Cyber-resilience in digital journalism: The case of Aachener Zeitung

January 10, 2024 – 3 min. read

In June 2023, Aachener Zeitung, a regional newspaper in Germany, was subject to a cybersecurity breach that caused its website to be inaccessible over a weekend. The attack happened on Friday, June 16th, at 19:00, and the response from the newspaper's management was immediate.

René Benden, the Chief of Newsroom Management, was promptly involved in a group chat on WhatsApp named: “Get Aachener Zeitung on CUE in one day”. While it may sound overly ambitious to get a news organization onboarded on a new media enterprise platform in a single day, this was in fact what Aachener Zeitung managed to do. A first initiative to keep the news flowing on was a quick decision to transition to a live blog format until a full news coverage with full articles was possible again.  

Emmanuel Naert, Director of Digital Acceleration at Medienhaus Aachen, coordinated with Geert Kempen of Mediahuis NV for a rapid deployment of the CUE Platform for the staff in Aarchen. Most of the technical components needed for this to be possible, were already in place since Mediahuis’ data center setup of CUE is built for scalability and a well-defined process for adding new titles was in place.  

The entire process from the initial response to the deployment of the new site took 24 hours, with the majority of the time dedicated to decision-making and only four hours required for the technical implementation. 

“We say that the new website took 24 hours to create. But 20 of them were decision-making and politics. The last 4 hours was the actual setup” - Emmanuel Naert. 

By the following day, Aachener Zeitung resumed publishing, now through the new CUE setup. The new platform received positive feedback from both editors and journalists, while the website got exceptional feedback from subscribers, who were pleased with the swift return of their news site.  

The new website even exceeded subscribers' expectations. Especially one subscriber who had initially considered cancelling his subscription due to the previously outdated design, expressed his satisfaction in an email to Medienhaus Aachen CEO, Andreas Müller, on how the new website made him want to stay as a subscriber. 

Centralization of editorial infrastructure, such as their CUE platform, does not mean removing independence from Mediahuis news brands: “When we roll out CUE, we don’t want to standardize CUE. We want to fight for diversity in voices – to emphasize a local character, to make sure that their brands have their identity, and express themselves the way they find fit.” – Emmanuel Naert. 

This incident illustrates how Aachener Zeitung managed a cyberattack by implementing a quick technological solution based on a scalable platform. It also sheds light on the broader strategy of Mediahuis to ensure the continuity and independence of local journalism through the centralized CUE platform.