For Polish opinion daily Gazeta Wyborcza, 2019 should be a year of celebration. The news media company reached its 30th anniversary and has grown digital subscriptions to more than 190,000 (on top of an average 100,000 daily print run).

However, digital newsroom chief Aleksandra Sobczak was doing anything but a happy dance in front of INMA’s Media Innovation Week audience Tuesday morning in Hamburg.

Instead, Sobczak’s somber message to her 200 news industry colleagues assembled from 25 countries was about a newspaper under siege by a right-wing populist government intent on stifling independent media dissent — and what might happen after parliamentary  elections in three weeks.

Aleksandra Sobczak shares Gazeta Wyborcza's fight for journalistic integrity with INMA members.
Aleksandra Sobczak shares Gazeta Wyborcza's fight for journalistic integrity with INMA members.

“I am afraid that after the elections, if the national party wins some, as it appears they will, they will get even more radical,” Sobczak said. “I know we can count on our readers, but the general situation is — your readers can only protect you so much.”

Journalism as a cause

Sobczak’s presentation was billed as being about how publishers with a strong social purpose can use that to grow their business in this time of generally declining readership and advertising. It has been a recurring theme at this conference and similar news industry gatherings. Popular examples range from The New York Times’ “Truth is Hard” campaign to Die Zeit’s Z2X festivals for visionary Millennials.

Sobczak did touch on that briefly in her remarks.

“Apparently when we defend our values, it translates into business results,” she said. Digital circulation has grown nearly 15% so far this year as Gazeta Wyborcza has focused its editorial voice on supporting causes ranging from underpaid teachers to the gay community.

“As you know from history, every authoritarian government needs an enemy. Polish government chose the LBGT community,” she said while showing images of protests and marches in Warsaw. “Gazeta Wyborcza supports LGBT. Our LGBT newsletter has 12,000 recipients.”

The government’s reaction was to send a priest to conduct an exorcism at the newspapers offices, Sobczak said: “Soon after this exorcism, the government started to go directly after us. The first thing they did was cancel all subscriptions and advertisements.”

Then gas stations owned by the state started hiding Gazeta Wyborcza under other newspapers so they wouldn’t sell.

“And then they began suing our journalists, Sobczak told the audience.

News reports this week say that in the final run-up to the October 13 elections, the ruling Law and Justice party issued a 232-page manifesto proposing, among other things, to regulate the status of journalists through a “self-government body that it says will ensure ethical and professional standards, as well as educate young reporters.

Reading from a statement by her editor-in-chief Adam Michnik, Sobczak told the INMA audience: “Our ideal has always been a free Poland and human freedom in Poland. Poland of truth and reconciliation, dialogue, and tolerance. 
Poland, a state without hostility and hate. Democratic Poland within the European Union.​

In conclusion, Sobczak said, “I can assure you of one thing: that we will never stop caring for Poland. And that democracy, free courts, human rights, the Constitution, and Europe will always have a devoted defender in Gazeta Wyborcza.

Schibsted and Amedia case studies

The Tuesday morning session looked at two other subscription-growth case studies:

Schibsted’s Maria Nervik reviewed how the Norweigan publisher developed its “My Subscription page to let readers manage their own subscription status and, in the process, cut the number of people who cancel.

 

Maria Nervik discusses Schibsted's "My Subscription" model at Media Innovation Week.
Maria Nervik discusses Schibsted's "My Subscription" model at Media Innovation Week.

“The key takeaway for implementing this solution for anti-churn has been: great solutions to reach different users at specific turning points,” she said.


Also from Norway, Amedia’s Helge Birkelund updated the number of sport events his company’s 73 newspapers now livestream to 3,000. These livestreams provide a way of relating to, and consequently better connecting with, communities.

Helge Birkelund of Amedia discussed the company's success with livestreaming sports events.
Helge Birkelund of Amedia discussed the company's success with livestreaming sports events.

 

“It made it possible because we are arriving on a scooter with a backpack and we’re ready to go with one camera, Birkelund said. “Most of our streaming is done with one camera (and with good 4G networks in Norway), and 90% of streaming is done by phone.”