Local news is dead. Long live local news.

How local news outlets in Germany are adapting to an ever-changing market & digitalization

Journalism is going through a period of transformation.

Ad revenues are declining, the core print business is shifting and business models have to be adapted in times of digitalization. Many media companies are struggling and financial strains have been taking their toll on news organisations, especially local ones.  (see layoffs at Gannett for example).

But it’s not all bad and transformation can be a positive thing. It’s forced publishers to innovate and allows them to engage with their readers in ways that weren’t possible in print. The important question for journalists to ask themselves is: How can I adapt and learn something new? Local news isn’t dead, it’s just changing.

Local journalists act as political commentators, city councillors and observers of society all at once. They know their audiences best, reaching them with the most relevant and poignant content. This would be a huge loss to society and makes local news worth fighting for.

At Opinary, we’re in the privileged position of working with local news organisations across Germany. Here are a few things we’ve learned from our partners about keeping the industry alive:
1. With many interesting stories, the root of excitement lies in the local. Local editors have to take advantage of this. Local news enables readers to know what’s happening on their home turf. What politics are people talking about? When is the next art exhibition in town? No national newspapers cover the successes and the defeats of the local football club with so much love and detail.

It’s therefore not surprising that of all our partners in Germany, it’s the local newspapers that consistently achieve the best engagement rates with Opinary polls. From Badische Zeitung, to Schwäbische Zeitung, to Schweriner Volkszeitung, Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, Nordbayern.de, Nordwest-Zeitung and BR24: they achieve monthly engagement rates between 15 and 32%, with 11% as the average of all our publisher network.

2. The purpose of local journalism is to identify the problems, fears and desires of their local communities. Topics that are covered in local newspapers impact the lives of its readers.

As our partners are constantly asking their readers questions, we get a pretty good overview of what readers care about and in 2018, readers of local German news found these topics the most interesting:

Cityscape & Construction (23 polls), Local Sports (16 polls), Local Politics (15 polls), Traffic/Transportation (10 polls), Wolves/Hunting (7 polls), Culture & Local Events (5 polls), (Renewable) Energy (2 polls), and other topics, such as the unpopular salting of roads and sidewalks  and the possible names for baby lions in Frankfurt Zoo (20 polls).

The ability to understand what your readers care about can be a powerful tool to inform further coverage and to set up targeted conversion projects. Knowing what your readers want to read more about can help push them further down the subscription funnel and make them want to pay for your content.

3. Event-driven subscription offers are an opportunity

“Thanks for the sausage” is what you would read above German publisher Rheinpfalz’ special offer for a 21-day free trial subscription to its digital and print editions last year. Why? The offer was only available during the Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt, a regional fair where you could drink lots of wine and yes, eat sausage! Banners for the special offer were only displayed after polls related to the event and saw excellent engagement & CTRs. Readers of local news have a strong connection to the place they live and want to know what’s happening in their area. Local publishers should take advantage of this and use the opportunity to create interesting offers.

4. Readers trust their local newspapers and brands that they have known for a long time.

But they also make new demands on journalists. It’s great to see that many of our publishers, in particular the local ones, are experimenting with new content ideas and story concepts. It’s the first step towards rethinking journalism and here are a couple of our favourite examples:

Berlin-based newspaper, Tagesspiegel uses Opinary to advertise their editor-in-chief’s newsletter. It covers all things Berlin in a very subjective, sometimes even provocative manner and has become extremely popular. The so-called Checkpoint is an independent journalistic product and new revenue stream for the paper and it’s also had a positive impact on their subscription numbers.

Another example is the exciting premium offer that the South-German newspaper Schwäbische Zeitung makes to its readers after they vote on an Opinary poll. After voting, a conversion banner is displayed offering a free 4-week premium subscription. When readers have been used to getting all their content for free it takes work to set up such a successful paid product and slowly make readers familiar with a paywall. Different teams and stakeholders ( product, marketing, sales, editorial etc.) have to work very closely together and Schwäbische Zeitung seems to have mastered the art of cooperation.

  1. The motto in (local) newsrooms is: “Do more with less

Journalists have to be versatile, from writing the article to entering it into the CMS and making sure they hit the deadline. It’s important that technologies and tools are as easy to use as possible. This applies to their internal content management system, their app or infographic tool, as well as third-party software, such as Opinary. The simpler the tool, the more likely it is to be used. At German publishers Kölner Express and Nordbayern.de, we observe constant integration of two to five Opinary polls per day –  polls have become a part of their everyday workflow. Other newsrooms use polls less frequently and are more particular about which questions they ask. Pioneers in this area are the newsrooms of Northern-German papers NOZ, s:hz and SVZ, which refined their storytelling strategy following workshops with famous newspaper designer Mario Garcia. They now create and design articles more selectively, including visual elements and polls that might be placed within the template. Overall, it’s important that usage of Opinary polls is aligned with the newspaper’s general strategy.

The media industry is constantly shifting and it takes work and thoughtful metamorphoses to keep up. But local news is integral to society and we believe it will thrive as long as it continues to be forward-thinking and make the most of its strengths and niches.

Anja NosterPublisher Account Manager DACH