A few years ago, a good friend told me: “Optimism will not cure me from cancer but it definitively helps me to stand tall and fight this terrible disease.” It was his way to communicate openly and provide me, his friend, with hope and perspective. He won his fight and I told myself never to forget that message.
At the start of the corona crisis in our country, it crossed my mind that we had to create the same combination in the way we handled this topic in our regional newspaper.
Of the 1.2 million habitants in West-Flanders, we reach 450,000 people on a weekly basis, both print (Friday) and online. So we felt a great responsibility in doing the right thing: give our readers correct information, and give them hope and perspective.
To reach that triple goal, we unlocked our paywall and published all corona information for free. Our journalists got a clear message: We prefer to be second with correct information rather than be first with wrong information. Besides that, we launched a second live feed where all the actions of solidarity in our region were bundled. We did that to empower these actions and inspire people to help everyone who needed help. This created a warm wave of solidarity through our region.
Only the beginning
This was the first step in our 360-degree approach. But as a regional newsroom, we realised we could do much more. This crisis created a big opportunity to be relevant in the lives of our community. So, we rolled out an editorial plan called Together against COVID-19. It started on March 13, the first day of the lockdown in Belgium.
We encouraged our readers in 64 communities to express their gratitude for the people in the health section by making a heart with a walk or a ride with the bike in their local town. We put a free poster in our newspaper that could be hung up at the window with the message, “Thanks to our heroes.” We asked children to make drawings for their grandparents that were isolated in the rest homes.
We also made six conceptual newspapers, with weekly themes like heroes, hope, humour, youngsters, dreamers, and people who were cured from corona. Linked to those themes and being aware that music always gives a brink of hope in difficult times, we also made an additional playlist which was presented for free on our Web site.
We supported the local businesses by offering free space to communicate with their clients and inspired our readers to buy local. And last but not least, every Monday we offered 3,000 newspapers for free in the main hospitals for the sick people.
Building better community bonds
As a regional weekly newspaper with a daily online news flow, we always have the ambition to be relevant in our readers' lives. In this crisis, we wanted to take a next step.
We wanted all our habitants to know that our newspaper is a big family. Once you are part of that family, we are there for you. Our journalists are your friends. And do you know who inspired us? FC Barcelona.
The Messi-team plays weekly some of the best football in the world. But nevertheless, they tell their subscribers that not only do they do that, they also are more than a football club. So we tell our readers that De Krant van West-Vlaanderen is more than a newspaper. We are a family. We say to our readers: one team, one family.
But today, I want to be honest with you and always stay humble. As a newspaper, we could not make a vaccine against COVID-19, but we definitively made a vaccine against negativity.