zett homepage
Credit: Screenshot from ze.tt

German news website ze.tt, launched in 2015 under the umbrella of legacy outlet Zeit Online, aims to help young people keep up to date with the news through a mix of shorter stories with multimedia elements and explainer-style briefings on a wide range of topics.

Ze.tt has a team of 10 full-time editors, which are editorially independent from Zeit Online's team. It publishes between 10 and 12 articles a day, including pieces reacting to current global affairs and social issues.

The website also writes across categories such as love, relationships and friendships, and "emotional issues that young people are dealing with", and this type of stories are popular with readers, said Sebastian Horn, head of ze.tt.

Ze.tt currently reaches around three million readers per month, mostly on mobile, and its business model is a mix of revenue from banner adverts and sponsored content.

The idea behind creating a separate brand to target millennial readers was to "attract young audiences in ways that are somewhat different to what existing brands do."

He explained ze.tt has a "different editorial focus" in its coverage from that of Zeit Online, and uses social media platforms as a primary way of reaching and communicating with the audience.

The outlet sees Facebook as a "second homepage", something the team decided on from the very beginning, prioritising its engagement on the platform and closely monitoring the comments.

Conversations on Facebook have often become sources for stories, with young people providing ideas or being interviewed for the website.

Ze.tt's homepage emphasises visuals featuring the top news of the day before readers can scroll down and read the newest articles, as well as a round-up of the most read and most shared stories.

As opposed to publishing long articles analysing the latest news in politics, ze.tt focuses on shorter pieces, often embedding tweets, images and other multimedia formats. Its main aim is to make it easier for young people to quickly catch up on what's happening around the world.

"Sometimes we think that it's worth addressing the most fundamental questions about an issue instead of assuming that readers know everything about a topic already," said Horn.

"So we could publish a FAQ to explain something in simple terms, which doesn't mean that we assume that our readers don't understand things or are less intelligent or read less than other people, quite to the contrary.

"It's so hard to keep track of everything these days, and sometimes, for various reasons, people arrive late to the story – so we help them catch up with what's going on."

In the early stages of the ze.tt brand, Horn and his team conducted interviews with young people to get a better understanding of what issues they were facing and what they would be interested in reading.

"Young people are not only focused on themselves but they're also interested in what's going on in the world, so protest movements and political issues. We address those as well, but we try to do it in a young, fresh and unique way."

At the bottom of its articles, ze.tt encourages readers to send an email if they have had similar experiences to those portrayed in the pieces, and people actively do so. Ze.tt also offers the possibility to make anonymous contributions.

There are similar editorial initiatives aiming to engage younger audiences in Germany, such as Bild's BYou, Der Spiegel's Bento and Süddeutsche Zeitung's Jetzt, but Horn said they have quite different approaches and "there is enough space on the internet for every brand to exist".

The team is considering expanding ze.tt to other platforms beyond its existing presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, Horn said, and potentially build an app.

But they are still in the process of determining what an app could look like.

"We're in early stages, but I don't think it will be just an app that is a copy of our website.

"We are thinking about an app that has features, content or formats that we cannot provide on our website."

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