approach to their Internet presence: only every second publisher (48%) created a separate editorial board for the online version. In approximately one-third of the cases (37%) the online version was produced by editorial staff who all also worked for the print version. One in ten dailies (11%) employed an external company for the production of the online version.

The total workforce of the online editorial boards included in the survey was 433 in May 1997, of whom 197 had some editorial duties (writing, editing, selection and research). This is of course a very small number when compared with the 15,600 editorial staff (including trainees) who worked for German dailies in 1996. (Füth, 1997, p. 155). The average online editorial board has a staff of three. With a staff of 56, Express online in Cologne had the biggest editorial board, but 48 of these were freelancers. Roughly half (48%) of the editorial staff had not previously worked for the print version. Whether and how many new jobs have in fact been created, or if there had merely been reshuffles within the editorial boards could not be determined by this study. Asked about planned changes one in five online editors (19%) stated that the number of employees was to be increased in the course of 1997.

The employees' age in online editorial boards was substantially lower than the average age in all fields of journalism: 69% of editorial staff were younger than 35. Among the female staff this increased to 78%. A representative survey carried out in 1993 showed the proportion of this age group among journalists as a whole to be 48% (Weischenberg, Löffelholz, et al., 1994, p. 155). The percentage of women in online journalism (23%) is relatively low (journalists, total: 27%) (Weischenberg, Löffelholz, et al., 1993, p. 27). The proportion of women in senior positions is 14%.

The survey also covered the qualification and journalistic experience of online editors: Sixty-one percent of the editorial staff had completed a period of on-the-job training or were still in training, 4% had attended schools of journalism, 51% had been working as journalists for one year or more. Thirteen percent had a degree in journalism, communication science, or publishing. Free-lance workers were often students or graduates in other fields. A further 43% of editorial staff had graduated in different subjects, only 6% however in computer science. Sixty-one percent were familiar with the programming languages generally used on the Internet.

Activities performed and decision patterns

The advent of the World Wide Web has taken computer technology a further step into newspaper production and reception. In the first phase, text processing systems were used in a variety of ways up to and including printing (“desktop publishing”, “computer-to-plate”). The final product “newsprint” remained basically unchanged for the reader, however. In the second phase the computer has also been used for transmission and reception. The fears of the negative influence of technology on journalism, such as were expressed in Germany in many quarters when text processing systems were introduced (for instance Weischenberg, 1982), are now being voiced again in connection with online newspapers.

There is a striking technological bias to the activities carried out by online journalists (cf. Table 1), and this could prove to be to the detriment of real journalistic work. The technological burden could be reduced in future, however. In the USA and to some extent in Germany, too, online editorial systems are now being used which relieve the editor of the work of programming. He or she only needs to know how to use the applications software. Eighty-two percent of the project leaders agreed with the statement that the currently demanding technological requirements of online journalism would in future have “little” or “no” negative effect on the quality of online newspapers.

Table 1.  Activities of online editors of German daily newspapers
ActivityShare in %
Selection of texts89.7
Editing outside texts78.5
Writing/editing own articles74.4
Technical preparation of texts for the Internet and programming Web pages62.6
Electronic research (e.g. Internet, databases)55.4
Non-electronic research54.4
Handling and answering e-mails51.8
Artwork, graphics, layout41.5
Administrative and organizational work29.2
Maintenance of Internet servers and database administration, network administration14.9
User help service/hotline service07.2
Providing Internet access03.6
n = 195 

In about one-third of the cases surveyed (34%) the decision as to articles and topics chosen for the online edition lay not with online editorial staff but with the editors-in-chief of the printed version or the authors of the articles themselves. Thus online journalists did not carry this responsibility themselves, but were dependent on the editors of the print edition. In 8% of cases articles were selected automatically by computer. In 39% of cases the members of the online team were completely free to decide what should be published in Internet.

Differences between the print and the online version

Respondents had definite ideas (expressed in response to an open-ended question) as to how the copy of online versions should differ from that of print versions. Fifty-seven percent said that the articles should be shortened, 34% required an abbreviated “news item” style and 29% wanted the article to be linked with other online features. Only 8% of online editors-in-chief saw no need for revision. In fact, however, articles were revised “seldom” or “never” in almost two-thirds of online editorial boards (cf. Table 2). In only one-third of cases did editorial staff shorten articles “always” or “frequently”. The style was revised “always” or “frequently” in only 14% of cases. The results of the analysis of contents during the case studies confirm that articles are seldom revised. An e-mail link to the editor or the editor of the readers' letters section is often provided.

Table 2.  Editing articles from the print edition
Articles from the print edition are edited for the online edition17.519.345.617.5
Stories are shortened for the online edition12.321.124.642.1
Stories are extended to include additional information for the online edition01.710.348.339.7
Order of content of an article is altered for the online edition05.310.531.652.6
Style is revised for the online edition03.510.521.164.9
Story is given a new headline for the online edition01.829.833.335.1
Graphics added to story for the online edition01.717.243.137.9
E-mail link to editorial board added for the online edition24.608.821.145.6
E-mail link to author added for the online edition05.405.414.375.0
E-mail link to readers' letters staff added for the online edition29.305.213.851.7
Link relevant to the story added for the online edition05.127.128.839.0
Discussion forum on the subject of the article set up for the online edition00.010.533.356.1
n = 56 to 59    

Internal links can be used to divide up large units of information into more easily digestible portions, but this was done “frequently” or “always” in only one-quarter of cases (cf. Table 3). Copyright reservations were raised against this procedure. Although links to other Internet features were never “always” used, they were used “frequently” by one-quarter of the editors surveyed. On the subject of external links, criticism was expressed of the amount of research necessary and the need to constantly check the link addresses. Reservations as to the credibility of Internet sources were also expressed. The use made of multimedia functions was also limited (Table 3). Although audio and video sequences are attractive means of adding variety, there were often problems due to lack of staff and inadequate transmission capacity on Internet.

Table 3.  Use of special Internet elements in the online editions of German daily newspapers
 This element is used …
Links that allow the user to navigate within the article08.114.537.140.3
Links which allow the user to navigate within the web site27.425.822.624.2
Links to other sites00.027.440.332.3
Video sequences00.001.816.182.1
Spoken text00.000.014.385.7
n = 56 to 62    

In addition to up-to-the-minute information from the printed version, daily newspapers also offer numerous additional features on their web sites (cf. Table 4). More than half of them contain public relations messages from the publishers themselves (including forms for subscribing and placing advertisements) and offer services and computer information (including network searches). An archive in which readers could look for articles from earlier editions is available in almost half the online editions. And 18% offer a “news ticker”, e.g. “dpa-Online” (German News Agency), which provides an automatic update of online information.

Table 4.  Additional content in online versions
 in %
Specified categories (n = 60): 
Own PR (including facilities for taking out subscription, placing advertisements)81.7
Advice/service (not computer)66.7
Computer/Net research (list of links)61.4
Entertainment (games, comics etc.)48.3
Open categories (n = 62): 
Events database30.6
Other local information27.4
News ticker (e.g. dpa Online)17.7
Travel offers14.5
Special offers for young people09.7
Ticket ordering service06.5

Editorial staff also use other means to ensure that their news is always up-to-date. Eighty-seven percent of online newspapers were updated at least once daily. Twenty-one percent of these updated twice and 10% three times or more. There appears to be a trend towards updating on the evening before the printed version appears. Only 21% of project leaders stated that the articles in their online version “never” appear before the print version.

Financing and strategies

Financing is still one of the main problems of online newspapers. There are high investment and running costs (especially for publishers who as providers also offer readers access to Internet), but advertisers are still very skeptical and users unwilling to pay, as the project's user survey showed. Eighty-five percent of the online newspapers carried advertising. Only three of them charged a fee for using the archive. In 65% of cases the advertising customers were not the same in print and electronic versions. Almost one in ten newspapers (9%) has succeeded in gaining new advertising customers for the print edition through their online version.

Provider services represent a further source of finance (sale of Internet access, drawing up Internet information for business customers). This is also risky for the publishers, however; the Internet servers require constant maintenance by expensive specialists, and customer inquiries create extra work for editorial staff. Forty-three percent of publishers had nevertheless decided to act an Internet provider. When the survey was carried out all the publishers were making a loss on their online editions. They regarded the hesitancy of advertisers as the biggest obstacle. Over 90% of online project leaders agreed with this either “fully” (32%) or “to a large extent” (58%). For the future, too, the majority of project leaders saw little chance of being able to finance online newspapers through advertising alone or through charging for the service. It is not surprising, therefore, that very few respondents agreed with the statement that the strategic aim of their Internet presence was to make a profit (cf. Table 5). The aim most frequently mentioned was that of establishing a footing as early as possible in the media of the future, followed by the benefits to the newspaper's image. Daily newspapers may be faced with new competitors on the advertising market in particular. It is not surprising, therefore, that 80% of project leaders took a strong position on the online advertising market as a strategic goal. Despite certain worries the vast majority (97%) of project leaders did not foresee printed newspapers being replaced by online newspapers in the future.

Table 5.  Strategic aims of German daily newspapers for their online activities
 whollymainlylessnot at all
Getting into a promising sector as soon as possible82.314.501.601.6
Improving the newspaper's image69.429.001.600.0
Increasing the newspaper's range of services53.241.904.800.0
Entering an interesting advertising market as early as possible59.021.318.001.6
Making news more up-to-the-minute37.141.921.000.0
Gaining readers for the print edition32.337.129.001.6
Additional profit10.227.147.515.3
Reaching large numbers of (potential) readers at low cost06.527.448.417.7
n = 59 to 62    

User profile, habits of use and reading preferences

Approximately 4.1 million adults used online services in Germany in 1997. This represents 6.5% of the population over the age of 14. The demographic structure of users of online versions of German newspapers who participated in the survey carried out as part of the project was largely similar to that of online users in general. Three-quarters of them (73%) are under 40, women account for 15%; 74% have a matriculation qualification, half of them (50%) have a university degree. The results of an online study of the ARD (Association of the German Public Broadcasters) (van Eimeren, Oehmichen, & Schröter, 1997) also show 73% in the under-forty age group, but 62% with a matriculation qualification and 27% women users (Eimeren, Oehmichen, et al., 1997, p. 549). Almost one quarter (22%) of the users of online newspapers gave as their main place of residence an address outside of Germany, half of these in the USA or Canada (12%). Three-quarters of these (72%) were persons who used to live in the circulation area of the newspaper in question. This is presumably attributable to the fact that online newspapers are often the only means of obtaining up-to-date information about what is happening in the country of origin.

Online newspapers do not yet appear to be used as regularly as the print versions. According to the survey only 29% of users of online newspapers read them daily, as opposed to the 56% who read the print newspaper daily. Seventy percent read the online edition several times a week, while 78% read the printed version several times a week. Only 1% of online users say they never read a print newspaper. Online newspapers are read less frequently and also for shorter periods than printed newspapers. Four out of five users (81%) spend less than half an hour reading the online newspaper on the days when they read it. Only 40% of print readers spend such a short time on it.

About one-third of readers of both online and print newspapers were unwilling to pin themselves down to a particular time of day for reading the paper. One in four (26%) said they read the printed newspaper between 5 and 9 a.m. The main time for reading online newspapers is around 6 p.m. (32%). This is the time preferred by users of online editions which can be read on the evening before the printed version appears or which are updated several times in the course of the day.

In the online versions too, the classic sections of the newspapers are the most frequently used. The section “Science and technology” is also highly popular. One in three readers of online newspapers uses the archive “always” or “frequently” (32%). Only about one-third of users “never” read the small ads (37%). Items with entertainment value or with feedback possibilities were not very popular. Clear differences emerged between the different kinds of newspaper (cf. Table 6). It is apparent that preferences are transferred from the print media to their online equivalents. Proof of this is the strong interest in “Local/regional affairs” among Internet users of local and regional newspapers or the importance attached to up-to-date information on politics and business matters in the big, supra-regional newspapers (SZonNet”). The question as to which areas should be extended brought responses which concentrated mainly on areas already heavily used.

Table 6.  Use of online versions of German daily newspapers by type of newspaper
 local/regional subscription newspaperssupraregional subscription newspapernewsstand newspapers
   N = 573
 N = 1313N = 638 
Business and economics59.676.960.0
Science and technology58.765.556.4
News ticker43.335.150.8
The Arts35.445.140.3
Human interest24.921.133.0
Personal ads26.108.221.3
Sound and Video16.808.215.0
Contact the editor07.802.406.0
Guest book/forum05.001.105.6

Advantages and disadvantages of online newspapers

Online publication allows the publishers to get the information to the reader much more quickly than the print newspaper. Twenty-two of 27 of the newspapers included in the survey were available online before the print edition; four even updated the online version several times a day. The importance attached to immediacy can be seen from Table 7. The appeal of an online publication to users appears to depend on its immediacy. Of the online publications that were updated several times a day, 70% of the users stated that the greater immediacy of the online newspaper was very important, whereas the equivalent figure for users of online publications that were only updated on the day the print newspaper was published was just 46%.

Table 7.  Advantages and disadvantages of online newspapers compared with print newspapers
 very importantless importantunimportantno response
Use is usually free of charge59.422.910.207.6
Online newspaper has news faster56.225.012.306.6
Use of a wider spectrum of newspapers possible49.229.612.708.5
Use of links46.132.212.709.0
Automated searching41.133.016.509.4
Use of back copies38.437.015.609.1
Use of foreign newspapers42.325.024.807.9
Archiving of articles on the computer22.829.736.910.6
Contact with editors via e-mail16.036.338.109.6
Use of interactive games05.620.861.612.0
Use of guest book/forum04.221.063.511.4
Online newspapers do not report on all subjects50.832.710.306.2
They do not convey the experience of reading a newspaper49.726.018.106.2
Long download times45.132.416.805.7
Online newspapers cannot be read while traveling41.229.423.206.2
Reading the screen is tiring31.541.922.104.6
WWW access costs money23.034.336.406.3
Too many links are confusing rather than helpful15.837.839.407.1
It takes time to get used to using them07.131.454.507.0

The fact that several newspapers are available for reading on the Internet was very important for about half the users. The advantages resulting from hypertext, automated searching and the availability of back numbers were also rated highly. The relative unimportance of feedback and games is in line with the low utilization of these facilities.

One serious disadvantage of online newspapers was felt to be that they usually provide only a selection of the articles available in the print newspaper. Only three of the online publications participating in the survey included all articles from the print newspaper every day. Other disadvantages cited by many users were that online newspapers can not provide the same experience of reading as a print newspaper, the download times are long, and the “paper” lacks portability. There seem to be few technical problems connected with reading online newspapers and the cost of Internet access is not seen as a serious drawback.

Competition between online newspaper and print newspaper

A number of questions dealt with the comparison of the information content of online newspapers compared with print newspapers. Compared with the print version, the online newspaper was rated by 43% of the respondents as providing more “breadth” of information, while only 28% voted in favor of the print version on this criterion; 25% rated both versions the same on this count. The often very much smaller size of online newspapers compared with the print newspaper may be the reason that the print newspaper was rated by considerably more respondents as providing greater “depth” of information (62%, online: 24%).

As regards navigability, the position is more positive for online publications: 41% of users stated that they could find their way around just as well as in print publications, while 16% were able to find their way around online publications better. As regards entertainment value, 37% of users found online newspapers just as good as print newspapers, 31% of users rated print newspapers better and 25% favored online newspapers. The online versions of newsstand newspapers are an exception in this respect: their users rated the online version as more entertaining than the print version (35% compared with 22%).

What about reader loyalty? About two-thirds of users (65%) would have chosen the print newspaper and just under a third (31%) would have preferred the online version if only one of the versions had been available. The decision in favor of the print version was based on its portability, while the advantages of the online version were seen as being its accessibility from outside the normal circulation area and the avoidance of unwanted paper. The main advantage, however, in the eyes of the respondents, was that online newspapers are normally provided free of charge. It is, therefore, not surprising that only 35% of users would be prepared to accept a charge. Of these, 80% stated that they would only be willing to pay for online newspapers if they were cheaper than print newspapers. Only 1% of those users willing to accept a charge could imagine paying more for online newspapers. Apparently, then, users are not willing to pay for the advantages of online newspapers.

Selected Internet offerings from daily newspapers SZonNet (Sueddeutsche Zeitung)

After a number of relaunches (start date: October 1995), the online newspaper from the Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) was finally given the title SZonNet. Of the staff of six in a separate department of the newspaper, five had mainly technical duties, selecting articles from the print newspaper on the basis of fixed editorial guidelines and transferring them, usually unchanged, to the Web site. Thus there was “lean” production for daily news. The only editor handled the science feature section, “Blickpunkt Wissenschaft”, which deals with specific topics over a longer period. For this and other additional feature sections (there is now also a politics feature section, “Blickpunkt Politik” and the education and careers discussion forum “Bildung und Beruf”), not only are the articles specially written, they are also more adapted to the medium. For instance, they have external links and references to earlier SZ articles of relevance to the subject. Users can vote on a “Question of the Week”, discuss issues with other users or submit questions to the experts.

SZonNet Aktuell with daily news has a “shallow” structure: from the home page each complete article can be reached via two links. This is achieved at the expense of having a very long summary page listing the titles of all articles. This list is divided into the sections and columns familiar to the newspaper reader (e.g. “Streiflicht” (editorial comment), “Page Three”). The percentage of the print newspaper copied to the online newspaper was 30% (cf. Table 9). However, the largest part of the online publication was accounted for by the subject areas “Politics” (22%) and “Economics and Social topics” (17%), which together also accounted for 40% of the print publication. These were also the subjects in which users of SZonNet expressed the greatest interest (“always” or “often” read: Politics: 87%, Economics: 77%; respondents: 638).

Table 9.  Proportion of the print edition transferred to the online edition for the same day of publication and size of the local section as a proportion of the print/online edition
  % local/regional section
 % print to onlineprintonline
Sueddeutsche Zeitung (n = 797)29.720.617.0
Nuernberger Nachrichten (n = 410)15.122.453.1
Nuernberger Zeitung (n = 432) (n =11.328.254.9
Dithmarscher Landeszeitung (n = 250)05.643.295.7
Express (n = 285)37.228.431.1

SZonNet Aktuell is made up almost exclusively of articles written by the SZ editorial team (96%, print: 59%). The online articles in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung were almost exclusively (i.e. more than 90% identical in text to the print version (cf. Table 8). Even in those few cases where changes were made to the body text, the alterations were minor. The headlines of 92% of the SZonNet articles were also identical with the print equivalents. Photographs and graphics are dispensed with entirely in the Internet version. On the days analyzed by the study only one external link was added. With the exception of four articles on the “University Page” (they were available online on Saturday but did not appear in print until the following Monday), the publication date of articles published via the Internet was 10 p.m. the previous night.

Table 8.  Online stories compared with print version
 Total length (in %)Sentences (mean)words
Newspaper (number of online articles)shorterlongerdeletedinsertedchanged(mean)
Sueddeutsche Zeitung (n = 241)04.602.103.102.502.8−14.9
Nuernberger Nachrichten (n = 64)04.740.604.204.702.7+49.0
Nuernberger Zeitung (n = 51)03.956.901.804.902.0+62.6
Dithmarscher Landeszeitung (n = 23)34.804.307.301.2−92.7
Express (n = 106)14.204.702.403.702.1−06.0

SZonNet Aktuell is, in many respects, a copy of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and appears to fulfill readers' expectations in this respect: with a marked lead over the other online newspapers in the survey it is selected for its journalistic quality (70% of respondents, all 27 newspapers included in the user survey: 9%), though infrequently for regional news (20%, all newspapers: 34%). This is in line with the finding that 38% of the users surveyed had their principal residence abroad (all newspapers: 22%, 18% in the USA and Canada alone).

SzonNet already has a core of regular readers: three-quarters of the users surveyed visit several times a week or even daily (77%). Users' esteem also appears to be expressed in the fact that their willingness to pay for an online newspaper is relatively high: almost half would pay a charge for using the service (46%, all newspapers: 35%). Even without revenue from usage charges the online version of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung should soon be in a position to support itself: on the basis of low personnel costs and a large number of advertisers the publishers hope to break even by 1998. It is planned that any surplus will be invested in the development of the service. In addition, the online presence helped the publishers gain new subscribers for the print newspaper–against all skeptical expectations (according to information from Gerhard Andreas Schreiber, operating manager of SZonNet).

Express online (Express)

The editorial staff responsible for the online version of Express (start date: April 1996), at the publishing subsidiary “DuMont Funk und Fernsehen”, are responsible for a number of publications (Koelner Stadtanzeiger, Koelnische Rundschau, Columbus City Guide). The staff of 56 mostly undertake both editorial and technical duties. It was planned to introduce an online editorial system to substantially reduce the amount of technical work. A deliberate decision was made not to have classified advertisements, so as not to create competition with the print edition.

The Express online home page provides a number of news selections: apart from one or two “front-page” stories, which are started on the home page, there are headline links to individual articles and links to special sections. Express online is modeled on the print product, a newsstand newspaper, as regards Web design–and in other respects.

At 37%, the percentage taken from the print version was relatively high, the structure of the print version being taken over virtually unchanged. This meant that, as in the print version, the emphasis was on local news, sports and human interest stories. The varied service and entertainment features also reflected the typical elements of a newsstand newspaper (e.g., horoscope, crossword, pin-up girl). Forty-seven articles were not to be found in the print version of the Cologne-based Express, neither on the same day nor two days earlier or later. Of these, 31 articles were from the local sections for Bonn and Duesseldorf, 15 were sports articles, and one was a local Cologne article. Alterations to the text were made in only a fifth of the cases; articles were normally shortened more frequently than lengthened (14% compared to 5%). Headlines remained unchanged in three-quarters (73%) of the cases. Only in two cases was an external link provided. Express online had more photographs than the other publications studied and almost as many as in the Express print articles (on average 1.0 per online article taken from the print product). The Internet presentation also reflects the tabloid style with regard to graphic content.

Express online has a relatively strong reader loyalty (used “daily” or “several times a week”: 72%; respondents: 208). The reasons given by the respondents referred to attributes of Express online common to all newsstand newspapers: they liked the entertainment value (54% of the respondents), the clarity (42%) and the good layout (37%). The choice of subject points in the same direction: of the subjects read “always” or “often”, local news (72%) was in the lead, followed by politics (67%) and business and economics (64%), then sports (62%). There was also considerable interest in human interest stories, compared with the other publications in the survey (37%, all publications 26%). Thus this product seems to meet readers' interests.

Express online users more often agreed with the statement that online newspapers are more entertaining (compared to print newspapers) than vice versa (41% as against 20%). The percentage of users who would prefer the online newspaper to the print newspaper is also particularly high (39%, all publications: 31%).

Nordbayern Infonet (Nuernberger Nachrichten, Nuernberger Zeitung)

Online newspaper publications from the Nuernberger Presse publishing house are to be found on the Internet under the Nordbayern Infonet umbrella (start date: September 1996). Half of the editorial staff of eight carried out journalistic duties. They were mainly employed converting and editing selected print stories, but here too automation was planned, in order to give the editors more time for preparing articles for Web presentation.

Nordbayern Infonet (NI), Nuernberger Nachrichten (NN) and Nuernberger Zeitung (NZ) are three separate sites, with references to the other publications. The basic structure of the home pages is the same: the main frame contains the beginning of news stories and the continuation is accessible via a link. At the time the content was analyzed, the plan to reserve Nordbayern Infonet for purely online stories and to present excerpts from the print products only under the name of the newspapers had not been fully implemented.

The percentage taken over from the print versions was relatively low for NN (15%) and NZ (11%). The emphasis for both products was on “local/regional news” with shares of 37 and 33% respectively. “Local/regional news” had a share of more than half for the online product. The results of the user surveys carried out separately for users of NI, NN, and NZ reflected this. The main motive was to obtain information pertaining to the region (40–46%). With the exception of Nordbayern Infonet, it was also local/regional subjects that were read “always” or “often” (NN: 77%, NZ: 75%; respondents: NN: 248, NZ: 28).

NN and NZ stories were relatively often expanded (41 and 57% respectively). The main reason for this was the story beginnings that were rewritten for the home page. For this reason the values for the number of sentences and words added on average were also high. Headlines, too, were changed often (28 and 45% respectively). The date of publication was the same for the online and print version for both publications, with two exceptions in each case; in these cases the stories appeared in the Internet version one day later. In addition three (NN) and seven (NZ) stories could not be found in the print newspaper (+/− 2 editions). One NN story contained an external link.

Nordsee-Kueste (Dithmarscher Landeszeitung)

The Nordsee-Kueste (coast of the German sea; start date: October 1996) is not intended primarily as a newspaper but rather as a vehicle for presenting a region. Information, for instance, about the Wattenmeer nature reserve and the tourist service are therefore accorded a corresponding amount of space. The amount of news in the Dithmarscher Landeszeitung is rather modest in comparison. (Since the site is not updated on Saturdays, it was not possible to perform an analysis of the site on the third day of the content analysis survey (July 12).) The proportion taken from the print product was the lowest of the five case studies (6%). The news is almost exclusively devoted to local/regional topics (96%). In order to provide supraregional coverage links to “Germany-Live” (News), “rtv” (television) and “ran” (sport) were integrated. About a third of the stories taken over were shortened. The project manager is the only permanent staff member and is directly responsible to the board of management. Only 13 users of “Nordsee-Kueste” took part in the survey; for this reason no results are given here.


In this article we could only cover a small part of the results of this project, which ran for the whole of 1997 (Tonnemacher, Neuberger, 1998). Our overview of the WWW presence of German dailies can be summed up as follows:

  • 1The staff of online editorial boards are relatively young. Almost half of the staff in online editorial boards have journalistic duties. Technical duties are of growing importance to this sector of staff, too. The majority of online editorial boards surveyed depend on the editorial decisions of the print editors.
  • 2This may be one of the reasons why the news sections in online papers consist mainly of duplicates of the printed parent paper. Articles for the online version are rarely edited; if anything they were shortened, or an e-mail link to the editorial board was added. Very few external links were added, as these require time-consuming research and verification. Lack of staff and the still insufficient transmission capacity of the Internet prevent the inclusion of graphic and sound effects. Updates, however, are generally frequent: nine out of ten online papers offer daily updates, and one in twelve even updates their site three or more times a day. Additional services are offered mostly in the entertainment and service sectors; first signs of journalistic independence are emerging here. The user survey, however, shows that this is not yet sufficiently appreciated by the readers, who continue to visit mainly pages devoted to the traditional newspaper features, such as local news, politics, economy, the arts and sports.
  • 3The case studies show that online publishers and users base their activities and/or expectations on the print newspaper and use or design their product accordingly. The online user knows what to expect of a site as the online papers retain the name of the printed version, use a similar layout, similar contents etc. Moreover the positive image of a paper can be transferred to the Net. On the other hand, too strong an orientation toward the printed original could mean that the possibilities offered by WWW are not fully exploited, that copy is simply lifted from the printed version.
  • 4In matters of finance the publishers will need a lot of patience. In the long term, users will have to accept either advertising (and thus longer download times) or charges. The introduction of charges for use seems scarcely possible, at least not as long as the same or similar information is available on the Internet free of charge. The doubts of the advertising industry may evaporate as the Internet becomes increasingly widespread and commonly used. Access figures (“PZ-online,” 1998) for the online versions of the dailies are relatively high, which means that there is potential for advertising.
  • 5Due to the fast growth of this medium this description can only be seen as a “snapshot”. Some aims and hopes seem to be already partially fulfilled, others remain aspirations for the future. It is important that the expansion of the Internet should be accompanied by further empirical studies, which might, for example, analyze the role of new competing providers, or carry out longitudinal analyses.

Online Newspaper Sites

  • Users of the following online papers participated in the survey: Local/regional subscription papers: Baden Online, Bayreuth Online, Borkener Zeitung Online, Frankenpost Online, Frankfurter Neue Presse Online, Hellweger Anzeiger Online, Hildesheiner Allgemeine Zeitung Online, Holsteinischer Courier, Idowa Online, Lausitzer Rundschau Online, Main-Echo Online, Mindener Tageblatt Online, Nordbayern Infonet, Nuernberger Nachrichten Online, Nuernberger Zeitung Online, Nordseekueste, OWL-Online, Pirmasenser Zeitung Online, Rems Zeitung Netz, Remscheider General-Anzeiger Online, Schwaebisches Tagblatt Online, Siegener Zeitung Online, Solingen Online, ZVW-Online. National newspaper: SZonNet. Newsstand newspapers: Express Online, Hamburger Morgenpost Online.

  • 1

    Diplomstudiengang Journalistik der Katholischen Universität Eichstätt:

  • 2

    SZonNet (Sueddeutsche Zeitung)

  • 3

    Express online

  • 4

    Nordbayern Infonet

  • 5

    Nuernberger Nachrichten

  • 6

    Nuernberger Zeitung

  • 7

    Nordsee-Kueste (Dithmarscher Landeszeitung)