Innovative News Site Sings a Tune That Others Can Follow

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They start weekly meetings with Danish folk songs. How cool is that? I read a great post this morning on NiemanLab about a Danish news site called Zetland. It resonated with much of what I hear from members. So here are a few highlights of that story with some usual SIPA-fication:

They have a staff meeting every Tuesday... It's hard to replace the value of getting together—in-person—these days. Cassandra Farrington of Marijuana Business Daily told us that employees there must come to the office 10 am – 3 pm Tuesday to Friday. They started virtual but looping in all parties on key issues just got "frustrating and we were not moving efficiently."

...And start with a Danish folk song. "For Zetland, the singing is part of a larger effort to build a community around the news that's built on trust, understanding, and transparency. That's why the site is forthcoming with its staffers—and its readers—about its operations and business."

Transparency and accountability. Zetland uses the meetings to update staff on the state of the business, subscriber growth and other topics to ensure that "people are really invested in the big picture," editor-in-chief Lea Korsgaard said. Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, recently told me they have frequent staff meetings as well. "It creates accountability," he said. "It keeps people on the same page, and culturally it's a valuable element as well. It's important to preach open discussion in other areas, financials being one of them."

Internal communication. A management Slack channel, open to anyone on staff, automatically posts an alert any time a new subscriber signs up, with details of what type of membership they bought and where they came from.

Find your niche. Zetland publishes 3-4 stories every morning. Day-to-day breaking news isn't their focus. Instead they rely on "need-to-know" stories that are more in-depth and explanatory.

Meet your customers—in-person. They invite readers into their office to chat. "When was the last time you sat opposite a prospect and listened to their objections?" asked Robin Crumby, founder of Melcrum and now Novatum Group. "When you come to make recommendations about changes, it's so powerful to be able to quote customers. If it originates with the customer, it has so much more power."

A subscriber-only audio app. This features "Zetland journalists reading their stories, for those who prefer listening to reading. Members can also listen to the stories in their web browser."

Live events. Okay, this is pretty incredible. There's a video that shows a packed event they put on called Zetland Live, featuring their staff. The editor begins as the emcee with some type of fowl mascot behind her. Then we see a woman on a trapeze, a mini-symphony, a reporter talking about his coverage of Afghanistan perhaps, another reporter with footage of himself in Africa perhaps, audience involvement, a sports segment, storytelling, more music and an after-party (where the fowl returns).  

"It was in garages at the beginning, but it turned out that it hit something and we could sell out in eight minutes," Korsgaard said. "That was the entry for most people. That's how they got to know us and then they discovered: Wow, they also do written journalism."

Monetize on membership. "The site now has more than 8,500 members. A subscription costs 99 kroner a month (USD $15) or 999 kroner (USD $154.72) a year. Zetland made 6.2 million kroner (USD $970,645) in 2016, and expects to break even within 10 months."

Leverage your members. Members can share stories with unique links that allow non-members to read the story along with a header that says that a specific member shared the story. An ambassador program lets members share free two-week trials of the site with friends.

What do you do best at? Could you make additional money consulting? Zetland runs a consultancy business, where it helps other organizations put on events and offers its staffers as speakers. These are very talented staffers.

Get your audience involved. They asked for names for a new newsletter and then had a vote. Helikopter won. The editor hated it at first but then said, "we can't ask the questions if we don't want the answer. It's been called that since, and of course, it's perfect."

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…