One of Germany's key newspapers the Frankfurter Rundschau has filed for insolvency after years of falling circulation. The left-liberal paper was one of the first granted a license by American occupiers in 1945.
Frankfurt's administrative court confirmed on Tuesday that it had appointed lawyer Frank Schmitt as interim insolvency administrator for the Frankfurter Rundschau (FR). Hours later its 487 employees were called to a meeting in Frankfurt.
The FR's circulation has shrunk a third in the past decade to 118,000 nationwide and on Tuesday its owners' consortium, the Print and Publishing House Frankfurt am Main GbmH, said despite investments in new facilities in Frankfurt further falloffs in advertising and print contracts were "no longer conceivable."
The Rundschau began to run into trouble in 2001 when it had 1,500 employees. Layoffs and outsourcing followed.
In 2004, a media holding associated with Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) purchased 90 percent of FR after a short bailout by the Hesse regional state government. A ten percent share was retained by the trust of one of the FR's late founders, Karl Gerold.
Two years later the Cologne-based publishing house DuMont Schauberg (MDS) took a majority stake of 50 percent in FR. The SPD-near media holding Print and Publishing Society (DDVG) was left with 40 percent and the trust with its 10 percent.
In a cost-cutting drive that drew protests from workers and trade unions, the FR was turned into a tabloid in 2007. From 2011, its main articles were sourced from Berlin, where the MDS has another paper the "Berliner Zeitung". Frankfurt staff generated mainly regional and supplementary inserts on topics such as sports and education. An electronic edition was launched in 2010.
Unions cite 'mismanagement'
In reactions on Tuesday, a local spokesman for the services trade union ver.di Manfred Moos said it was conceivable that a new investor could still be found to rescue the FR "and hopefully one who can run it better."
"It's a black day for [FR] employees in the editorial, publishing and printing sections, and a black day for media diversity in Germany," said Frank Werneke, ver.di's federal vice-chairman.
The German Federation of Journalists (DJV) trade union demanded that the FR's owners avoid layoffs among the FR's remaining editorial staff.
"The insolvency of the Rundschau is the result of decades of mismanagement," said the DJV's federal chairman Michael Konken.
"The failure of this renowned newspaper is especially bitter for workers who over years had fought to save their newspaper by waiving income," Konken said, referring to workers who did without allowances in recent years.
The owners' consortium on Tuesday said workers' earnings were assured under insolvency proceedings until January 2013.
In recent decades, the FR was among Germany's 10 largest national dailies. In August 1945, shortly after World War II, its mainly leftist German founders were the first to receive a publishing license in the-then American sector of occupation.