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#DME19: Reinventing local news with Lokalportal and Russmedia

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#DME19: Reinventing local news with Lokalportal and Russmedia

Photo by Gonzalo Bell

There are some organisations attempting to reignite that relationship between local audiences and publishers, however. Whether through a new tech solution or the gamification of news consumption, the panellists at a Digital Media Europe session on ‘reinventing the product’ believe they have solutions to local journalism’s woes.

Sebastian Penthin is founder and CEO of Lokalportal, a Hamburg-based technology company that has built and deployed a portal for local information. He argues that local audiences are hungry for relevant local content, but that it doesn’t necessarily fit the ‘local news’ model that has previously been trialled:

“We [initially] wanted to build a social network for your neighbourhood. We realised that exchange in your neighbourhood is great, but… people want to know what is going on in their local area and be involved in it.”
– Sebastian Penthin, founder and CEO of Lokalportal

Lokalportal’s business model is to build up a database of people in a region, in order to help local businesses monetise themselves: “Our business model is to build small digital ad formats for local businesses.”

Additionally, the 25-strong team is also looking to involve local news titles in the scheme, both to populate the news feed section of the app but also to help those publishers generate revenue through the app. Rather than create any content directly, Lokalportal sees its mission as being to give its users access to relevant local information through its ‘one feature newsfeed’, which is created jointly by public authorities, local newsrooms and journalists, individuals, local businesses.

Reach down to the 'smallest local unit'

Alexander Drößler is Product Manager for Neue Westfälische Mediagroup in Germany. He represents, as he puts it, the ‘newspaper guy’ in the Lokalportal model, having implemented the portal after two pilot studies in different cities. He believes that, in addition to the paid-content play of their website, the platform allows the publisher reach down the “smallest local unit”.

He explained that the deployment of the app required a period of adjustment that ultimately allowed them to understand the needs of a local public that does not engage with traditional news outlets:

“Neighbourhood discussions are a nice thing, but it’s not the main use case for us. It’s more the ‘what is going on in my local area’ [angle], so we thought how can we implement this? It means engagement work, it’s more a user engagement strategy.

"Our journalists have to get actively involved with the local audience they serve. They give examples of what they want to report on and ask for feedback. It really is one level with the audience.”
– Alexander Drößler, Product Manager for Neue Westfälische Mediagroup

As a result, Drößler believes that the role of the journalist on a platform like Lokalportal is no longer that of a gatekeeper, instead being closer to that of a moderator. The focus of the newsroom changed, too, with the team now using the portal in addition to producing the paper product and website in an integrated fashion.

Solving the fundamental problem of local engagement

Penthin says that ultimately, the purpose of Lokalportal is not solely to assist publishers in converting users or to buoy existing revenue models, but to solve the more fundamental problem of local engagement:

“We don’t have a problem of getting people on our page, or converted to a registered user. We had a problem with engagement and loyalty. In the end it was not a closed website but the hybrid… to make the e-commerce funnel as wide as possible.”

Engagement with a local audience is at the heart of Russmedia’s strategy, too. The Austrian group takes a ‘cradle to the grave’ approach to audience development, making sure that it has a presence at significant moments in a person’s life, thereby implicitly making the audience a part of the publication.

It, too, has launched a new local portal with its Vorarlberger Nachrichten brand, which Russmedia Managing Director Gerold Riedmann believes is an antidote to the reach-based mentality of many digital publishers:

“Amedia stands out because it’s the first ever case where a paywall in local has succeeded. We have been saying local journalism can’t be financed through display ads, I’m pretty sure there have to be other revenue strands as well.

“This is the subscription side of the business. Reach was everything; we all have been doing Kim Kardashian journalism. We are all running the stories about Google Doodles that generate traffic but don’t fit the brand.”

Consequently, Russmedia has invested time into thinking about what will engage and add real value to a local audience. One of its solutions, 'Ländle points', sees users of its products earn ‘points’ for interacting with the app in various ways, which can ultimately be traded for services in the local area. While that is fundamentally in service of converting logged-out users to registered audiences, it also helps maintain engagement levels with existing subscribers.

As with Lokalportal and its publisher partners, Riedmann argues it all stems from a drive to re-invent local journalism, and offer something genuinely new to audiences that might otherwise never have engaged with a publisher's titles.

By Chris Sutcliffe


WAN-IFRA External Contributor


2019-04-02 10:49

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