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Axel Springer to cut jobs, warns AI could replace journalism

02.03.23 18:27
Germany's largest publisher, the Axel Springer media group, has warned staff it will be cutting an undisclosed number of jobs at Bild and die Welt, two of its best-known news titles in Germany.

"There will be significant job reductions in the areas of production, layout, proofreading and administration," Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner told staff on Tuesday in a letter.

The Springer boss said the group would "build up and cut jobs at the same time. There will be a voluntary severance program. We are trying to avoid compulsory redundancies."

No concrete figures were given in the letter, which went on to say that the group's results in Germany "must improve by around €100 million ($106 million) in the next three years. Through increases in turnover, but also through cost reductions."

Regarding the future focus of the brands, Döpfner emphasized the need for Bild and Welt to develop their "well-paid and sustainable digital subscriptions."

Best known as two of the country's top-selling newspapers, both publications have had a major online presence for years and are now trying to branch out into online broadcasting.

'Journalistic core' won't be reduced

Döpfner had previously explained that the group would be cutting jobs at the two brands. The group currently employs around 18,000 people worldwide, including 3,400 journalists, an increasing number of whom are based in the US where it owns media outlet Politico.

On Tuesday, Döpfner emphasized in his letter to staff that the company's "journalistic standards are high and they will become even higher. " Therefore he vowed not to reduce "the journalistic core" (reporters, authors and specialist editors) but rather invest and "make qualitative improvements."

At the same time, he made it clear that this was not a job guarantee, as "we will also part with colleagues in the editorial offices if certain profiles no longer fit the required competences."

AI can replace journalism

In his letter, Döpfner also warned that journalists risked being made obsolete by artificial intelligence. "Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to make independent journalism better than it ever was — or simply replace it," Axel Springer CEO said.

Computers using AI would soon be better at the "aggregation of information" than human journalists, Döpfner predicted.

He said media outlets must focus on generating exclusive news or original commentary and features if they want to survive. Investigative journalism, personality driven features and entertainment coverage were becoming "increasingly important" for the media business, Döpfner said.

AI-powered tools like Microsoft-backed ChatGPT promised a "revolution" in information, he said. However, he said that divining the "true motives" behind events would remain a job for journalists.

Axel Springer aims to become 'digital only'

The trade union Verdi criticized Springer's plans. Christoph Schmitz, a member of the union's federal executive board, said that Axel Springer "without economic necessity and with a view to exaggerated profit expectations" announced a decision that goes "against the journalistic diversity in its own publishing house."

Springer exceeded its economic targets during a busy news year in 2022 marked by inflation, the energy crisis and Russia's full-scale war on Ukraine. Turnover was around €3.9 billion, with profits of around €750 million. Already, some 85% of the group's turnover and more than 95% of profits are generated by its digital business.

However, Axel Springer's ultimate goal was to depart from the business of printed newspapers and to become "digital only," Döpfner said, albeit adding that the transition would "take a few more years."

Source: DW

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