Publisher Axel Springer announces reorganisation of regional business and outlines plans for digital future.
Germany’s Bild tabloid, the biggest-selling newspaper in Europe, has announced a €100m cost-cutting programme that will lead to about 200 redundancies, and warned staff that it expects to make further editorial cuts due to “the opportunities of artificial intelligence”.
Bild’s publisher, Axel Springer SE, said in an email to staff seen by the rival Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ) newspaper that it would “unfortunately be parting ways with colleagues who have tasks that in the digital world are performed by AI and/or automated processes”. The short-term job-losses, expected to be in the region of 200, are due to a reorganisation of Bild’s regional newspaper business and are not believed to related to AI.
The moves follow an announcement in February by the chief executive, Mathias Döpfner, that the publisher was to be a “purely digital media company”. AI tools such as ChatGPT could “make independent journalism better than it ever was – or replace it”, he said.
He predicted that AI would soon be better at the “aggregation of information” than human journalists and said that only publishers who created “the best original content” – such as investigative journalism and original commentary – would survive.
Springer is not the first news publisher to look at artificial intelligence. BuzzFeed this year announced it aimed to use AI to “enhance” content and online quizzes, while the Daily Mirror and Daily Express in the UK are also exploring the use of artificial intelligence.
AI tools such as ChatGPT can generate highly sophisticated text from simple user prompts, producing anything from essays and job applications to poems and works of fiction, but its responses are sometimes inaccurate or even fabricated.
Men’s Journal and the tech website Cnet have also been using AI to generate articles later scanned for accuracy by human editors – although Cnet conceded in January the project had limitations after reports that more than half of articles had to be corrected.
In April, the publishers of the German weekly magazine Die Aktuelle sacked its editor and apologised to the family of Michael Schumacher after it ran an “interview” with the Formula One legend that had been entirely generated by AI.
The seven-times F1 world champion, 54, has not been seen in public since December 2013, when he suffered a serious brain injury in a skiing accident in the French Alps. His family have launched legal action against the magazine’s publishers.
Bild said it would aim to avoid forced redundancies where possible but was looking to cut the editorial payroll by “the low three-digits”, or about 200 jobs, by reducing the number of regional editions it prints from 18 to 12, FAZ said.
The email was signed by four top managers at the paper, including editors-in-chief Marion Horn and Robert Schneider, FAZ said. Similar measures could ultimately be expected at the Springer group’s flagship daily Die Welt, it suggested.
Döpfner had already undertaken radical personnel changes at the tabloid, where sales have fallen from 4.5m 20-odd years ago to just over 1m last year, in an attempt to turn round a disappointing financial performance and bounce back from a string of scandals.
The influential daily, whose sensationalist, highly politicised reporting is often compared to that of the Sun in Britain, was forced to fire its former editor Julian Reichelt, amid allegations it tried to cover up sexual misconduct and bullying.
Earlier this year Döpfner had to apologise after leaked texts revealed he had tried to use Bild to influence Germany’s last election and fed it his personal views attacking climate change activism, Covid measures and the former chancellor Angela Merkel.
The German Journalists’ Association (DJV) has criticised Springer’s plans, warning that job cuts at Bild would “slaughter the group’s cash cow”. The move was “not just antisocial towards employees, but also extremely stupid economically”, it said.
A Bild spokesperson said: “We believe in the opportunities of AI. We want to use them at Axel Springer to make journalism better and maintain independent journalism in the long term.
“We are approaching the topic with an open mind and currently have many initiatives with which we are exploring areas of application for AI for our journalistic brands, both in the production processes of the editorial offices and in relation to the reader experience.”