That there is a market for news about Europe for people living in Europe who speak English is not a new discovery. Plenty of newspapers have had success catering to this niche audience over the years. And a number of continental publishers view the web as a platform for translating their work into English, increasingly the lingua franca of certain European circles. But The Local, a network of websites based in nine European countries, is one of the first to approach that market from a broad-based, digital-only standpoint.
The Local was founded in 2004 as a weekly digest by two Englishmen in Sweden, before expanding to Germany in 2008, then Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Norway, and Austria. In June it added Denmark to the fold, finally connecting its Scandinavian and mainland domains. With 4.5 million monthly readers across its sites and 28 staffers, The Local is growing fast.
In America we are seeing hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in new and original digital news brands. But in Europe, where the old newspaper titles still dominate, The Local is the only completely new international news brand to emerge since Metro.
There is a potential tension here between its focus on local news and its growth as an international operation, but Rapacioli sees them as two sides of the same coin:
Daily news is the glue of our society, defining the issues we care about and how we respond to them as a community. And since your community goes beyond your local neighbourhood, your city and even your country, daily news from around Europe should be a vital part of our lives.
This philosophy is reflected in The Local’s distributed structure. With a couple full-time staffers per country (along with a cadre of freelancers) producing 10 original articles per country each day (around 90 in total across all the sites), The Local aims to maintain a local presence without the perils of “top down” editorial control, which Rapacioli says is a problem for publishers like The New York Times and The Economist.
Content on The Local rarely takes a deep dive into specific cities or neighborhoods. Readers can expect wacky human interest stories meant to go viral (like the American student who got stuck in a giant vulva in southern Germany), or more substantive pieces (such as one about Sweden’s influx of asylum seekers). Today, the French site is pushing a listicle about new Nobelist Patrick Modiano. Don’t expect coverage of city hall; “local” stories could come from anywhere in the country, a scope that may work better for smaller countries like Denmark than big ones like Germany.
But The Local’s niche is perhaps best reflected in the communities it creates. As a digital hub for foreigners and expats, The Local owns the popular English message board Toytown Germany, and most of its sites feature classified-style sections for English speakers to find jobs, housing, dates, and the like. Its readers might come for articles like “Three obstacles for foreigners in Germany” or “Dream jobs in Italy for expats” (hey, sounds nice to me), and stay for the conversations and connections in the forums. While English-language international news is nothing new, The Local’s digital focus allows it to build a set of online communities in addition to a forward-looking media brand. All while publishing both “Ten reasons Germany is better than France” and “Ten reasons France is better than Germany.”