Since the German regional daily newspaper Neue Westfälische became a partner and investor in Lokalportal, this participatory neighbourhood news platform has become a key part of the newspaper’s strategy in addition to its paid content general news Web site.
Lokalportal is intended as a synergistic cooperation approach with publishers, and it aims to strengthen neighbourhoods by giving them a place to access high-quality reporting and reliable information on a free local platform where neighbours also can become contributors.
For publishers, the platform allows them to create a local digital ecosystem in which the local community interacts and creates value. Lokalportal can help publishers to establish in neighbourhoods and reduce content creation costs.
Reporters share their content either as a person or with a brand account directly into the news feed, and they select whether content is visible at the city level or at the district level. Journalists also provide value by moderating and stimulating the local conversation, and they add reliable information the local community cannot provide for itself.
The journalists of Neue Westfälische not only provide local content, but they also explore what is on the neighbours’ minds and involve them in the reporting process. Whether through crowdsourcing, surveys, or feedback on topic ideas, they make news more social.
For example, they do a weekly poll on the week’s most important topic or on neighbours’ wishes to improve community life. The results of these polls influence the focus of their reporting. The audience learns it actually can participate in the journalistic process and that this participation is valued.
The journalists also produce content to target community members with specific interests, such as dog owners, civic club members, and other target audiences with content they cannot get from the main news Web site. “My Pet & I” was one of the most read stories, but it is not something you would find on a typical news Web site behind a paywall.
This approach lets reporters act and engage on equal terms with their neighbours in the digital community. And they add verified news to the platform and enrich the digital town with information the local community cannot obtain by itself.
A hyperlocal platform like Lokalportal has appeal to advertisers because it can attract target groups that typically turn away from newspapers. In combination with profiled user data, it provides the fundamentals for future digital business models for local newspapers.
Think about your hometown and how its residents work to ensure a vital community. There are civic clubs looking to gain new members or visitors. There are merchants who want their shops to be visited frequently. The municipality needs to be connected to its citizens.
Most importantly, there are neighbours who would like to know what is going on in their neighbourhood. They want information on their immediate environment. They want to have a say in the community’s development. They want to socialise with others from their area.
There was a point in time when all of these local actors were connected with each other through a “community member” that is now struggling: the local newspaper.
But the local newspaper is no longer the information gatekeeper. The newspaper needs to think deeper and focus on the local community and its needs. It needs to shift toward public-centric services and create a digital place for members of the local community to come together with residents of their town.
This is what Lokalportal was created to accomplish. In contrast to competitors on the German market, such as Nextdoor or nebenan.de, which mainly focus on just neighbours, Lokalportal is editorially driven and based on the participation of all local actors with the direct involvement of local journalists.
There are varying options for signing up to Lokalportal. Neighbours can simply enter their postal code to read the content. To participate at a higher level, they need to register and get verified via SMS or e-mail. Once verified, they can engage more with the news and the journalists, get in touch with other neighbours, or write their own posts, share pictures, and participate in discussions about the neighbourhood, hobbies, and interests.
Ten months after the launch in Bünde, a city with roughly 45,000 citizens, 8% of the German-speaking residents between 18 and 70 are already registered, while 20% visit Lokalportal at least monthly. In contrast, our competitors to have only registered about 2%.
Businesses also are part of Lokalportal. Especially small and medium businesses, for example local shops, can draw attention to their offers on our platform. Due to high costs, scatter losses, and unsuitable target groups they often no longer advertise in the print newspaper anyway.
We tested ad formats on Lokalportal with some of our advertorial and sponsorship customers. We have learned that these customers find a local digital ecosystem targeting single neighbourhoods to be more attractive than a traditional news Web site.