Dear American colleagues: Look abroad. Your predictions for 2017 are probably already happening somewhere else.
The time when everything in journalism and media happened in the States and was then exported to the rest of the world is over. The financial crisis hit European countries so hard that not only the news industry was reconfigured, but so was the whole political framework in which they develop their businesses. And from there, innovation is growing. If you want to make predictions for your future, have a look at our present.
The New York Times had a huge increase of digital subscriptions after receiving some direct accusations from new president-elect Donald Trump. Is that an isolated event? No, it is not.
We at eldiario.es have been 4 years now developing our membership program as an innovative funding model. Our members (we call them “socios”) are not paying to read the news; they pay for the news to be spread. No paywall, no gifts. They are not interested in being our clients but our partners-in-crime for that social mission called journalism. We have 20,000 members, paying 60 euros a year, who are there to protect us, to encourage us, and to send a message: We believe democracies need better journalism.
The Guardian has been building for a year its membership program too. Have a look at their marketing for fundraising while surfing the site. They all talk about the need for the project and independent journalism “more than ever,” an implicit general allusion to Brexit. It’s not about the news — it’s about the project’s attributes. Are you credible? Are you trustable? Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?
Then we can visit a few more small newsrooms in Europe, such as Atlatzo in Hungary or Denník in Slovakia or Mediapart in France. These are projects which have developed quality journalism, even investigative skills, based on the support of their audiences. Audiences who are part of the project, not the product being sold to advertisers who sometimes don’t care whether the content is fake, post-factual, a lie, or whatever.
Building trust is building quality. And if you have a loyal community then you probably can ask them for help. How do you grow a public who has that sense of belonging? Try social networks, try newsletters, try to use your personal touch, try to treat the readers as adults…We all know that. And then try creating little communities who are short in numbers but strong in engagement.
For instance, at eldiario.es we have a Telegram group for readers. We have now more than 15,000 members in that group. We share with them some insights of our newsroom, audio notes, and, yes, sometimes funny gifs or stickers. Of course, their usefulness in a comScore competition is none. But their value for us is huge.
We also focus on personalization in our new app for smartphones. You will receive notifications not about whatever the managing editor finds important, but on the topics you find most important to you. If you’re not interested in NBA results, why would you want to be bothered after dinner with the score? If you are really interested in LGBT rights, why shouldn’t you be notified when a gay marriage law is passed in Argentina?
If you want to escape noise, know better your audience. If you want to run away from post-factual journalism, find a trustable social contract with your readers. If you want to be respected by people, try to get closer to them. Not as clients, not as the product being sold, but as your best friends.