A great report was just released from Reuters,”The Digital Transition of Local News“, which looks at how local and regional newspapers in Europe have adapted to today’s digital environment. A key takeaway is the identification of three monetisation strategies for local news in the digital age. These three strategies are distinct from the ‘resigned strategy’, in which some local and regional news outlets have focused simply on cutting costs to remain profitable as legacy revenues decline.
One thing all strategies have in common is a growing focus on digital, not just on newsflow websites and social media, but we’ve also seen a growing focus on digital editions. Newspapers are realising that their readers enjoy the finishability of editions, whether they be print or digital. In turn there is a growing trend of digital-only editions. We’ve written a report on this topic, which you can download here, and one of our cases is analysed in the Reuters report as well, L’édition du Soir from Ouest-France.
Benefiting from economies of scale, this strategy focuses on scale and traffic, often pursued through acquiring a portfolio of titles to create the largest possible audience nation-wide. In turn, the large scale audience is monetised through advertising. We can see this strategy employed most often in the UK, with parent companies creating centralised newsrooms producing online content that can be shared across the multiple titles. Costs are minimised through shared digital advertising sales, human resources, and other back-end functions. Each newsroom adopts a common digital culture, achieved through in-newsroom trainings, conference calls, and company-wide initiatives. This strategy gives local newsrooms access to digital experts and tools, robust web content, and a large network of local newspapers; however it can also result in difficult-to-meet traffic targets.
To deal with the demanding traffic targets, some publishers report focusing more on consumer-oriented features, as such articles have higher potentials for revenue.
“That’s when readers come to us not really because they want to read great journalism – they do – but they also want to know, can I get out of my house today because of the snow? Is my train going to be on time? Where can I go for a drink tonight? How well is my kid’s school doing? When do the bin collections start again after Christmas? … I think everyone has seen that actually, they are not silly stories; they are stories that affect everyone’s lives.” – Mark Thompson, head of audience engagement for Yorkshire (Johnston Press)
While the regional breadth approach also emphasises economies of scale, it achieves this by focusing on developing a more focused portfolio for a particular region. The aim is to achieve a strong market position in the specific region, which is then monetised through paid content models in addition to auxiliary forms of revenue from events, services, and e-commerce. This approach is seen most commonly in France, Germany, and Finland, countries with histories of robust local and regional press. Similarly to the national-scale approach, this approach features centralised newsrooms for national content and considerable centralisation of shared back-end functions. However, editorial content emphasises regionalism and local titles are given the autonomy they need to address specific needs. As such, newspapers maintain their distinct cultures.
This approach includes adapting content for the way readers want to consume news, whether that be through audio, video, or other multimedia approaches.
“We have to get new readers or younger people, and we have to be stronger. We must do this kind of journalism. It’s not enough only to print articles like for the last 70 years.” – Kajo Fritz, Westfalenpost section manager for regional news
On the other hand, it’s important to not let this focus on the newest generation of news consumers lead to a neglect of the loyal print readers.
“The challenge is to keep pace while not losing those older generations or traditional people … who read our news on paper the next day or the day after it happens.” – Mira Nagar, digital editor at shz.de
Local depth is pursued by individual local titles, as well as by newspapers owned by smaller parent companies. We can see examples of this approach across Europe, include Finland’s Kaleva, France’s Nice-Matin, Germany’s Main-Post, and the UK’s Kent Messenger. Such organisations are powered both editorially and financially by their communities, and rely on local advertising and print subscriptions. While they are highly tailored to the specific areas they serve, they have fewer resources and therefore less complex infrastructures for digitalisation. With a focus on a more targeted geographically bound audience, such organisations are less able to realise economies of scale, making them more dependent on local support.
While many of these local titles are well respected in their communities, it is the print version that is well-known, with the digital entities still needing to breakthrough the noise.
“If we start being the driver of the conversations that are important to local people, that’ll mean that people trust us more, come to us more, and want to have a dialogue with us more. … People don’t know what the Examiner stands for digitally, whereas they do know what we stand for print-wise. So, it’s getting people to trust us as a digital brand. I think that, once we’ve cracked that, our audience will continue to grow.” –Wayne Ankers, editor of the Huddersfield Examiner