Abstract: Germany’s public broadcasters, along with local newspapers, have consistently ranked among the top three most trusted news sources in Germany. Yet growing criticism of mandatory fees and recent revelations about public broadcasters’ misuse of funds have put into question the health of Germany’s news and information infrastructure. In fact, a perfect storm appears to be brewing: precarious working conditions, exacerbated by cutbacks in the wake of Covid-19 and the emergence of so-called zombie papers. These papers, published without a local staff, reporters, or newsrooms, threaten to complicate audiences’ perceptions of news credibility and trust. This study explores Germany’s emerging news deserts by examining the rise of zombie newspapers in two states, one in the Western and one in the Eastern part of the country. Analyses of existing literature through the lens of institutional political economy and of interviews with key informants show that Germany, despite its strong federalized system, is following in US footsteps by creating journalist-free zones. A network of hard-to-follow corporate collaborations is endangering the foundations of post-war Germany’s media system: pluralism and media diversity.
Keywords: Germany; ghost papers; local news; news deserts; public media; zombie papers