Friday, July 16, 2010

[The Insider] Taz - Die Tageszeitung

"Die Tageszeitung" (aka "taz") is a German left wing cooperative owned daily newspaper with their offices in Germans capital Berlin. Since they started their "project" in 1979 the taz has evolved into a publisher with around 250 people on the payroll which still has some kind of outsider position in the newspaper market of Germany. As a result of it the taz has always been curious to experiment with new ways of publishing and journalism.

Years ago it was the first german newspaper you could read online and search their archives digitally (first published on CD, now you can get access online as well). Now it was one of the first publisher involved in Twitter, Facebook, using flattr for their articles and publishing a daily ePaper for the iPhone.We had the once in a lifetime opportunity to talk to Nina Schoenian, Creative Director of the and New Media.

One thing Nina made clear from the beginning is that there is no such thing as "Social Media Strategy" at taz. At least not in the term most marketeers mean it: a plan what to do and where to get involved. As there is no dedicated "social media marketing" team everyone is doing what he likes and thinks is useful. As most employees are journalists themselves there is barely a problem with "outside communication". Most of the journalists have private facebook accounts and as they are mentioned with their full name beyond articles online and in print readers are able to find them and discuss their positions directly. But this just happened, it wasn't planned to be like this.

Though you were able to foresee this progress: Nina explained us, that the taz is a very transparent and open company. This starts with the building and ends in the heads of the employees. If you want to survive as a journalist nowadays you need to be able to cope with critics. And criticism definitely increased with the new comments feature on the website. Though, Nina told us, the readers of the taz have always been very involved and never hold back with criticism. The new ways just made it much easier for them. And it has become more directly; As the comments are right beyond the article they are no longer filtered by a chief editor you can hide behind. Each employee has the responsibility to act accordingly with his own voice. This way of direct, personal communications leads to a much closer relationship between reader and author.

But this is essence of social media, Nina said. It is the dialogue with each other as individuals and finding a common platform to discuss topics. This is also why the taz added the comments-feature not only on their blogs but for all articles on the website. Although some might say they don't read the comments, Nina told us, she doesn't believe them: Everyone wants to know what others think about the work they have done. And if the comments are important or there is an interesting topic on the internet it is added to the print edition of the newspaper, too. Internet and Print are not de-coupled; besides the weekly magazin the full newspaper can be read online and offline.

Having the online version opens new possibilities, specially for new colleagues: you are not limited by the space available on a sheet of paper, she emphasized, and it gets more easier to get published. Some articles get published online first and are added to the print edition later. But it is a challenge at the same time: you have to find the right amount of text for the topic. Social media only works right for you if you create content, add actual value. Each one has to take more responsibility, there are no correctors any more, no reviewers, no pre-print version, there is only you (your colleagues) and the "publish this post"-button. According to Nina the involvement of new media flattened the hierarchy.

Though there has never been much hierarchy in the taz but with the new media it became even more plane: today it is much easier for new journalists to get printed. From day one you can start writing, experimenting to find your own style and publish it online, e.g. on a blog hosted by Some are so good that they are published on the print version as well. But that doesn't mean taz uses their blogs to recruit new journalists only. Nina told us about hitler-blog: the aim of the author is to work off Hitler satirically. The blog became very popular and got many awards e.g. the LeadAward (German), but the author decided to keep this a spare time project. This it totally fine, because the taz wants to be a platform for discussion and new ways of seeing things.

One of this new ways is the demonstration live ticker. As journalists are able to get behind police lines legally, they often know more than the demonstrators themselves. And the taz decided to publish these information as live tickers during the events on the website and (partly) over Twitter. It was so unbelievable successful, Nina said, that they just decided to expand it a lot. Without experimenting with new media in the first place they had never known that there is a need for that kind of service at all. But apparently it is of a lot of help for the organizers as well as the demonstrators.

Another of those experiments is the usage of flattr, a social micro repayment service. As the taz is not doing any adverts on their website there is no income for the articles you can read online. Flattr allows readers to donate money for an article they like with just one click. Another thing taz is testing at the moment is bringing their newspaper to smartphones like the iPhone.

But there is the one thing Nina would have liked to realise earlier: with all these new technologies the customer/user/reader becomes much more involved. And even more than you could have ever imagined before; sometimes they make something to scratch an itch they have personally and suddenly become a very important part of your distribution ecosystem. Though this turns out to be very good in most cases, you can't ensure it is always going to be because it is outside your control. In this particular case someone once created a taz-App for the iPhone because he wanted to be able to read the taz on the go. A lot of people downloaded and used it but sadly it didn't work perfectly all the time. Readers blamed the people at taz and wanted them to fix it without them knowing what readers were talking about nor having any influence on it.

There are so many technologies and techniques out there that is very hard to keep track of everything, Nina concluded. There will always be things that just slip through without you noticing. That might be good, that might be bad. This is why you should keep special attention on everything involving your businesses distribution channels and ensure that they work decently. You don't always have to intervene but should at least know what is going on and where it might be good to offer help.

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