Hyperlocal 'news cafes' are taking the Czech news scene by storm
While newspapers scramble to figure out how to turn a profit in a
quickly evolving industry, a small group of Czech publications might
just hold the solution:
A year after the successful launch of a hyperlocal journalism project in the Czech Republic, Roman Gallo, director of media strategies for Amsterdam-based investment firm, PPF Group, told more than 200 delegates at the annual Canadian Newspaper Association conference Thursday how his company is bucking the trend.
Last June, PPF launched four pilot publications across diverse districts of the country. The ventures, called Nase Adresa or “our address” have three components: weekly newspapers distributed every Monday, interactive websites and news cafes.
While web and print platforms are typical fodder for Ink + Beyond delegates, the idea of news cafes may be a bit less familiar.
The idea is to create a newsroom environment where as little separation as possible exists between those reporting the news and those consuming it. To break down that wall his company developed news cafes – newsrooms containing public cafes, where community members are encouraged to drop in, share their ideas and even contribute to the publication.
“We use these cafes as community centres,” he said. “There’s a much better understanding of community life for our editorial staff because there are no barriers.”
The cafes don’t just quench caffeine cravings, either. Each newsroom frequently holds community events like concerts or dance lessons, often attracting hundreds of people from the area.
The novel newsrooms create a unique connection between consumers and the Nase Adresa brand, said Gallo. “It creates trust.”
Once that relationship is established, Gallo added, the publications are able to produce stories with a distinctively local tone – all without ever having to make room for international, national or even nearby regional news, all of which can easily be found elsewhere in more traditional print and web formats.
Rather than dilute coverage with non-local issues, Nase Adresa’s publications focus on generating content for four news pillars: sports, community events, service listings, such as movies and restaurants, and quality journalism that includes investigative reports on issues like local corruption.
And in these newsrooms, community members aren’t just encouraged to give news tips. Reporters are required to be “community editors”, tasked with helping the local people develop the tools they need to take part in stories – whether that is the subject of a story or one of its producers.
The newsrooms aren’t just unique in this sense, though. In addition to functioning as a communal gathering place and local news hub, the cafes help generate essential, albeit nonconventional, revenue for the publications as well.
Gallo says this new revenue model also relies on the funds generated by Futuroom, PPF’s training and knowledge facility that develops infographics and interactive models for multimedia publications in larger markets.
Nase Adresa’s four pilot projects have been so successful under this new model, in fact, the company is planning to roll out an additional 150 weeklies, 1,000 websites and 89 cafes throughout the Czech Republic over the next 18 months.
But even with the success of the pilots and the launch of hundreds of new hyperlocal publications on the horizon, Gallo doesn’t anticipate the ride will be bump-free.
One challenge he foresees could come when PPF introduces 10 news cafes in the country’s capital city and largest market, Prague.
Unlike the current hyperlocal model where news doesn’t cross over between communities, the Prague publications will contain some overlap, Gallo said.
“There’s more migration, so it might be based not only on location, but also on demographics,” he said. PPF could, for instance, create a news cafe devoted strictly to interacting with students and covering student affairs.
Whatever the look of the new publications, Gallo is certain of one thing: Nase Adresa’s success proves there is a way for newspapers to thrive in the 21st century, although it’s not the only way.
“This is only one example of how it can be done,” he said. “I think there are thousands of other examples of how you can do this.”
Teri Pecoskie is a Humber journalism school graduate and works in the Star radio room. She is covering the CNA annual conference in Toronto.