SPIEGEL: Mr. Buchholz, when was the last time you were in marriage counseling?
Buchholz: Peronally, I have no ...
SPIEGEL: ... but within your leadership team, there are regular couples therapy sessions ...
Buchholz: Yes, the last time was in summer. There are a lot of parallels between relationship conflicts and business leadership questions: Communication breakdowns, unspoken expectations, poorly defined goals.
SPIEGEL: So, do you sit with your department heads on mats and complain about how the journalists in your company aren't exactly fond of you?
Buchholz: And we arrange our chairs in a circle and toss oranges back and forth, of course. But seriously: It can be very beneficial to talk about behavior and perception in such a venue.
SPIEGEL: As chief of Europe's largest magazine publisher, Gruner + Jahr, you oversee about 250 titles worldwide -- among them, Stern, Geo, Brigitte. G + J also owns a share of SPIEGEL. Didn't you ever want to be a journalist yourself?
Buchholz: Frankly, no. It's always fascinated me that they're allowed to peek into everything and be professionally curious. But I don't know if all journalists are always aware of what a dream job they have. It is a true privilege with the opportunity to make a real difference ...
SPIEGEL: ... which in many newsrooms is narrowing in the face of the financial crisis ...
Buchholz: ... and for that reason is all the more important. The old ways simply won't take us any further. Times like these demand a change of course. On a big ocean liner like ours, that can lead to some creaking and clattering.
SPIEGEL: You had barely taken the helm when you told your newsrooms: When a flagship like G + J faces a huge wave, the people "on the sundeck need to put aside their deck chairs and drinks." It doesn't get much more cliché than that.
Buchholz: I apologized for that turn of phrase.
SPIEGEL: Are you simply not saying it out loud anymore, or do you actually no longer think it?
Buchholz: I didn't want to hurt anybody, and I know there are many people in our engine room working hard. But I have to give a timely warning when rough seas are approaching. Some kind of wake-up call was necessary. And it came down on us even harder than I thought it would a year ago.
SPIEGEL: The economic crisis has caused ad revenues to nosedive. Your foreign business is in bad shape in many countries. None of your online products is operating in the black. You recently reported a loss of €57 million ($84 million) for the first two quarters. On the other hand, you called your organization "robust and healthy" this spring. Was that an lapse in honesty or forecasting ability?
Buchholz: Neither. I can't say with certainty that we won't still be in the red at the end of the year. But even so, G + J is, at its core, absolutely robust and healthy -- more so than many firms in the country.
SPIEGEL: To make matters worse, your major shareholder, the media concern Bertelsmann, is weighted down with over €6 billion ($8.8 billion) in debt. For that reason among others, you have to find €200 million euros in savings by the end of the year. But where?
Buchholz: First of all, you're relying on a false estimate. As the new chief executive, I don't need anybody to remind me that something's got to change in the face of bad results here. We're not doing well, true. So we have to find savings on the order of what you mentioned -- a third from each of three divisions: Germany; the international business; and investments, printing plants, etc.
SPIEGEL: In internal memos to your leadership team, there was talk of concrete decisions needing to be made by the end of the month, at the latest.
Buchholz: No decisions are going to be made before the end of September. Instead, our editors in chief, publishers and division heads are being asked to make specific recommendations on what can be changed, conserved, outsourced or consolidated in their newsrooms and departments. It is definitely no longer enough to squeeze marketing costs and page counts in the short run. The order of the day is restructuring.
SPIEGEL: The word alone is dreadful. What's behind it?
Buchholz: I certainly won't be telling SPIEGEL about any concrete measures before I tell my staff.
SPIEGEL: Is participation in Germany's government-subsidized reduced working hours program a possibility?
Buchholz: Talks with our shop stewards on this went nowhere. I have to accept that.
SPIEGEL: Bertelsmann could lose interest in the magazine business in the long run.
Buchholz: I don't see that happening.
SPIEGEL: Your predecessor complained that G + J was at the very bottom of Bertelsmann's priority list for investment.
Buchholz: We are ready to invest, and in this regard we also have the backing of our shareholders. But to spend money, I have to have it first.
SPIEGEL: So, now you have to find ways to save. The resistance will be commensurately fierce in your newsrooms, which ultimately stand for quality journalism.
Buchholz: And that will always be our core business.
SPIEGEL: In that case, don't you need the courage to spend freely, since many good stories wouldn't otherwise be tackled?
Buchholz: Good journalism has its price. Whether it always has to cost a lot remains to be seen. But you also need to be prepared to watch your expenses or you won't able to spend freely for long. People in your craft need to understand that.
SPIEGEL: Please explain to us how we journalists are allegedly wired to spend!
Buchholz: Good God! Journalists are frequently entitled to pursue their projects with all kinds of tools and resources and time and money, even if they never result in a story. That occasionally clashes with the commercial imperative to be as efficient as possible.
SPIEGEL: You're paraphrasing the cliché of journalists as overpaid busybodies.
Buchholz: No, not at all. The conflicting goals have always been there, and you have to allow yourself these debates. I also appreciate that we have a more important role than that of moneymaker. Article 5 of the German constitution (which protects the freedom of the press) hangs over everything we do.
SPIEGEL: If you're arguing democratic principles on one hand, you can't complain when, on the other hand, cost-cutting plans are met with criticism.
Buchholz: And I don't want to do that, though it's pretty astonishing how little fuss is being made over the slashing of thousands of jobs at an automaker -- and yet how fiercely negative the commentary can be over job cuts at a publishing house.
SPIEGEL: Your goal is top quality at ever-lower prices. Put another way, isn't quality just whatever you can presently afford?
Buchholz: No, it's not like that. But we do have to see to it that there's demand for our quality.
SPIEGEL: There's no shortage of readers.
'Our Most Acute Problem Is the Advertising Crisis'
Buchholz: Our most acute problem is the advertising crisis. But the structural problem is that circulation, too, is under pressure. We have to react to all of that.
SPIEGEL: Will you still be publishing as many magazine titles at the end of the year as you do today?
Buchholz: I sure hope so. We're looking regularly at the individual titles. Some have excellent prospects. Others are sliding perilously close to the edge. That's just the way it is, even independent of the crisis.
SPIEGEL: How much patience do you have in these matters?
Buchholz: That varies from title to title, and unfortunately I see in your question once again the apparently common penchant among journalists for mutual self-flagellation. Not all of the magazines we're starting this fall will work either. But we're going to try them anyway.
SPIEGEL: ... You're talking about Gala Men (a style magazine) and Business Punk (a "radical business and lifestyle magazine") ...
Buchholz: ... as well as Geo Mini (an offering for early readers) and the second test edition of Nido (a title aimed at young parents) ...
SPIEGEL: ... and Beef, the magazine for the culinary man. What's next? The magazine for the promiscuous urban recreational smoker?
Buchholz: Here we go again -- journalists trashing things other journalists are trying. In any case, I am looking forward to our editors' creative ideas.
SPIEGEL: We just want to know if the future lies in niche products.
Buchholz: Well, at the moment I don't see anybody in the world who would who would try, at great expense, to bring a million-circulation title to market.
SPIEGEL: The newsmagazine Stern still yields good returns, but it's supposed to cut, cut, cut to subsidize your loss makers.
Buchholz: With all due faith in quality products: In the face of the global downturn, we won't be able to claim that we're the only ones who've managed to expand the traditional magazine business. It will still be highly profitable for years, but it's not growing anymore.
SPIEGEL: G + J's sales and profits have declined for the last three years. Does your job from here on out consist of cutting faster than the market is eroding?
Buchholz: Now, that's really oversimplifying. My job isn't just to save money. We're also looking for growth in new areas.
SPIEGEL: And so you want to start putting out more customer magazines.
Buchholz: For example, yes. And there are also firms paying big money for specialized information from databanks, which we can deliver to them.
SPIEGEL: But first you have to buy such a business. And it takes a while to produce relevant returns.
Buchholz: With this, I believe Gruner + Jahr can can return to growth in a couple years.
SPIEGEL: Aren't customer magazines and corporate publishing an admission of defeat for classical journalism?
Buchholz: One has absolutely nothing to do with the other.
SPIEGEL: Let's say G + J is crafting a consumer magazine for company X. Then your editors might wonder how they should behave the next time company X is in the news.
Buchholz: Thankfully, that hasn't kept anybody here from doing an investigative story. And that's how it'll stay.
SPIEGEL: And you, in turn, haven't ever gotten an earful from the executive board?
Buchholz: I'm sure the follow-up on some story or another could have gone more smoothly. But then I just have to deal with it, especially since the customers have a professional view of things.
SPIEGEL: Because they don't even bother to complain to your editors but come straight to you instead?
Buchholz: Ha, ha! No, because they know you can't buy good coverage.
SPIEGEL: One of your first restructuring measures was to consolidate your business publications -- that is, the Financial Times Deutschland, Impulse, Capital and Börse Online. More than 60 journalists were let go. Others were laid off and then brought back on board with new contracts under worse terms. Many saw that as poor taste.
Buchholz: We have to separate what happened from how it happened. The nature of the change was painful, I'll admit. It was unpleasant for me, too. But German labor law won't allow it any other way.
SPIEGEL: You'd do it again like that?
Buchholz: I couldn't do anything else. But beyond that, I stand by the consolidation itself. It was right and necessary.
SPIEGEL: A number of editors are bemoaning the extra work and shrinking resources. If a Financial Times Deutschland specialist spends two weeks researching for Capital, he disappears from his own publication for that period.
Buchholz: I don't get the feeling that our quality has deteriorated. Many editors really appreciate the fact that they can now broaden their skill sets. There may be difficulties in the beginning, but it will be a success.
SPIEGEL: Perhaps a medium doesn't need a newsroom so much as it needs a soul.
Buchholz: Do you seriously think the 250 journalists in our business newsroom believe they're creating soulless products? I am not going to blindly perpetuate old ideals so I can be the last one to turn out the light on the way out the door. Thankfully, G + J is already considerably further along than your questions are.
SPIEGEL: You're said to have spoken with Dieter von Holzbrink, publisher of the business daily Handelsblatt and the weekly Wirtschaftswoche. Was there talk of a common future?
Buchholz: In these circles, everybody talks to everybody.
SPIEGEL: About what?
Buchholz: All sorts of things -- printing, distribution, editorial matters. And why not?
SPIEGEL: Is the fusion of your business publications a model for other parts of your organization?
Buchholz: It's simply a indication that this sort of thing can work in certain areas.
SPIEGEL: Does this mean the business coverage of Stern will soon be coming from the central newsroom too, and Brigitte will deliver the fashion section for Gala?
Buchholz: There are no blueprints. Every magazine has things that it's obligated to do for itself, and other things that it can get from the various shops under our roof. Size has to eventually result in economies of scale. And the puzzle in Stern isn't created by the staff there anymore either.
SPIEGEL: Do you envy your predecessors, who didn't know what to do with all the money they were hauling in?
Buchholz: Yes, but I almost worry that in 20 years we'll look back on 2009 and wish we were here.
SPIEGEL: Because it'll be even worse by then?
Buchholz: Because people tend to be nostalgic.
SPIEGEL: In that case, how do you see your earlier political career? As a state representative with the business-friendly Free Democratic Party you were the vice chairman of the committee that investigated the Barschel affair -- a major political scandal in the state of Schleswig-Holstein. Could you see yourself returning to politics?
Buchholz: Why not? But that isn't in the offing. I'm almost 48. Even at 58 I'd still be a youngster in that field.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Buchholz, we thank you this interview.