N.V. Holdingmaatschappij De Telegraaf History
1043 AP Amsterdam
Telephone: (31) 20-5859111
Fax: (31) 20-5854130
Sales: Nfl 1.28 billion (US$514 million) (1996)
Stock Exchanges: Amsterdam
SICs: 2711 Newspapers; 2721 Periodicals
N.V. Holdingmaatschappij De Telegraaf is the holding company overseeing operations of De Telegraf; with a subscriber base of some 800,000 and daily circulation rates reaching 1.3 million copies (for the total Dutch population of around 15 million), De Telegraaf is not only the Netherlands' oldest national daily newspaper, it is by far that country's largest. De Telegraaf remains the flagship of N.V. Holdingmaatschappij De Telegraaf's growing print and multimedia empire, which, in addition to De Telegraaf, includes a portfolio of regional and local daily and weekly newspapers, glossy magazines, door-to-door distribution, interests in television, radio, cable television, and internet access operations, and graphics, printing, and bookbinding plants. Since 1996, De Telegraaf has also extended to the Internet, offering an expanded version of the daily newspaper, De Telegraaf-i.
De Telegraaf has long distinguished itself among other Netherlands newspaper and publishing concerns in that its editorial leadership also plays a prominent role on the company's board of directors. Titles of the holding company's print activities, in addition to De Telegraaf, include De Courant Nieuws van de Dag, Het Limburgs Dagblad, Haarlems Dagblad, Leidsch Dagblad, Noordhollands Dagblad, the magazines Privé and Voetball and other sports-oriented titles, and former Reed Elsevier publications OOR, Elegance, MAN, Hitkrant, Residence, and Autovisie. The holding company's television and radio activities include a 30 percent interest in commercial television startup SBS6, interests in regional television broadcasters such as Limburg's TV8, and cable television production and broadcasting through a 75 percent holding in Media Groep West B.V. These activities have helped De Telegraaf achieve total sales of nearly Nfl 1.3 billion (approximately US $514 million) in 1996 and profits of nearly Nfl 85 million. Newspaper sales form more than 66 percent of the company's total revenues.
Turn of the Century Beginnings
The Netherlands was greeted with a new daily newspaper on the morning of January 1, 1893. The newspaper's founder, Henry Tindal, born in 1852, had originally pursued a career as a cavalry officer. A fall ended that career, however, in 1883. Marriage to a wealthy widow enabled Tindal to enter the political arena, which would, in turn, lead him into publishing. A follower of the anti-royalty, anti-government Radical Movement, Tindal turned to pamphleteering--a popular political activity of the day. Tindal's political activities would lead to criticism from the Dutch press. Angered by this criticism, Tindal decided to go into newspaper publishing himself. In the mid-1880s he gained financial control over the national newspaper, De Amsterdammer, which had made its first appearance as a weekly in the previous decade.
Tindal would prove to be less than a businessman. By the time he sold off his interest in De Amsterdammer, in 1897, he had lost an estimated one million guilders. Nonetheless, by 1892, Tindal had gained control of another paper, the weekly Algemeen Belang ("Public Interest"), followed by the popular (and sensationalistic) Geïllustreed Politie-nieuws in 1893. By then Tindal had added his own print works and two more newspapers, De Telegraaf and its sister publication, De Courant. That newspaper, which appeared for the first time on January 9, 1893, was meant as an inexpensive "people's" paper, taking over the contents and subscriber list of the Algemeen Belang and utilizing the typeset of De Amsterdammer.
With De Telegraaf, Tindal sought to create a politically neutral newspaper fiercely dedicated to the well-being of the Netherlands and its people. Although the paper's neutrality would often be called into question over the course of the following century, De Telegraaf would remain true to its commitment to the issues concerning the Dutch people. Tindal also sought to establish De Telegraaf as a prominent, national newspaper, adding an evening edition in November 1893. Although the newspaper's first years were difficult, by the middle of the 1890s De Telegraaf had seen its subscriber base rise from an initial 2,000 to 9,000, placing it in competition with other important Netherlands newspapers, such as the NRC, the Algemeen Handelsblad, and Het Nieuws van de Dag. Despite the paper's growth, De Telegraaf proved unprofitable, posting a loss of 11,000 guilders in 1899. In response, the company, which in the mid-1890s had gained praise for the quality of its newspaper's editorial content and layout, raised its subscription rate. The move proved fatal--especially as competitor Algemeen Handelsblad lowered its own subscriber rate--and De Telegraaf saw its subscriber base quickly shrink from 13,000 to just 5,400. De Telegraaf's losses, coupled with Tindal's losses from De Amsterdammer, brought him to declare bankruptcy in 1901. Tindal died the following year in Saint Petersburg.
Tindal's bankruptcy had not ended De Telegraaf. Instead, the newspaper came into the hands of H.M.C. Holdert. Born in 1870, Holdert had entered his father's printing and newspaper (De Echo van het Nieuws) business in 1881; a dispute over his salary led the younger Holdert to found his own printing works in 1894. In 1902 Holdert purchased the remains of De Telegraaf and its sister De Courant for 40,000 guilders, incorporating as the NV Dagblad De Telegraaf. Declaring that De Telegraaf would remain neutral and independent from both political and religious opinion, Holdert would play an active role in determining the paper's editorial content. Yet he would also lead De Telegraaf into the realm of the sensationalistic reporting that would enable the paper shortly to build the country's largest subscriber base. Hoping to win back subscribers, Holdert lowered the paper's subscription rate. That first year proved difficult and by 1904 Holdert had run out of money. Several investors, including D.A.J Kessler and J.J.A. Hulsman, would enable Holdert to continue operations, however. These investors would also lead De Telegraaf into later controversy.
In the meantime, De Telegraaf's new formula was showing its appeal to the popular segment of the Dutch newspaper public. Growth also came through Holdert's continued newspaper acquisitions. In 1903 he purchased the popular Amsterdamsche Courant, which had been in press since 1734, dropping that title and adding its subscribers to De Telegraaf. Two years later, after incorporating sister newspaper De Courant, Holdert added two of that paper's competitors, Het Ochtenblad and the Amsterdamsch Nieuwsblad, adding 15,000 to De Courant's subscriber base. By 1911 De Courant boasted 110,000 subscribers; the following year, Holdert took over another competing "popular" daily, De Echo, and its 29,000 subscribers. By then, De Telegraaf had also been growing, reaching more than 20,000 subscribers by the beginning of the First World War.
World War Identity Issues
De Telegraaf's move into sensationalistic reporting would garner the lasting derision of the Dutch newspaper industry--and a position as the country's leading daily newspaper. De Telegraaf would become a popular target for the scorn of competing journalists, who would attack--unfairly--the newspaper as well for its political position. Although De Telegraaf's position on the Second World War would lead to its greatest controversy, the First World War would already provide fodder for its competitors' contempt. Until the early 1980s, in fact, De Telegraaf would be accused of an opportunistic flip-flop from a pro-Axis position to an extreme anti-German position during the First World War, in an attempt to garner favor of the popular public. These accusations would culminate with the claims that, during the war years, De Telegraaf had been bought up by the Shell Oil company--due to the interests Kessler and Hulsman held in that company--and served as a mouthpiece for Shell, which sought to provide petroleum products to the British and French war efforts. According to this theory, the "swing" in De Telegraaf's editorial policy was meant to break down Winston Churchill's refusal to deal with Shell.
A study published in the 1980s, however, would prove that De Telegraaf had in fact adopted its anti-Axis position at the very beginning of the war. This position, which would be described as "rabid," brought the newspaper into conflict with the Dutch government, fearful to maintain the country's neutrality during the war. This conflict led to the arrest of De Telegraaf's editor-in-chief and to a trial that would last through much of the war. Yet De Telegraaf found favor among the country's readership, seeing its subscriber totals reach 30,000 in 1919. Three years later, aided in part by Holdert's and De Telegraaf's sympathetic support of the growing revolutionary fervor in the Netherlands and in part by the company's acquisition of another popular paper, Het Nieuws van de Dag, De Telegraaf numbered 70,000 subscribers. By 1930, De Telegraaf, with an editorial policy as reported by De Journalist as "progressively liberal" and "strongly democratic" had topped 100,000 subscribers. The company's De Courant had also grown strong, in part by acquisitions of its competitors, reaching more than 212,000 copies. In that year, the company moved to a new headquarters on the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, which would become known as Amsterdam's Fleet Street.
The Depression years of the 1930s led inevitably to a drop in subscription growth. More ominous, however, was the rise of fascism across the border in Germany, but in the Netherlands as well. De Telegraaf, while initially critical of the German Nazi party and Adolph Hitler, would be accused of being less impartial to the Netherlands' own NSB (National Socialist Movement). One competing newspaper, for example (as quoted by De Journalist), would describe De Telegraaf's content as a "tabloid's boastful, semi-fascist twaddle"; yet De Telegraaf's pages also boasted the bylines of many of the Netherlands' most anti-fascist reporters. Despite (or because of) this seeming ambivalence, De Telegraaf appeared to capture the spirit of the times: by the outbreak of the Second World War, De Telegraaf and De Courant had established the company as the Netherlands' leading newspaper concern. Of the total newspaper readership of 1.8 million among a population of less than nine million, De Telegraaf and De Courant together represented more than 450,000 readers.
Most telling, however, was De Telegraaf's immediate reaction to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Holdert and his editor-in-chief decided to stop publication of their newspapers--on the morning of May 15, 1940, the date of the Dutch capitulation, De Telegraaf did not appear. Yet none of the competing newspapers followed suit. With the occupation's leadership insisting that life continue as usual, De Telegraaf would reappear on the newsstands that afternoon and continue publication throughout the Second World War. This fact would earn De Telegraaf the moniker of the "collaboration newspaper," a reputation that would haunt the concern until well into the 1980s, even after the 1988 publication of a study that proved that De Telegraaf's position--which continued the ambivalence of the prewar years, at least until the 1942 appointment of Holdert's son Hakkie, member of the Dutch SS, to the paper's board of directors--had been no more and no less pro-Nazi than any other above-ground newspaper of the period. The appointment of Holdert's son, had, in fact, led to a walkout by De Telegraaf's editor-in-chief and most of its staff. Yet De Telegraaf's reputation would have drastic consequences for the company following the Netherlands' liberation in May 1945.
The "Underdog" of the Postwar Years
The Netherlands' liberated newsstands would provide no room for De Telegraaf. Amidst a surge of postwar reprisals, De Telegraaf was banned from publication for a period of 30 years. Only the NSB's own newspapers received heavier punishments. Hakkie Holdert's 25 percent share of the company (the elder Holdert had died in 1944) was taken away; his three sisters, however, retained their 75 percent of the company. As attention focused on the need to rebuild the country's shattered economy, however, a degree of calm had returned to Dutch society. At the same time, a new menace had appeared in the Soviet Union. With support from Catholic and right-wing politicians, the ban on De Telegraaf was lifted in January 1949, and the first postwar edition appeared in September of that year.
Acceptance among the public of De Telegraaf would prove somewhat less forthcoming. The paper struggled to attract 40,000 subscribers in its first postwar year. By 1951 the Holdert sisters were threatened with bankruptcy, until a group of financiers, including Holdert's grandson and J.M. Goedemans, the paper's editor-in-chief during the war years, bought up the company for 480,000 guilders. With Goedeman as director, De Telegraaf turned its attention to the Cold War, adopting a stridently anti-communist tone. At the same time, the paper continued its sensationalistic style, including page-wide headlines, with an emphasis on crime, human interest stories, and other issues affecting the daily lives of its readers.
While De Telegraaf continued to enjoy the scorn of certain segments of the Dutch readership, in particular among the pro-socialist groups, the paper's format and tone once again established its popularity among the broader population. In fact, the company profited by positioning itself as the "underdog" of Dutch newspapers. Yet the paper would also attract a number of the country's most important postwar journalists, including Lou de Jong, author of the country's most authoritative historical work on the Netherlands in the war years. By 1955 the company's subscriber lists had grown to 110,000 for De Telegraaf and nearly 70,000 for De Courant. Five years later, De Telegraaf topped 200,000 subscribers and added an additional 19,000 Courant readers. In 1967 De Telegraaf (including De Courant and other regional papers) topped 500,000 subscribers, making the company by far the largest newspaper concern in the Netherlands--a position it would continue to hold through the late 1990s.
De Telegraaf went public in 1971, listing on the Amsterdam bourse. The company showed consistent profitability over the next decades. By the end of the decade the company would grow from sales of Nfl 134 million and net profits of Nfl 9.3 million in 1972 to 1980 sales of nearly Nfl 500 million, for a profit of more than Nfl 20 million. The company also moved to new headquarters outside of Amsterdam's center district.
Multimedia in the 1990s
Through the stock market boom years of the 1980s, De Telegraaf's extensive financial coverage would garner it a new breed of readers. At the same time, the newspaper's ranks of postwar, anti-communist journalists were thinned by retirements. By the late 1980s the paper's tone had begun to calm, evolving into what De Journalist describe as a "middle-class" newspaper. Capping the decade was the publication of the study putting to rest the accusations of collaboration against De Telegraaf.
Entering the 1990s, De Telegraaf would post sales of more than Nfl 775 million and profits of Nfl 80 million. The company itself had grown, more than doubling the number of employees over the previous two decades. New additions, such as the People-oriented Privé magazine, as well as a strong list of sports titles, joined in boosting the company's growth.
After celebrating its 100-year anniversary by 1994, De Telegraaf boasted more than 800,000 readers, with Saturday editions reaching print runs of more than 1.3 million. The company then turned to expanding its holdings, joining the mid-1990s multimedia explosion. In addition to expanding its magazine holdings with the acquisition of several Reed Elsevier publications, De Telegraaf made moves to enter the broadcast and cable television and radio markets, including a 100 percent share of Radio De Amsterdammer, a 30 percent share with partners including ABC/Time Warner of the television broadcaster SBS6, and a 50 percent partnership with national television group TROS to develop various television and multimedia-related activities. In 1996 De Telegraaf also joined the drive to the Internet, launching i-Telegraaf, an expanded online edition of the daily newspaper, as well as purchasing a 30 percent share in Internet-provider Planet Internet. While De Telegraaf, with a total daily edition of some 800,000, continued to form the foundation of the company's total sales of nearly Nfl 1.3 billion, De Telegraaf looked to its multimedia to maintain its leadership position among the Netherlands media.
Principal Subsidiaries: B.V. Dagblad De Telegraaf; B.V. De Courant Nieuws van de Dag; B.V. Beleggingsmaatschappij Voorburgwal; B.V. Rotatie-Drukkerij Voorburgwal; Hollandse Huis-aan-huisbladen Combinatie B.V.; De Telegraaf Tijdschriften Groep B.V.; De Telegraaf Transport B.V.; Media Groep West (75%); SBS6 B.V. (30%); Hollandse Dagbladcombinatie B.V.
- Hagen, Piet, "Onze Tentakels Strekken Zich Uit Over Heel de Samenleving," De Journalist, April 19, 1996, p. 12.
- Van de Plasse, Jan, "Een Eeuw De Telegraaf" (Part I), De Journalist, December 4, 1992, p. 26.
- ------, "Een Eeuw De Telegraaf" (Part II), De Journalist, December 18, 1992, p. 26.
- Van der Gaag, Arjo, "Ton Boerma: We Zitten Alweer Flink Boven de 800,000," Adformatie, September 8, 1004, p. 5.
- Van Lieshout, Marcel, and van Zijl, Frank, "De Hetze Voorbij," De Volkskrant, November 21, 1992.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 23. St. James Press, 1998.