How newspapers can build communities across channels

Grzegorz Piechota, the news editor of Poland’s top newspaper (the Gazeta), sees diversified content as the future of newspapers.

“Newspapers are no longer relevant as a breaking news source,”
Piechota told attendees of the INK+BEYOND keynote ‘Building Communities Across Channels’ at the Royal York on April 26, 2012.

In order to connect with an increasingly digital-oriented population, Piechota says reporters must create relationships with their audience. “News is a conversation, not a monologue,” he said. “A news room must be a community of personalities rather than a mega brand.”

Piechota gave an example from his home country: the millennial flood in Wroclaw, Poland’s fourth largest city, which left 7,000 people homeless. During this crisis, official information was unreliable because the government website was unprepared to handle the amount of internet traffic, and newspapers were too slow. Citizens turned to blogs for their updates—specifically the blog of a 29-year-old freelancer, who managed to post over 3,000 news items within five days. With the help of around 300 contributors, the blogger was able to complete with mainstream media and gain 157,000 viewers. This was a game-changer for Polish newspapers.

“Everybody can be a reporter now,” Piechota explained. “Everyone has a digital camera, everyone has a mobile phone, and the Internet is everywhere.” Publishing has changed, too: “Publish is a button, not a job,” Piechota said, quoting American journalist Clay Shirky.

Piechota suggested that newsrooms integrate user content into their publications, as his paper did with an online survey of mothers who recently gave birth in local hospitals. When this annual survey began in 1994, the Gazeta received 2,000 responses by mail. This year’s online survey had 40,000 responses, which provided a much broader data set.

“People care about what’s happening on their street right now,” he noted. “(They) want to share, to warn others and to help others.”
He also suggested engaging people through online sports chats during major games and online activities for younger users. The Gazeta went as far as creating separate websites for business, sports and kids to give different voices to their content. The company is also involved in community events such as weight loss programs and fun runs.

If newspapers want to connect with readers in new ways, Piechota advised that they“show support for causes, motivate, give people the tools and inspire them.”