When Oscar Bronner returned to Vienna after 13 years in Manhattan, the thing he missed the most was The New York Times. “Newspapers here were lousy. There was no decent quality press and no independent, national paper.”
Bronner had not intended to become a publishing magnate, and planned to continue his other career, as an internationally renowned painter. “But not having something good to read in the mornings took away the fun of coming home, so I decided to publish one myself,” he says, lighting a cigarillo in Der Standard’s editorial office in Vienna.
The first issue of Der Standard hit the newsstands in October 1988, its editorial stance, of sceptical liberalism inspired in part by the launch of The Independent, the British daily. Der Standard caused a revolution, the effects of which are still reshaping the Austrian media today.
Until then, the Austrian press was dominated by political parties and pressure groups, using ownership of a newspaper to advance their partisan interests. The media was divided between the Reds (the Social Democrats) and the Blacks (the conservatives). “Austria moved very slowly from the post-war period, when newspapers were published by political parties, or the Allies, and entrepreneurship was hardly known,” says Bronner.
Der Standard offered independent journalism, from a liberal perspective. It is now Austria’s second best-selling national quality paper, after Die Presse, and has the highest number of university educated readers. Once Der Standard showed that Austrian readers wanted probing journalism, other newspapers followed suit.
Bronner was born in Haifa, Israel, in 1943. His father, Gerhard Bronner, was a composer and cabaret artist who had fled from the Nazis in Austria. Gerhard returned to Vienna with his family when Oscar was five. Quietly spoken, Oscar resembles a professor of poetry more than a media magnate. But Bronner’s composed exterior belies a sharp political operator. He launched the business magazine Trend and the news weekly Profil, on a shoe-string in 1970, and sold them four years later. That taught him that serious media ventures demand serious financing. “I started Trend and Profil without any money and I had to sell them or they wouldn’t have survived. When I launched Der Standard I had about €50m-worth of financing from Austrian banks.”
Der Standard is now acclaimed for its coverage of politics, culture and international affairs. But it was started as a business daily and is still printed on pink paper. “There was no accurate business information available then on a daily basis, so the banks were interested in a newspaper that wanted to provide that.” But the conservative political patrons of one bank with whom Bronner was negotiating were less keen on the new editorial voice, so that part of the launch deal fell through.
In answer, in 1988, Bronner went into partnership with Axel Springer, the giant German media conglomerate. But that relationship soured after the group posted a series of co-managers who had very different ideas about the newspaper’s editorial direction. The respected German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung stepped into the breach, but last year Bronner bought out its shares and is now the owner and publisher of Der Standard.
Bronner recognised the potential of the internet early on, launching the first German-language newspaper website in 1995. “I was fascinated by the internet from the first moment.” However, he dismisses talk that the rise of the internet means the end for print journalism. “Newspapers offer background, comment and analysis, which is better to read in print than on screen.”
As for the recession, Bronner is confident that there’ll always be a place in the market for serious journalism. “A quality newspaper reaches 4 or 5 per cent of the population, who want more than a sound bite. Yes, we are experiencing a downturn in advertising and it’s more fun to publish a newspaper in boom time, but the credit crunch is why I am in my office and not in my studio.”
Der Standard: liberal quality national daily newspaper, circulation: 75,163, readership: 352,000
derstandard.at: newspaper’s website
diestandard.at: women’s online magazine
Oscar Bronner’s CV
1943: Born Haifa, Israel 1948: Father Gerhard Bronner moves family back to Vienna 1970: Launches “Trend” and “Profil”magazines 1974: Sells “Trend” and “Profil”, moves to New York and establishes himself as a painter 1987: Moves back to Vienna 1988: Launches “Der Standard” in partnership with Axel Springer Group 1995: Ends partnership with Axel Springer group, launches derstandard.at 1998: Enters partnership with “Süddeutsche Zeitung” 2008: Buys back shares from “Süddeutsche Zeitung”