“The news itself has become a commodity and isn’t of high value anymore”

Hier ist eine deutsche Version des Interviews.

The Lausitzer Rundschau is a local newspaper from Germany and partner of Twingly. We interviewed Benjamin Marx, who is in charge of the newspaper’s online strategy as well as deputy editor in chief. He explains the role of social media for the media outlet, how the website integrates with Twingly and how the editorial department plans to increase reader engagement and interactivity.

Hi Benjamin, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Sure! I have a background within journalism, an university degree in oriental studies and experience as a web developer. I worked both as a foreign correspondent reporting from the Middle East as well as with creating several web portals. After that I focused on consultancy within crossmedia and online strategies. In this role I came to the Lausitzer Rundschau. One day they asked whether I would be interested in taking over the role as Director of online business, which I agreed to. Since January I’m also deputy editor in chief developing and redefining our crossmedia and multimedia strategy and appearance online.

Benjamin Marx

How will the future of newspapers look like?
For 65 years one of the core elements of our newspaper has been the local reporting and I believe this is where even online newspapers have their biggest potential. Especially from a local newspaper like Lausitzer Rundschau people expect to read about news and events from their local town and neighborhoods. They expect us to observe, question and even investigate the actions of local decision makers. There are two big questions any newspapers has to find an answer for though: How will readers consume content in the future, and how can the business model be adjusted to the ongoing change without losing the revenue needed to finance the necessary network of editors and reporters.

What is the goal of your online strategy?
We aim at leveraging new media channels in a way that is highly relevant for the users. We also want to find ways to increase the perceived value of our content, the news itself has become a commodity and isn’t of high value anymore. The time period of having a news exclusively is rather short. Hence we have to find ways to add value – mainly by providing readers with background information which they don’t get elsewhere. Being a local newspaper we can rely on a well established network of local informers and contacts. But what we need to know first is what people want to read and there lies the beauty of the Internet. In former times we only had the readers letters, now we have lots of ways to measure reader activity and preferences, among them comments and blog posts.

So you are paying close attention to what people write in response to your content?
Yes. There are some topics and news types that usually engage a lot of people on the web and that lead to a host of blog posts. In some occasions we even got in touch with bloggers and asked them for permission to print some of their content. By doing that we again ”captured” the discussion that we initially created.

You also use Twingly for the purpose of ”capturing” the discussion…
Correct. We have implemented the Blogstream widget under each article. When a blogger links to a piece on our website it is visible for our readers, who can proceed to the blog post to get an additional opinion. The Twingly widget is a good way for us to find out which topics are especially popular among bloggers.

What are your thoughts on the current social media hype?
Well social media is a lot of fun. At the same time one has to evaluate which tools to integrate into the editorial work. For us Facebook and Twitter are the most important social media channels. By ”outsourcing” your community to those two platforms you get rid of a lot of hassle that you would need to deal with if you establish your own community (which hasn’t worked for most newspapers anyway). We receive about 5.000 readers each month through our Facebook page and Twitter stream, which probably isn’t revolutionary, but we are happy with that particularly because those are people we otherwise wouldn’t reach through our print product.

How does the journalist of the future look like?
There is an industry-wide tendency seeing the journalist of the future as a true multi-talent – somebody who is able to work for and with any channel imaginable, from print to online, radio and TV. I’m not convinced this will happened. For sure journalists will need a different mix of competences and areas of interest (as they even did in the past) and a basic technical understanding might be required, especially regarding online and mobile. But I believe that between the current positions of the editor and the reporter a third role will evolve: the technical producer: A person with an advanced technical and creative set of skills who receives content, formats and adjusts it to different media channels and platforms, takes care of graphical visualisation, meta-information, comment moderation and other kinds of community management. At Lausitzer Rundschau we currently double the manpower in this area until May.

What is your vision for Lausitzer Rundschau online?
For once to be on as many platforms as possible. To achieve this we are developing a HTML5 version of our site which will work on almost any device. Furthermore we are going to experiment more with prioritising content based on user votings and activity. Our readers feedback and opinions will have even more influence on the position and visibility of articles on the Lausitzer Rundschau website. And then there is another functionality we are currently working on: The collaborative editing of articles similar to how Wikipedia does it. We want to offer our readers the possibility to make changes directly within an existing text, for example to add information or background insights. Of course an approach like that is not without risk, since persons we are reporting about might be tempted to change or remove less positives paragraphs. Nevertheless we think this is a very exciting experiment and are curious to see the blogosphere’s reaction towards this move. And of course we will closely monitor and moderate the editing process in order to avoid abuse.

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