As the press became more active and its circulation grew at the beginning of the Napoleonic era, the first attempts to supply newspapers with news from a central source were made. Finally, Reuter opened a news agency in Frankfurt (M) in the first half of the past century. At the same time, he made an offer to the Prussian government to establish a central news agency on an official or semi-official basis. The offer was rejected. Since he had no luck in Germany, he soon moved to England where in 1849 he founded the parent firm of Reuters, whose boundless distorted material about Germany during the war is still well remembered by us. After the war, the close pre-war associations again developed between the semi-official German Wolff Telegraph Agency, the Italian Stephani Agency, and Reuters. Materials were freely exchanged.
For many years, no other news agency could succeed in Germany because of the dominance of the Wolff Agency, which even before the war was superior to everyone else in its international connections. The Wolff Telegraph Agency knows just as well today as it ever did how to establish close relations with the Wilhelmstrasse [a Berlin street housing many government offices] wherever possible. Previously it did this under the Imperial government, now under the republican. The semi-official status of the W.T.B. goes back to 1871 when it helped the government by transmitting official reports.
As early as 1913, Schwerin had made an attempt to compete with the Wolff Agency by combining many smaller agencies. He founded the Telegraph Union. It was not able to achieve extensive influence for many years because of the limited capital at its disposal. After the war, the W.T.B. was forced (by the cartel agreement that had existed since about 1870) to carry a thousand words of Havas news a day. A Reichstag committee which investigated this intensely anti-German propaganda in our own nation came to a very secret conclusion, after an investigation which lasted for weeks.
In any event, the final push was given to the financing of the Telegraph Union, which under Hugenberg’s leadership was combined with Otto Wolff’s concern in 1921. By 1924, it had achieved such a strong position alongside the Wolff Agency that it also secured a radio license permitting it the right of transmitting its news by the radio to its newspapers.
Breaking up the Wolff news monopoly still did not eliminate the danger to the national news service resulting from the relations between the semi-official W.T.B. and foreign agencies.
The Wolff Telegraph Agency is still the largest German news agency, employing over 800 people. Its stock is owned by the Berlin banking houses of Bleichroder, Delbruck, and Schickler. The W.T.B. has had cartel agreements with Reuters, Havas, Agencia Stephani, and other large foreign agencies for over sixty years. It receives the greater part of its foreign news from them, and is also dependent on the help of foreign news agencies in its capacity as official news agency to the government. The foreign agencies follow a quite deliberate nationalistic policy. It is common knowledge, for example, that Reuter systematically gave the public one-sided news about Germany before and during the war.
Besides its forty-five branch offices in German cities and its correspondents in all major European cities, Wolff also has a large number of investments and subsidiaries. The most important of these is the Wolff Trade Agency, which is today part of the Deutscher Kursfunk Company. It prepares foreign and domestic economic reports, as well as stock exchange reports, for those interested in the German economy, and transmits them by the Wireless Radio Service, the “Economic Radio” [Wirtschaftsfunk].
Hugenberg’s Telegraph Union employs about 700 reporters, etc. The fact that there are almost a hundred editors working for the Telegraph Union shows that the news is not simply collected, with the news agency making a simple choice, but rather that news is deliberately “edited.” Next to the W.T.B., the T.U. is the largest news agency in the German-speaking world. It also controls a press radio service and prepares political, general, and economic news. It controls about thirty branch offices in Germany, has foreign correspondents in important places, and has likewise built an extensive organization of subsidiaries, such as the Parliamentary Agency and the extensive agricultural service, etc. The “Express Service for Politics, Culture, and Economics” is affiliated with the T. U., which also publishes the official bulletins of the German National People’s Party. Furthermore, the Wipro, the Economic Office for the Provincial Press, which supplies provincial and county papers with material and matrix services, belongs within the framework of the Hugenberg press organization.
About 1,600 German newspapers receive news from the Telegraph Union, according to a statement from the Hugenberg circle (Ludwig Bernhard). It is notable that many also receive material from the W.T.B. The nonpartisan press carries a colorful mosaic of Wolff and Hugenberg news.
Dr. R. Dammert’s press firm provides material to over 700 German papers, and is apparently closely connected with liberal circles. It puts out People’s Party material, especially illustrated magazine supplements set in type, news and articles of a political, entertaining, economic, or special content, novels, etc. The firm also has a special service for about 400 foreign German-language newspapers.
Further news agencies which are worth mentioning are: the Democratic News Agency, which is closely related to the German State Party and which appears daily; the news agency belonging to the Union of German Newspaper Publishers, which has become a subsidiary of the Wolff Agency; the National, Liberal Agency of the German People’s Party; the Social Democratic News Agency which is under the control of the Social Democratic Party, and which will soon have its license granting it permission to use the internal German radio service revoked; and finally, the Ullstein Agency.
In the United States of America and Great Britain, the newspapers have cooperated in financing and operating the news agencies. The Associated Press of America in New York, for example, is a cooperative news agency on the part of about 1,300 American newspapers. It provides about 145,000 words a day by wire, with an additional 367,000 printed words. The London Press Association is a cooperative association of English papers that controls its own telegraph system. It controls the majority of the directors of Reuter, Ltd., which controls the international news service in the interests of English power politics by means of its worldwide organization and its agreements with the most important agencies in Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Tokyo, and New York.
The cooperative press organizations are nonprofit and give no dividends; rather, they provide news to their customers at no cost.
The outline of the news agencies in other countries also shows extensive fragmentation. No one has thus far succeeded in achieving an absolute monopoly over the press by means of purely capitalistic policies. The struggle between industrial, agricultural, and financial groups has always resulted in the establishment of different news agencies and competition between them.