By Robert Kohler
I chose a traditional local newspaper in Germany to focus on in this case study. The current situation of newspaper companies is quite similar in the United States and in Germany: circulation falls (note: all weblinks lead to content in English) because people get the news online, ad rates sink, publishers have difficulties setting up paywalls on their news websites, and companies reduce editorial staff.
Berliner Morgenpost is a German regional newspaper based in Berlin. Founded in 1898, it is one of the two most important daily newspapers in the German capital. Formerly part of Axel Springer AG, one of the biggest media companies in Europe, has been owned by Funke Media Group since 2013. This company, based in Essen (North Rhine-Westphalia) and privately held by the Funke family, is one of the largest newspaper and magazine publishers in Germany.
In 2012, I interviewed Dirk Nolde, who was the head of Berliner Morgenpost’s online department at that time. The expert interview was part of a research project on mobile journalism at Ilmenau University of Technology. While reviewing the transcription this week, I found some sections that might be interesting for the purpose of this case study.
Responses to changing media landscape
It is self-evident that Berliner Morgenpost cannot only count on printed pages any more. I think one of its earliest responses to the changing media landscape was setting up a news website. Of course users find a lot more than articles on morgenpost.de; for example, there are interactive graphics and videos, too. Furthermore, the content is distributed on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and via applications for mobile devices.
Most of the German news websites are free. Currently, there are only few newspapers charging readers for online content, such as Bild and Die Welt. But the leading national dailies Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Süddeutsche Zeitung are going forward with their plans to set up paywalls. Berliner Morgenpost, however, has charged online users since 2009, but only for local content. So on the website, the company capitalizes only on its main business: Berlin-related stories.
Applications for mobile devices
Another approach to building new revenue- even if these earnings are probably low and cannot fully finance a newspaper company – is providing apps for mobile devices, which offer more than traditional news content and have to be paid for by their users: Berliner Morgenpost offers iPhone and iPad apps. One of them focuses on tours in Berlin, where users find places for excursions. Another app provides historical pictures and information. While walking through the city, the app identifies sights nearby automatically and shows old views of buildings and places, as well as information about events and persons related to this place. These apps for mobile devices show how a traditional news organization can diversify their offers and also potentially win new audiences, for example tourists.
With the objective of focusing on regional topics, Berliner Morgenpost engages amateur journalists (so-called “reader reporters”) to write for their news website. Since 2012 these writers have reported on events, people, stories, etc. in their own district. Currently there are 26 reader reporters working for Berliner Morgenpost. The editorial staff edits and publishes their articles. This is an interesting approach towards hyperlocal journalism. Content becomes more authentic and gets closer to the readers’ interests. But one of the most important advantages for the newspaper (disadvantage for the reader reporters) is that they are not paid for their articles. Thereby Berliner Morgenpost not only reduces costs, but also benefits from new resources.
Changing methods of news gathering
Technological change also affects methods of news gathering. Berliner Morgenpost uses several devices and tools to adapt to new forms of news coverage. “The publisher provides the editorial staff with several smartphones and tablet computers”, says Dirk Nolde, former head of Berliner Morgenpost’s online department. “These devices are used for mobile reporting or live coverage.” As one of the most massive changes in journalism is the acceleration of the spread of news, the editorial department chooses specific events for mobile reporting, such as the Berlinale International Film Festival or the Berlin Fashion Week. A reporter not only does live coverage via Twitter, he also takes advantage of the iPhone camera and creates multimedia content, in combination with an external microphone. “The reporter uploads the video directly to YouTube, and afterwards an editor in the office revises and publishes it,” says Nolde. Both the Twitter feed and the YouTube videos are embedded in the Morgenpost news website.
In order to figure out new opportunities and formats for news reporting, the Berliner Morgenpost online staff also tries out new applications and functions of devices. For example, they tested creating 360° panoramic photos of special events or places for the website. “There are always new things upcoming,” says Nolde, “I think we will have to test new tools again and again, to find out which ones are useful for our work.”
The Berliner Morgenpost editorial staff not only creates content for the newspaper and the website, but also for several weblogs attending to certain topics. There is one blog for example which only covers the local Bundesliga soccer team Hertha BSC. “During press conferences and soccer matches, we fill this blog directly with content. For example, we embed iPhone photos via a WordPress application”, says Nolde.
These examples show that the online department of the traditional Berliner Morgenpost newspaper responds to technological changes in order to a) keep up with the speeding up of news and b) to try out new devices and tools in order to find out new forms of news presentation.
I think all kind of news organizations have to work to adapt to the changing media landscape. It seems to be a good approach to try out new devices and tools, and figure out which of them may enhance journalistic work or the journalistic product.