In July 2021, several European countries were subjected to heavy flooding that caused widespread damage and deaths. In North Rhine-Westphalia, the rains began on July 14. As the downpour continued through the night, cars were swept away, bridges were destroyed, and many homes were in danger of collapsing. Many people had to be rescued, and some 180 people lost their lives.
It didn’t take long for Funke Mediengruppe to spring into action to support the community it covered. Within 24 hours, it had launched Funke hilft, a fundraising initiative to aid those who had been hardest hit.
“We launched the initiative at extremely short notice in cooperation with [the international organisation] Caritas and other local organisations located in the worst-hit area,” said Johanna Baumann, publishing development in regional publishing management for Funke Media. “In this way, we brought together the organisational structures of Caritas with our high-reach daily newspaper titles in North Rhine-Westphalia. The result was a very high level of participation in the fundraising campaign.”
Revisiting a successful approach
It isn’t the first time that Funke Mediengruppe had taken a hands-on approach to aid a community in need. In the spring of 2020, as the first wave of coronavirus cases peaked, Funke launched a fundraising campaign encouraging companies and foundations to help individuals who had fallen on hard times. The spirit of the approach was very much a “help your neighbour” mindset, and it was that same spirit that drove the Funke hilft campaign.
“As a regional media company, we see it as our task to be close to the action, to create transparency and classification, but also to create and promote cohesion,” Baumann explained. “In our daily newspaper titles, we called on our readers to donate to the campaign.”
The response far exceeded expectations, she said. More than 25,000 individual donations were received in addition to donations from corporations and foundations. In all, donations reached €7 million.
“The special thing is that other publishers who were not affected by the flood have taken up our campaign and supported it,” Baumann said. “This showed that there was a great deal of concern and willingness to help in Germany.”
Coverage with concern
Throughout the disaster and in the days that followed, Funke balanced its coverage with reports on how people were personally affected, as well as looking at how those who were affected were getting assistance. Service pieces on topics such as who was covered by insurance and who was not, alongside reporting on whether early warning systems worked properly, and science-based pieces on climate change and how it affected the floods rounded out the coverage.
Such well-rounded coverage only helped reinforce the media company’s standing in the community.
“Regional media in Germany generally have a high level of credibility,” Baumann said, adding that this was underscored during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the number of readers rose significantly and they saw fewer subscribers fall off.
“People have been looking for a source where they can get trustworthy information. That's the case with [coronavirus], and it's just as true with the flood issue,” she said. “So, when we as a media company put out the call for donations, it has a lot of meaning for readers. Because here it is guaranteed that the help also arrives.”