On 6 October 1945, five months after the end of World War II in Germany, the SZ was the first newspaper to receive a license from the U.S. military administration of Bavaria. The first issue was published the same evening. The first article begins with:
The front page of the first issue can be read here (PDF).
A reversal in ad sales in the early 2000s was so severe that it brought the paper to the brink of bankruptcy in October 2002. The Süddeutsche survived through a 150 million euro investment by a new shareholder, a regional newspaper chain called Südwestdeutsche Medien. Over a period of three years, the newspaper underwent a reduction in its staff, from 425, to 307, the closing of a regional edition in Düsseldorf, and the scrapping of a section devoted to news from Berlin.
In spring 2004, SZ launched the Süddeutsche Bibliothek. Each week, one out of 50 famous novels of the 20th century was made available in hardcover at certain newsstands and in book shops. Later a series of 50 influential movies on DVD followed. In late 2004 the daily also launched a popular science magazine, SZ Wissen. In late 2005 a series of children's books continued this branch of special editions.
In early 2015, the newspaper received a 2.6-terabyte data set from an anonymous source. The dataset contained confidential information of a law firm offering the management of offshore companies. The newspaper in conjunction with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reviewed the data from the Panama Papers for over a year before publishing it on 3 April 2016.
The title, often abbreviated SZ, translates as "South German Newspaper". It is read throughout Germany by 1.1 million readers daily and boasts a relatively high circulation abroad. The editorial stance of the newspaper is liberal and generally of centre-left, leading some to joke that the SZ is the only opposition in the state of Bavaria, which has been governed by the conservative Christian Social Union of Bavaria almost continuously since 1949. In the 2013 elections the paper was among the supporters of the SPD.
The national edition features four sections: Politics, Culture, Economy and Sports. Editions sold in Munich and its surrounding counties include local news inserts.
The SZ is well known for its daily frontpage column Streiflicht (searchlight) of 72 lines, which is published anonymously.
Süddeutsche.de (formerly sueddeutsche.de) is the Internet portal of the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The articles are made up of own contributions from the Süddeutsche.de editors, from texts that are taken over by the Süddeutsche Zeitung and from agency reports. On the 50th birthday of the Süddeutsche Zeitung launched on 6 October 1995 their internet edition under the name "SZonNet". The project went from SZ-Text Archive (now DIZ - Documentation and Information Center Munich) under the direction of Schmitt from Hella. At the beginning there were no own editors, but selected contents of the print edition have been taken. 1996 wrote Oliver Bantle from the SZ-Science Department, the first journalistic online concept. This Focus on science went online in the fall of that year with Angelika Jung-Huettl as an editor. They created the first journalistic content that were not in the newspaper. Editorial responsibility lay with the then leader of the SZ Science Department, Martin Urban. In the spring of 1998, the travel journal went into the net. Wenke Hess wrote the concept and implemented it as an editor.
The online content of Süddeutsche.de is created and maintained by 25 journalists. Circa 140 million clicks are received on Süddeutsche.de pages. Sued-café is the virtual lounge for SZ readers.
During the third quarter of 1992 SZ had a circulation of 397,000 copies. The 1993 circulation of the paper was 304,499 copies. In the period of 1995-96 the paper had a circulation of 407,000 copies.
Its 2001 circulation was 436,000 copies and it was one of the top 100 European newspapers. In 2003 SZ had a circulation of 433,000 copies. In the fourth quarter of 2004, the paper sold an average of 441,955 copies. The circulation of the paper was 429,345 copies in the first quarter of 2006. During the first quarter of 2012 it had a circulation of 432,000 copies.
Some of Germany's best known journalists either work for the SZ or spent considerable parts of their careers working for the paper. Heribert Prantl, head of the national desk, is a lawyer by education, a former public prosecutor, and the most cited author of editorial commentaries in German press. Hans Leyendecker is one of Germany's best known investigative journalists. Leyendecker formerly worked for the magazine Der Spiegel, unveiling various political and economic scandals, such as the widespread illegal party financing during the 1980s, and that of the CDU in 1999. He also unveiled the smuggling of Russian plutonium into Germany with the help of the foreign intelligence service Bundesnachrichtendienst in 1994, bribery at arms deals, the German Visa Affair 2005 and corruption of the staff council at Volkswagen. Another well-known journalist working for the SZ is Rudolph Chimelli, a political reporter who has been working for the paper since 1 January 1957.
Martin Süßkind also formerly worked with the SZ and eventually became the editor of the Berliner Zeitung. Giovanni di Lorenzo, who was responsible for the SZ's full page documentary Seite 3 (Page 3) from 1994 to 1998, and who was later editor-in-chief of the Tagesspiegel, also worked for the paper. He is now editor-in-chief of the weekly German newspaper Die Zeit.