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Oct. 30, 2015, 9:30 a.m.
Reporting & Production

German daily Die Welt wants to bundle print, digital, and TV into a single newsroom (and brand)

Two years ago, Die Welt restructured its newsroom, aiming to transform into a premium subscriber-based digital brand. Now it’s trying to integrate a TV station under a similar model.

— When The New York Times announced that it would create a separate, centralized group of editors and designers to focus on producing its daily print product, those at the German publishing giant Axel Springer’s Die Welt took particular notice of the change:

Die Welt likes to tout its online-to-print focus. It was among the earliest German publications to move toward digital subscriptions, launching a metered paywall that allowed 20 free articles per month. Two years ago, it upended the physical architecture as well as the workflow of its newsroom. A group of a dozen editors, photo editors, and designers constructs the print daily. That team doesn’t (and isn’t allowed to) assign stories. Instead, it draws exclusively from the stories that have already been published online. (Meanwhile, the Sunday paper Welt am Sonntag does still contain longer investigations and features exclusive to the print product.)

Welt has a staff of about 400, and most of the reporters and other staff don’t sit in the cavernous, open, and very quiet space on the ground floor of Axel Springer’s Berlin headquarters. The main restructured newsroom is more of a production center for its various channels — mobile, tablet, online, daily print, and Sunday print — all requiring varying degrees of speediness.

“When you get breaking news, you immediately think about how to present the story in the best way in the shortest time,” said Die Welt’s editor-in-chief Jan-Eric Peters, who has held that role since 2002. Meanwhile, “in a print newspaper, the thinking is, what can we do so that the story is still interesting the next day?”

In 2013, Axel Springer acquired 24-hour German news channel N24, and this past summer, it merged N24’s editorial team with the Welt group. N24 is also changing its name to Welt, so that all of the company’s “quality journalistic offerings” come from the same brand. (Axel Springer also owns the top-selling tabloid Bild, which has slightly different editorial aims.)

Peters wants to see the staffers who work on the television side of (the soon-to-be-renamed) N24 integrated into the current Die Welt newsroom’s workflow. The intention is for N24’s digital editorial team to produce content with and for all things Welt, including the print paper.

“Online, mobile, TV — all those go very well together,” Peters said. “Breaking news needs to be broadcast immediately, too. It should be possible to integrate online and TV, because in a way it’s the same thinking.”

With a well of new video content from N24, Die Welt is looking for a better way to present that content on its own website.

When I visited the Berlin newsroom recently, a team of developers had just begun on work on a new, fully responsive Die Welt site that combines the websites of N24.de and Welt.de.

“We integrated the TV station into our newsroom workflow, but we have to integrate them online as well,” Leeor Engländer, managing editor for mobile, told me. “Right now it’s two totally different websites, one for our newspapers and one for our TV station. We’re trying to figure out an innovative way to merge the two.”

At the moment, most of N24’s production staff can’t physically relocate into the Axel Springer headquarters because they need the broadcast infrastructure at the TV station. Construction on a new Axel Springer building will start in a few weeks and should house both the TV and the rest of the Die Welt staff by 2018. For now, a few “ambassadors” represent the TV teams at Die Welt’s daily meetings.

“With big stories like the G7 summit or the refugee crisis, we have to have morning meetings with teams consisting of at least a writer, a TV reporter, maybe a video person who can help us Periscope, and so on,” Peters said. “It does become much more complex with TV.”

Peters oversees all the ways Die Welt content is distributed, including via TV, and he wants his editors and reporters to envision how stories can be packaged for all the channels.

“The editor leading the politics section, for example, is responsible for TV, print, online, everything,” Peters said. “So when a reporter reports on, say, the refugee crisis, he would offer a storyline and then people from all the different channels will have to chime in to say, it would be good to have this, or good to have that. TV will say, for instance, we need pictures, and we need video. There’s only one guy responsible for the content, and others discuss what we need to make the story good for all different channels.”

Peters said he wants writers to be able to “step in front of a camera and tell a story,” and that the group’s newest TV reporters are also beginning to write pieces for the web. (Die Welt runs plenty of wire stories, too, and those wouldn’t receive any sort of dressing-up for TV.)

The team is trying to push out more projects that are planned, researched, and executed jointly by the online, print, and TV teams. Eventually, the collaborative process will be ironed out enough to work on a daily basis. Peters pointed to a project exploring anxiety that ran online as a reported feature accompanied by several interactive video simulations, and was reconstructed into a series for the print daily and Sunday edition and for TV.

angst-welt-screenshot

For another project this year on the tenth anniversary of YouTube (yes, YouTube, home of the katzenvideo), the printed paper put together a series about YouTube’s growth. A shorter video series ran on the web, and a 45-minute documentary — featuring interviews with German YouTube stars and an exploration of YouTube creator spaces — ran on TV.

welt-new-logo-iphone-app

Even the Welt logo is getting a redesign. The logo debuted on Welt Edition and the tablet and smartphone apps, and printed products will be relaunched at the end of November with the redesign (the TV station will see a new logo a little later down the line).

“We reach, on a weekly basis, millions of different Germans, but people are not realizing that N24 and Die Welt are produced together,” Peters said. “The new typography will be more modern, to fit both online and TV better. You can’t really have newspaper type on a TV screen.”

(Peters will be leaving Die Welt next January to head up editorial at UPDAY — an aggregation app that comes out of a new Axel Springer/Samsung partnership — and Die Welt’s publisher Stefan Aust, who led Der Spiegel in the 90s and helped build Spiegel TV, will take his place in the interim.)

It’s been reported that Die Welt has always struggled financially, and the company does not share specific numbers on profitability. It’s Axel Springer’s highbrow offering, and some analysts have speculated it’s carried by other Axel Springer properties, like the bestselling tabloid Bild. In terms of circulation, it’s historically ranked behind other large dailies Süddeutsche Zeitung (which this year introduced a paywall) and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. (Die Zeit, a weekly national paper, tops all three.)

But Die Welt’s overall web traffic has grown steadily over the past year: According to the independent German audit organization IVW, it got 73.4 million total visits last month, up from 52.3 million a year earlier. (Axel Springer’s other offering Bild got 309.6 million visitors last month.) And according to data released this month by the firm AGOF, an alliance of online marketers which conducts media research, Die Welt saw 13.16 million unique visitors making it one of the top-visited news sites behind Bild (18.8 million) and Spiegel Online (16.44 million). (N24’s separate site took in another 4.17 million uniques.) Integrating videos from N24 certainly helps attract viewership to the site: The Germanwings crash video coverage, for instance, drew a million viewers on a single day.

Die Welt ultimately wants to consider as its main competition Spiegel Online1, both Engländer and Peters suggested, and not necessarily the other national print dailies.

“We try to have projects that show, even to our editorial team, what we can reach by combining all the different channels and ways to attract our audiences,” Peters said.

Photo of Die Welt advertising balloon by Luke McKernan used under a Creative Commons license.

Notes
  1. Der Spiegel the magazine and Spiegel Online are largely separate entities with separate leadership and separate teams.
POSTED     Oct. 30, 2015, 9:30 a.m.
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