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Germany

At 30, Germany's liberal daily taz has grown up

Berlin's tageszeitung, or taz, embodies the alternative green movement and is, for many, more of an escort to political change than just a daily newspaper. Now the smallest of Germany's national papers is turning 30.

A young man reads a pre-edition of the TAZ, published in Sept. 1978; the first edition came out on April 17, 1979

The taz was meant to be a counterweight to the established press

A crucified soccer coach on the front page of the tageszeitung caught people's attention on Easter Sunday. The man on the cross was Juergen Klinsmann, the former head coach of Germany's national soccer team and now the coach of Bayern Munich.

The responses were pre-programmed: Klinsmann sues the taz and Bayern Munich bosses rant about the worst ethical derailment since the beginning of time.

Karl-Heinz Ruch, or Kalle as he is known, sits back and smiles. As the daily's CEO, he's pleased that the conflict is selling more papers.

"The taz shaped its own genre of daily newspaper," said Ruch, drawing a fine line between his publication and Bild, Germany's most popular mass-circulation daily.

"It's a subscription paper, which means that 80 percent of the print run goes to subscribers," he added. "But we also want to sell individual papers, which is why the headlines have to be powerful."

Against all odds

Karl-Heinz Ruch

Ruch says at the beginning no one thought the taz would succeed

The first edition of the taz , which was published on April 17, 1979, featured a cover picture of a clown dancing on a pedestal. From the start, it was clear that provocation rather than political correctness was its mandate.

The quality of the paper back then was poor, with topics strewn randomly throughout. One particular front page juxtaposed articles on an earthquake in Yugoslavia, a wave of arrests in Iran and the political critic Robert Havemann, who was sentenced to house arrest by the East German regime.

The taz was founded as a kind of anti-press - a counterweight to the established middle-class newspapers. For some, however, it didn't go far enough. Hermann Gremlitza, of the monthly left-wing publication KONKRET, called the fledgling paper "Baby-FAZ," implying that it wasn't very different from the bourgeoisie Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

"No one thought that much would become of the paper," said Ruch. "There weren't even any experts there, it was just students, and only a handful of them had any journalism experience. There wasn't anybody from the publishing field."

Riding political winds

But those students had plenty to report on. When the newspaper was founded in 1979, it was a time of arms races, peace movements, squatters, and women's liberation.

Cows graze in front of a coal plant

Now, a paper isn't necessarily radical for writing about the environment

The taz thrust these issues into the spotlight, along with environmental protection. While green topics may be common these days in media across the spectrum, it was the taz which played a key role back then in the rise of Germany's Green Party, which was also founded in 1979.

In the beginning, the left-leaning paper lived from its dedicated, if not exactly professional, style of writing. Now, however, the taz is referred to as the country's school of journalism, since many who now write for large national publications like Sueddeutsche Zeitung or Die Zeit started at the taz.

"Here, everyone participates in the editorial conferences, whereas at other papers only the department heads are included," said Ruch, naming the advantages of working for the taz. "Everyone has the opportunity to play a part and even write commentaries. The important thing is that you have talent."

The TAZ grows up

Randy Kaufman, an American who has worked for the taz as an archivist since 1983, said the once leftist paper has gradually slid toward the center of the spectrum.

"We've gotten older, had kids and the taz has moved more to the middle of society," he said. "Many issues that the taz made public at the beginning have now become mainstream."

Today, nearly all taz employees are between the ages of 30 and 40. It's become something of a mix between a satirical and a serious newspaper - a high-gloss publication for those who don't quite fit in.

Nevertheless, 30 years on, the taz can still get away with a sometimes disrespectful, radical or subversive approach to topics that other papers wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.

Author: Christoph Richter / Kate Bowen

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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