The role of local news is a very important one: connecting and informing communities — or bluntly put “the vitamin supplements” of communities that provide the vast majority of “news that feeds our democracy”. Local journalism very often is public service journalism that conveys information through news stories, which helps guide decision-making in our society. There are studies that even suggest that fewer people bother to run for mayor, when local newspapers shrink.
Obviously, the digitalization and the behaviour of millennials challenges the way local news are not only created but also distributed. Among the problems most local news publishers face are the creation of web-native content, creating engaging, digital formats, reaching the younger, digital-native audience, etc. Or put differently: Creating a form of local journalism on digital platforms that is so compelling that it become indispensable and that a large number of people are willing to pay for it — that is the true challenge.
An Editorial Experiment at Tagblatt
Our customers at St.Galler Tagblatt were confronted with some of the same problems.
Martin Oswald (@oswaldmartin), Head Online and member of the editorship at St. Galler Tagblatt, stresses that “one of the biggest challenges in local journalism is currently finding a form of multimedia storytelling that matches the needs and habits of the future, digital generations”.
In an attempt to find these new formats, the Tagblatt decided to do an editorial experiment — an undertaking that required a lot of patience and tact. “Approaching colleagues individually with new ideas and testing these ideas with them, has proven to be the best way to move forward and ensure a safe environment for experiments.” says Oswald. “At best, we create little success experiences — and in the worse case, we have learned something.”
Digitalization? Challenge Accepted
With their online presence, the Tagblatt reaches around 250’000 users per week. From the articles they read online, 9 out of 10 are taken over from the print version but enriched by journalists with pictures, links and another title that’s more suitable for the online audience. But it’s clear that this not the way to go, especially after the decision in summer 2018 to introduce a paid-content-strategy (the digital offer of Tagblatt costs 14.50 CHF/month now). In order to support this internal, cultural change of the entire editorial team, the part of the team responsible for online had to come with creative new formats for a new, younger and more digital audience. These are the 5 formats they came up with for the experiment:
- Local live ticker
- WhatsApp service for soccer fans
- A topic and event series on “next now — Zukunft im Kontext” (putting the future in context)
- Live journalism (and videos) from events
- Instagram stories
The St.Galler Tagblatt is running on Livingdocs, thus we would like to shed some light on especially their experiment with local live ticker on the website. The experiments and results of the other four formats can be found in Oswald’s article here.
Local Ticker for the City of St.Gallen
With the hypothesis that people are highly interested in whatever happens in the immediate surroundings — everything from long articles, over news and event infos, to the weather and reports of accidents. These things are usually covered in the print edition of the newspaper in small single-column reports, but there was nothing similar online. The solution: a ticker about the local happenings around the city of St.Gallen.
For the experiment, the editorial team produced a “Stadt-Ticker” for 10 days including big stories but also traffic news, event updates and small notes around the life in the city of St.Gallen — everything captured in Livingdocs.
The format was a true success. According to Martin Oswald, the city ticker had 22’000 visits in 10 days and “exceeded all our expectations.” They have asked their users over Facebook and Twitter what they thought about the new product — and the results were overall positive. Reason enough to adapt the internal structures and now produce the ticker permanently. Since mid-February, the citizens of St.Gallen can enjoy the news and infos around their town all day long in this new format. Furthermore, the editorial team has decided to introduce and test a similar ticker format for the Canton of Thurgau.
“We are convinced that there are needs in the local area, where the classical publishing of different and unbundled articles is not enough. The city ticker is a genuinely intended by and for online format. We will permanently check and adjust the specific content and processing in the ticker”
A Glimpse at the Future
As the list above as well as the original post by Martin Oswald on Mediumsuggests, there are obviously many more ways to make local journalism more digital and also more attractive for younger audiences. Another idea to explore could be delivering highly relevant local news by using location data and push notifications as suggested by this article on Niemanlab. It’s great to see newspapers in Switzerland approaching the problems of local and regional journalism with a true experimental mindset and based on real data and experience. We at Livingdocs are looking forward to see what other formats our customers come up with and how Livingdocs can support them — let’s keep innovating!
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