Across Europe, local newsrooms have adopted three strategies for digital transformation, emphasising an economy of scale, focusing on developing regional breadth, or promoting local depth, found a report published today by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
The study interviewed journalists and editors in local and regional media organisations in France, Germany, Finland and the UK, and found the newsrooms were investing in digital transformation and diversifying business models, albeit with different takes on the process.
The three strategies reflect both changes in the editorial approach to local journalism as well as an effort to monetise such publications.
Those that emphasise scale focus on the acquisition of a wider portfolio of publications with an aim to drive traffic and monetise through digital advertising.
The regional breadth approach is more focused on serving a larger local area, such as a county, and tends to come hand-in-hand with a paid content model.
The titles that promote local depth are usually funded by the community, such as local advertisers and readers who purchase premium products.
"All of these approaches are distinct from a more resigned strategy that is seen in some parts of the local and regional news industry, where companies focus on cutting costs to remain profitable even as legacy revenues decline," study authors Joy Jenkins, postdoctoral research fellow, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of research, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, explained in the report.
"The approaches discussed here involve investment in developing new digital offerings and ways of engaging local communities that are not solely focused on extracting short-term operating profits from a declining print business."
The report interviewed journalists and editors who work for titles with different ownership structures, from large local media companies such as Trinity Mirror Regionals in the United Kingdom to family-owned businesses like Mediengruppe Pressedruck in Germany.
Lauren Ballinger, executive editor of the Huddersfield Examiner, a Trinity Mirror title, explained in the report how the newsroom's connection to the central team helps maintain a digital-first mindset.
"There are a lot of Facebook groups, where everybody shares ideas and asks questions, so that’s really good as well. And we have central teams … and we get emails all day, every day. So this morning in the conference [call], I had a print-out of trending videos that the trending videos team put together, and they’re there for anyone to use. That’s one thing that I think Trinity Mirror does really well at … having a central team that creates things. They’re out of the newsroom, so they have time to strategise."
Trinity Mirror also provides targets for digital traffic and videos, maintains the connection with the local newsrooms through multiple weekly conference calls and organises regular workshops for editors and senior managers.
The integration of digital teams with the rest of the newsroom varied widely. At the Finnish newspapers included in the report, the online desks worked separately although the newsrooms had a digital-first mindset. The German titles had a closer relationship between their online and print teams, approaching editorial content with a project-based mindset.
"The power for new things, creativity, was in the newsroom. And if you put people together and let them work and give them the time and the liberty to think and to develop things, especially if they usually do not work together … they do a fantastic thing.", said Jost Lübben, editor-in-chief, Westfalenpost, in the report.
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