In Aust’s case, his management style complicated matters further. While some reporters have raised legitimate questions about Der Spiegel’s journalism under Aust, at least as many had personal gripes that may have blurred their view of his overall record. According to a number of reporters interviewed for this article, Aust would often browbeat people who weren’t part of his inner circle and who didn’t share his views. “Aust energized the newsroom but he also spread fear,” says Dieter Wild, a former deputy editor who retired in 1999. “In the end, many people just wanted the committee to take revenge.”
Last summer, the committee finally did, getting rid of the man it never wanted in the first place. Mario Frank, the new manager, placed cold calls to potential successors, and the news quickly reached Aust in Indonesia. “Hold on to your seat,” his deputy, Joachim Preuss, told him over the phone. “They are looking for your replacement.” When Aust returned to the office, names of candidates were being leaked on a daily basis. In haste, the committee offered the job to Claus Kleber, a public-television anchor with no print experience. Several media organizations reported the appointment as a done deal. In the end, Kleber declined the offer.
Finally, in February, Der Spiegel announced the plan to replace Aust internally, with Mascolo and Müller von Blumencron. The two are clearly intent on restoring calm to the newsroom, but they haven’t spoken publicly about their plans and declined my requests for an interview. In a telling note to readers, Der Spiegel conceded that, as a newsweekly, it “doesn’t like to be the subject of news itself—as it sometimes was in recent months. Now the new editors are on board, and a dose of self-criticism is in order: During the succession process and the dismissal of editor Stefan Aust, 61, Der Spiegel didn’t always act expertly. We could have done better.”
Staff members I spoke to say that, for the moment, sweeping changes are unlikely. “They’re under the same pressure as Aust to sell copies, you know,” says one reporter, and, indeed, one of their best-selling covers so far was headlined “The Perpetrators: How Germans Turned into Murderers”—an echo of the age-old Spiegel maxim that Nazi stories always work. But in a presentation to employees, Mascolo and Müller von Blumencron stressed that they want to see feature writers and investigative reporters work in teams more often—an acknowledgment perhaps that Der Spiegel has of late overemphasized writing at the expense of reporting. They also said that print and online must work more closely together.
That sentiment reflects the editors’ respective résumés. Mascolo, a political journalist with a talent for digging, is the choice for those who want a revival of Der Spiegel’s investigative culture. Müller von Blumencron has overseen the rise of Spiegel Online, the splashy and successful Web site. The appointment of two editors suggests that no single candidate filled out the job profile, and that a balance had to be struck. “There were certain fears within Der Spiegel that the Internet would be boosted at the expense of the print edition,” says Armin Mahler, the current head of the employee committee. “We want a new-media sensibility, but we’d also like to see a revival of Der Spiegel’s traditional virtues.”
As for the magazine’s employee-owners, their handling of the succession process doesn’t inspire confidence in their leadership in times of crisis. Supervising up is tricky, and if things go awry again, Gruner + Jahr may be waiting in the wings to take over. But for now, Der Spiegel’s journalists are at the center of an experiment in whether socialized management can overcome self-interest and marry new and old—without losing too much of that special Spiegel sauce.