Stern (pronounced [ʃtɛʁn], German for "Star") is an illustrated, broadly left-liberal, weekly current affairs magazine published in Hamburg, Germany, by Gruner + Jahr, a subsidiary of Bertelsmann. Under the editorship (1948–1980) of its founder Henri Nannen, it attained a circulation of between 1.5 and 1.8 million, the largest in Europe's for a magazine of its kind.
|Editor||Florian Gless, Anna-Beeke Gretemeier|
|First issue||1 August 1948|
|Company||Gruner + Jahr|
Unusually for a popular magazine in post-war West Germany, and most notably in the contributions to 1975 of Sebastian Haffner, Stern investigated the origin and nature of the preceding tragedies of German history. In 1983, however, its credibility was seriously damaged by its purchase and syndication of the forged Hitler Diaries. A sharp drop in sales anticipated the general fall in newsprint readership in the new century. By 2019, circulation had fallen under half a million.
Henri Nannen produced the first 16-page issue (with the actress Hildegard Knef on the cover) on 1 August 1948. He had been able to obtain the licence from the British military government in Hannover despite his wartime service in SS-Standarte Kurt Eggers, a military propaganda unit in Italy. He moved the magazine to Hamburg where, in 1965, he founded Gruner + Jahr, now one of the largest publishing houses in Europe.
Under Nannen's direction, Stern sought to present itself as an exemplar of what in Germany is called nutzwertiger Journalismus ('useful journalism'). The emphasis is on providing sufficient background on topic to allow readers opportunity to arrive at their own judgements rather than have these decided for them editorially or (as was commonly the case in the tabloid output of rival publisher Axel Springer) in the headlines. As a result articles tended to be longer and more investigative, while distinguished from those of the similarly directed Der Spiegel by the wider range of social and life-style issues covered, and by a greater reliance of illustration and graphic design.
Stern was open to the questioning, from a liberal and left perspective, of the post-war political and social order in West Germany identified with the long Chancellorship (1949–1963) of Konrad Adenauer.
In the 1962 Spiegel affair, Stern denounced as violations of constitutional norms and press freedom, the effective closure by the government of the magazine's publishing rival. In a contest seen a key turning point in the culture of the Federal Republic away from the deference demanded by the old Obrigkeitsstaat ('authoritarian state'), Stern (together with Springer Press and Die Zeit) offered Der Spiegel presses, teletypes and office space so it could continue publishing while being investigated for national security disclosures.
Stern found nothing to extenuate in the later violence of the Red Army Faction (the "Baader Meinhof Gang"), but in the 1960s it had not been completely hostile to the student protest movement from which the "urban guerillas" first emerged. In June 1967, it permitted Sebastian Haffner to denounce the police response to a demonstration in West Berlin in which student protester Benno Ohnesorg was killed, as "a systematic, cold-blooded, planned pogrom". In contrast the Springer's Bild Zeitung responded: “Students threaten: We shoot back”.
Like the student left, Stern was willing to break the relative post-war silence on the recent National-Socialist past. In serialisations Haffner developed his thesis that Hitler's war was a tragedy foretold in the circumstances of German unification in the nineteenth century. It was a position consistent with editorial support for the Ostpolitik of the new Social-Democratic Chancellor Willi Brandt. As interpreted by many conservatives this amounted to an acceptance of Germany's postwar division, and territorial losses in the east, as permanent.
Stern (No. 50, 1970) published Sven Simon's (Axel Springer Jr.) iconic picture of Brandt kneeling before the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on 20 Dezember 1970 on a double spread. It was accompanied by an interview with Brandt's Polish host, premier Józef Cyrankiewicz, with whom he had that day signed the Treaty of Warsaw. At the same time, Stern sought to discredit the rival conservative weekly Quick, which in opposition to the Treaty had published material from its secret protocols. It accused the magazine's editor Hans van Nouhuys of having been a double agent, at one time in the employ of the East German Stasi. Stern successfully withstood the charge of defamation.
In a further challenge to settled post-war conventions, on June 6, 1971 Stern appeared with the headline "We've had abortions!" (Issue 24/1971). In an action initiated by Alice Schwarzer, 374 women confessed to having had pregnancies terminated. They were protesting Paragraph 218 of West Germany's penal code, the Strafgesetzbuch under which abortion was illegal. The taboo-breaking publicity was viewed by many as a milestone in the feminist revival of the 1970s.
However, Stern, itself became the target of the new feminism when, in 1978, Schwarzer and nine other women sued Gruner + Jahr, and Nannen, on the grounds that the magazine's frequent "cover girls" denied the human dignity of women by presenting them "as a mere sexual object". The immediate occasion was a picture of the model Grace Jones, described by Schwarzer in her monthly Emma (7/1978) as “a black woman, naked, in her hand a phallic microphone and around the shackles – heavy chains”. (It later occurred to Schwarzer that they might also have complained of the image's racism).
Nannen protested that the magazine's nudes should be seen in the same light as Francisco Goya's "The Unclothed Maja" (1797) and that the freedom of the press was at issue. The complainants proved unable in law to indict soft-pornographic practices that were rife in the popular press, but Nannen allowed that the case had "made us think".
There was no obvious shift in the editorial culture of the magazine. The uncovered "cover-girl" tradition, sometimes in the form of celebrity shoots ("With Madonna alone at home", 10 January 1992), continued. Feminists also had occasion to object to article content. In 1990, Stern published the title story "I am a masochist" in which author Sina-Aline Geißler discussed her literary coming-out as a member of the BDSM scene. This caused an intense public debate, and women later occupied the magazine's editorial offices alarmed at what they believed was a glamorisation of misogynist abuse.
For Stern very much more damaging publicity followed its serialisation, beginning in April 1983, of the so-called Hitler Diaries. Scientific examination soon proved that the "diaries", for which the magazine had paid 9.3 million Deutsche Mark, were forgeries. The resulting fiasco led to the resignation of the magazine's editors, a sit-in by staff to protest the "management's bypassing traditional editorial channels and safeguards", and a major press scandal that is still regarded as a low point in German journalism.
A publication "once known for its investigative reporting" became a byword for the folly and hazards of "sensation-seeking check book journalism". Stern's credibility was severely damaged and it took the magazine many years to regain its pre-scandal status and reputation.
In its 24 August 2017 edition Stern demonstrated its continued ability and willingness to generate cover-page controversy (and, for the purpose, to discard the restraints of nutzwertiger Journalismus). A photo-shopped image depicted then United States President, Donald Trump, draped in the American flag while giving a stiff-armed Nazi salute. “Sein Kampf”, read the headline, or “his struggle” – a reference to Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto, Mein Kampf. The sub-headline reads: “Neo Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, racism: How Donald Trump fuelled hatred in America”.
The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, while critical of President Trump's failure, in his remarks following the 13 May "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to "make a distinction between Nazis and KKK protesters and those who opposed them”, described “the depiction of the president as a latter-day Hitler by a major German publication" as "untrue and beyond the pale". "Germans", they suggest, "must surely know that by misappropriating [...] Nazi symbols and terms associated with Adolf Hitler, they belittle and becloud the crimes of the past.” Jewish leaders in Germany similarly argued that the depiction of Trump as the new Hitler diminished (verharmlost) Nazi genocide.
Stern responded: "The right-wing protesters in Charlottesville raised their arms in the Nazi salute and the American president has not distanced himself from this gesture or from the mindset of the people. On the contrary, Donald Trump had seen in some of them 'fine people.' With this attitude, he identifies with the protesters and greets them in a transcendent sense – that is exactly what the Stern cover visualises. It is, of course, far from us to want to minimise the atrocities of the National Socialists".
Trump made several other Stern covers. For the 19 January 2017 edition he was seated on the Lincoln Memorial throne: "The Emperor, how Donald Trump is changing the world and why he is so dangerous for us". For the 10 September 2020 edition he was in close up: "American Psycho, how Donald Trump is systematically destroying democracy".
Thanks in part, perhaps, to the 1992 closure of Quick, at the turn of the century Stern was still selling well over one million copies. Its print circulation fell to 896,000 copies in 2010 and to 390,000 in 2020, 50,000 above the illustrated weekly Bunte, but falling for the first time below that of Der Spiegel. The magazine has had an on-line presence since 1995. The e-paper circulation of has almost tripled since 2015: from almost 8,500 copies in the second quarter of 2015 to around 26,800 in the fourth quarter of 2020. The significant decrease in the total circulation remains. Actual readership, however, is several times higher than copies sold or subscribed to online.
The fall in advertising sales has been commensurate with the fall in circulation: an advertising revenue of 218 million euros in 2003 had fallen to 107.3 million euros by 2020. It is a measure of the general decline of newsprint that in 2020 Stern still took first place in the ranking of the popular magazines with the highest advertising sales.
It is notable that a 2013 reformatting of the printed edition mimics on-line features and conventions. There is a greater use of sidebars and infographics. The language is less formal, and there is even greater emphasis on arresting large-print photography.