Things are looking rosy at the kiosk, ideal world on women’s magazine shelves. “I’m living my dream,” is the headline Bridget. the Guido shows designer Kretschmer in a cuddly toy robot and writes: “Treat yourself!” Beyond the printed high-gloss finish, however, things look different. The mood among those who wrote the cheerful lines, among the editors of the Hamburg publishing house that once bore the proud name of Gruner + Jahr, is depressed – so depressed that even the best story can be supplemented with tips on “how you can surprise yourself and spoiled” and how “wishes become reality” doesn’t really help anymore.
On Wednesday, the clouds were hanging in a dense gray over the Am Baumwall publishing house near the Elbphilharmonie. For weeks, employees here have feared for the future – their own and that of the magazines they work for. Bertelsmann, the parent company from Gütersloh, had merged the traditional publisher with RTL at the beginning of last year. Since then, the name Gruner + Jahr has completely disappeared – huge advertising posters for the RTL streaming service are emblazoned on the building. In the meantime, the advertising on the facades has had competition from protest banners that employees have attached to the balustrades. “Stop the sale!” and “Save our jobs!!!” it says.
As is well known, Bertelsmann boss Thomas Rabe has little hope for the magazine business – although at Gruner + Jahr the annual reports of the past few years painted the picture of a profitable publishing house: in 2021, for example, the profit before tax was 134 million euros, the year before it 127 million euros. Nevertheless, after the merger with RTL, it became apparent that the publishing division from Hamburg would have a difficult time. Managers gradually left the company over the past year. An internal process is currently underway, officially called “portfolio analysis”, which is intended to examine how the magazine editors from Hamburg fit together with the private broadcaster in Cologne. According to SZ information, however, there have long been offers to buy, and there is even talk of bidding processes in the industry. Many big publishers positioned themselves to magazines from the former Gruner + Jahr portfolio. Among other things, it should be about brands like the Bridget, Gala, barbara, Guido’s Deco Queen, beef, Beautiful living and also Geo go – that is, the entire journalistic universe for which Gruner + Jahr stood. Only the star is still considered safe.
The sales talks that the industry knows about are called “speculations” at Bertelsmann
Recently, the talks are said to have stalled: According to SZ information, they are being conducted personally by Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Rabe – and were temporarily on hold during his vacation. But now they are to be continued, according to a representative of a bidding media company. The sell-off, it is hoped, could take place in the first quarter. Bertelsmann, on the other hand, remains silent on details – and denies sales talks, even after renewed SZ demand. You will not “comment on speculation about individual titles or measures”.
The employees in Hamburg are also left in the dark. There, editorial offices and unions used the Christmas season to get organized. According to estimates by the Verdi union, more than 200 employees, freelancers and former workers marched in front of the building on Wednesday and swear to a fighting time with whistles, posters and banners during the lunch break. The DJU trade union, which belongs to Verdi, the German Association of Journalists (DJV) and the Freischreiber association, which campaigns for the interests of freelance journalists, called for the protest. The central requirement: finally find out what is actually supposed to happen. “The time of silence, of enduring, of soft talk is over now,” Verdi union secretary Tina Fritsche calls into a megaphone.
G + J “is part of Germany’s journalistic identity,” says a fire letter to the Mohn family
Last week, the editorial board sent a fire letter to the Bertelsmann-owning family Mohn. The representatives of star, Bridget, Geo, p.m, Geolino, parents, kind and an editorial unit called “Quality Board” last Thursday sent a two-page letter to the now 81-year-old entrepreneur Liz Mohn, widow of company patriarch Reinhard Mohn, and to her son Christoph Mohn, who is chairman of the supervisory board and also spokesman for the owner family.
“We hope you had happy holidays and a good start into the new year. Unfortunately, we as employees of Gruner + Jahr cannot say that,” read the editorial board on Wednesday from the letter – to loud applause from the protesters. According to the reports on the sales negotiations, the editors were “shocked” that RTL and Bertelsmann had not quickly and clearly stated how things would continue. “That’s not how you treat people who have been working with great commitment for their brands for many years,” criticize the editorial board. “Should an entire workforce be worn down here?” Trampling, whistling. “Notruf Hafen Kante” is written on a poster, and that’s what people really seem to feel like.
Even if the publishing house with its traditional name no longer exists in this form since the merger with RTL, “the spirit of Gruner + Jahr” lives on in the workforce. “Gruner + Jahr is also part of Hamburg, part of Germany’s journalistic identity,” says the letter. Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Rabe had the in November star– Visited the editorial office and promised her a future at RTL as the only editor of the publishing house – “He didn’t come to the other editors”https://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/.”Totenvogel!”, voices roar from the background, always then when the name raven is mentioned.
Thomas Rabe is not around that day either. RTL and Bertelsmann have no local representatives who could provide answers. The RTL press spokesman responsible remained taciturn on the phone even on the day of the protest, saying that the statement could only be sent again by email, which was basically already known: “The analysis of the title portfolio is ongoing. Results are not yet certain, they are for the first Quarter of 2023 and will then be communicated accordingly.” That doesn’t sound like a transparent corporate culture in a communications company.
In Hamburg, an employee has an old cover of the p.m hung around. Toilet rolls can be seen on it and the writing: “Everything is shit”. The issue is now a year old, she says, but “in a way, it was really visionary.”