Newspapers and the Berlin Wall

The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is a reminder about how much our world has changed since that night of East German defiance. I was on the foreign desk of The Australian and had been watching the saga unfold, editing dispatches from our own man, Nicolas Rothwell, plus Reuters, AFP and UPI. The East Germans didn’t need Twitter to organise a good protest.

A few peculiar things stick in my mind about that day, and subsequent events.

Firstly, I remember the late-afternoon news conference, in which the Canberra bureau chief rang in to sell “his” front page yarn. Editor Frank Devine let him bang on before finally responding, “we’re just wondering at this end whether you think the fall of the Berlin Wall is a bigger story!”

The wall literally crumbled as we went to press. A couple of UK papers, once the dust had settled, reprinted their 1961 editions of when the wall went up. I recall a copy of the old, broadsheet Daily Express.

On the front page was a photo of an East German soldier standing next to the wall, a short story that spilled inside. That was it.

Newspapers were not huge beasts then; not full of ads and pages of writing.

Print newspapers had surely changed more during the time of the Berlin Wall than they have since its fall.

Perhaps now, with digital advertising alternatives, we are seeing print come back in scale. Papers will adapt, compete and be no less relevant. The Berlin Wall offers lessons of change for us all.

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