Axel Springer is a German media and tech organization founded in the 1940’s. The company, which owns such brands as Bild and Insider, is named after a journalist who was once called “Germany’s Rupert Murdoch.” Springer died in 1985, but his worldview is still the baseline for the company’s principles and values, internally known as The Essentials. The mission statement includes the support of causes such as the right of existence of the State of Israel, a united Europe and the transatlantic alliance between the U.S. and Europe.
“These values are like a constitution, they apply to every employee of our company.”Mathias Döpfner, CEO of axel springer
The Essentials were originally written in 1967 by Springer himself. The guidelines were in the media industry conversation in the fall of 2021, when the German company bought Politico – a U.S.-based media company focused on politics – for more than $1 billion. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Axel Springer’s CEO Mathias Döpfner told the newspaper he expects Politico’s journalists to adhere to the company’s principles, although they won’t have to sign a commitment letter – something demanded from German employees.
Why did we select this example?
This case study is significantly different from others we present in this space. Axel Springer’s approach is unusual and extreme. The company is willing to let employees go if they are not committed to its principles. As Döpfner told the WSJ, if people have a problem with any of the values the organization stands for, they “should not work for Axel Springer, very clearly.”
In the Coming From project, we analyze the contrast between the “view from nowhere” and the alternative, that journalists and media outlets do have some points of view. This is an example that goes in the very opposite direction of denying an agenda. The company not only has some topics of interest, but those causes inform how the organization manages its staff.
In September, New York Times media columnist Ben Smith asked an Axel Springer spokesman if they would fire a Politico employee who thinks Israel should be a binational state. The response was: “of course not.”
“The Essentials is by no means a call for our journalists to push a political agenda with their reporting or to report uncritically on certain topics. Editorial independence is one of our unshakeable principles.”Malte Wienker, Axel Springer Spokesman
Transparency with readers
It is not totally clear what happens if someone disagrees with The Essentials, but it is important to notice that Axel Springer could be more transparent with the readers of its brands about those principles.
By the time this article was published, the company had ownership of more than 50 publications. We browsed some of the more famous: Bild, Politico and Insider. None of them had clearly stated The Essentials on their own pages. It could be a better approach to let readers know what is seen as an internal code of conduct to increase trust and transparency.
Notice: Axel Springer was in the news around the time of this publication because of an investigation into sexual misconduct by Julian Reichelt, a high-level Bild editor, with a junior employee at the German tabloid, the flagship brand of the company. Reichelt was removed in late October 2021.