Sunday, March 27, 2016

Stars and Stripes in Germany

If you were a former Air Force or Army member.....deployed or sent to Europe from 1945 to present....you existed on news material primarily from the Stars and Stripes.  Oh, I'd agree that ninety percent have flipped to internet platforms today and probably less than 20,000 G I's read the military-produced newspaper (Stars and Stripes).

The first issue I read of Stars and Stripes was around the 6th of January 1978.  It was 15-cents.  Typically, it had 28 pages.  If you did the check of age of articles.....from the front-page, it was all stuff that had occurred forty-eight hours prior.  From pages two to eight.....a week prior.  We didn't care because it was the only option for news other than the Herald Tribune out of Paris....which you could get but it was triple the cost of the Stars and Stripes.  In the 1990s, USA Today would arrive and actively compete against Stars and Stripes.  

You'd find stands around a typical base or post.....or pick it up at a BX cafe.....or at the Stars and Stripes book-store.

After a while, at least for me.....you began to realize that there was a tight lid on any news generated by the G I's themselves.  You see, we had murders, assaults, robberies, and significant events right here in Germany.  The reporters for the Stars and Stripes had to write a very tightly controlled piece, then have it delivered to a Army or Air Force general....who would review it and give approval for the news to be dispersed.  News items from the AP or the US?  No problem.  

In 1978, you'd find out about some murder on a Army post....maybe five or six days after the event.  There might be one or two updates over the next month, but it'd be very limited news.

One of the chief enjoyments you'd get out of the newspaper was the "Letters to the Editor" piece on page 9.  The generals couldn't do much about the letters.  So Stars and Stripes would pose some 12-line whine-piece from Private Snuffy or Airman Winston.....why chow at such-and-such dining hall was one-star and just up the road was this four-star dining hall.  Someone.....sometimes even a general....would respond and note that their chow was standard chow, and they personally ate there themselves.

Over the course of 8,000 copies of Stars and Stripes that I've read in my life.....the best letter to the editor was some letter that a Ramstein wife wrote of the Esso station over in Ramstein village.  She noted how she used the gas coupons and bought gas there, and felt shamed by the XXX-magazines on the rack by the cash register.  She felt that the BX folks should dump Esso and go with stations that didn't feature any men's magazines.  The BX guy responding....did the best he could with this, but admitted that they just wanted folks to be able to buy gas at a large assortment of stations across Germany, and Esso was the most popular brand.  Personally, I wanted to suggest to her that Germans didn't seem to have a problem.....so get over it.  

At some point in the late 1970s.....a popular but short-lived competitor came around to Stars and Stripes.....going more as a weekly news journal rather than a daily newspaper....but centering in on German post/base news.  This got some officers peeved because they'd talk about such-and-such major who got 'fired' or an internal audit with this BX operation, or some assault between two senior Army NCOs.  For a brief time....this survived....but I don't think they ever turned any real profits.  The BX managers refused to allow it sold on their premises.  Oddly, it started a discussion about the limited news structure on German news, and by the late 1980s....it was a regular thing to have German news.....even if it was negative.

Most of the production game today is done out of the states.  There's a small team of reporters in Germany, and they might produce six to twelve articles a week.  My humble guess is that readership is probably down to ten-percent of what existed in the mid-1980s.  

On the subject of the Stars and Stripes book-store....it was the only place on a post or base where you could buy books or magazines.  It was also part of the profit structure of the newspaper, and helped to keep the daily newspaper at 15-cents for a number of years.  

I can still remember the pumped-up business on a Sunday at the Rhein Main BX (1978) and how crowded the book-store would be.  Most barracks 'rats' were there to pick up their monthly copy of Hustler, Penthouse or Playboy.  

In the mid-1990s.....the BX folks did the empire take-over game of the Stars and Stripes book-store.  At the time, everyone felt that it would harm Stars and Stripes more and increase the cost of everything sold in the form of books and magazines.  All of that played out as predicted.  And the cost of the newspaper generally went up every couple of years.

If I did have a crystal ball....I'd probably be predicting within five to ten years....the end to Stars and Stripes production.  It's audience diminishes and there's virtually no way that anyone can control the news of today, with the internet around.  

2 comments:

Troy Swezey said...

One would think SnS would be digital now. Although the L.A. Times is now digital though it is a paid subscription base.

R Hammond said...

You can get on the Stars and Stripes for roughly a dollar a month. Ninety-five percent of the news is US news. Sports news on European high schools is done regularly now (rarely if ever occurred in the 1980s). You can look freely at the site and you have up to five 'free' clicks a month if you want to read a particular article.