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Structural Adjustments (October 29, 1993)

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When I was not in the office battling the vagaries of technology, I was on the road. During the hot summer of 1990, as the parties in the East Berlin Volkskammer quarreled over electoral procedure and the date of unification, I was cruising over bumpy country roads to the chemical smokestacks of Buna, Leuna, and Bitterfeld, to the copper dumps of the Mansfelder Land, or to the conferences of the emerging parties in the Land. Sometimes the effort to build up dpa reporting in the future [state of] Saxony-Anhalt got stuck in traffic. I seldom saw my apartment, which I had been very lucky to find; free time was rare.

And so it was easy for me to make a new home in the city on the Elbe. Instead of fighting all alone on the news front, I now head a seven-person office. Because the Thälmann House, formerly the headquarters of the SED and now of the Alliance [for Germany], would not offer us more than one room, we moved as early as the end of 1990/beginning of 1991 into Hegelstrasse, today one of the best addresses in Magdeburg, where we started the dpa regional service [Landesdienst].

Since then, the media market, for which we write, has changed fundamentally. The dpa solo fighter turned into a seven-person office, but this ran opposite to the trend in the dwindling media landscape. In the second half of 1990, conditions at newsstands in Magdeburg were almost paradisiacal for buyers: there were six local dailies to choose from. Now, all that remains is the former SED organ Volksstimme and the local edition of the Bild-Zeitung, the content of which has shrunk to a minimum. Newly established publications, both West and East German, went under in droves, not only in Magdeburg, but also in the province.

In 1990, many Western publishers in Magdeburg and elsewhere evidently underestimated doggedness of the Ossis, who loyally clung to their old tried-and-true newspapers. Instead of switching en masse to new publications like the sophisticated Magdeburger Allgemeine (Madsack), Magdeburgers stood by their Volksstimme, which by now had changed markedly under Western management. Those Western publishers who took over the SED press, which had been boosted to six-figure circulation numbers during GDR times through government paper allocations, bet on the right horse. Only in northern Saxony-Anhalt can the Altmark-Zeitung (part of the Ippen Group) still pose a serious challenge to the Volksstimme. It succeeded, shortly after the Wende, in establishing a presence in all five rural districts [Landkreise] of the Altmark and in speaking deliberately to the regional consciousness. The yellow press, especially the Mitteldeutscher Express, could gain traction only in the more densely settled southern part of Saxony-Anhalt, where the former SED organ Mitteldeutsche Zeitung in Halle was otherwise running the show.

Whereas the number of dpa customers in the realm of print media thus declined, it increased in the area of electronic media. The public broadcasting era began in Saxony-Anhalt with the launch of the three-state “Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk” (MDR)* on January 1, 1992; the private stations followed in the summer of 1992. Since then, “Radio SAW” and “Radio Brocken” have been competing with MDR 1/Radio Saxony-Anhalt and MDR Live for the ears of listeners. But despite the new on-air variety, many residents of Saxony-Anhalt in the regions close to the border still remain loyal to the Lower Saxon** stations that they know from the pre-unification era (NDR 2, FFN).

* The MDR, or Central German Radio, broadcasting station covers the federal states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia – eds.
** Lower Saxony is a federal state in the former West Germany – eds.

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