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Engaging Journalism: How Working Together With Your Audience Builds Trust In Journalism

Rico Grimm from Krautreporter at the Community Leadership Summit #2

Rico Grimm is the editor-in-chief of Krautreporter, a membership-based digital news magazine.

In this talk at the Community Leadership Summit #2, Rico shares how Krautreporter involves its community for in-depth reporting, why trust matters in journalism and how memberships are different from subscriptions.


I am a generalist. I'm the editor in chief of Krautreporter. It's an online magazine based here in Berlin. We were founded four years ago and we do some things differently because we don't have advertisement, we only publish one story a day and we are a membership organization. 

We don't focus on subscriptions or donations, we sell memberships and it's our mission to help our members to understand the world a little bit better. And actually we feel that this is not only the mission of the newsroom, we are about 15 people, but it is the mission of everyone who's a part of Krautreporter. 

In the past four years we found out a couple of things and I want to share with you three of these things. Maybe you can draw some inspiration from that for your own projects. 

Your community knows more than you do

The first thing is your audience knows more than you do, so your community probably knows more than you do too. We are journalists, what we are really good at is telling stories, researching and unearthing facts. But for every topic out there, there's someone who knows who is an expert. Someone who knows a lot more than you do as a single journalist, or as a newsroom. Therefore we always ask, what do our members know that we don't? 

And we actually ask them. We put out surveys, we have email newsletters, we have a Facebook group and we use Twitter. And we ask them; what do you need to know about this topic? The second thing we ask them is, what do you need to know? 

We're dealing with topics like the war in Syria, bitcoin, the conflict in North Korea and so on. By actually asking our members what they need to know, we get a very good feel for where to start. Oftentimes you actually have to start at the basics, which is not bad. I mean it's just the way it is because people don't have time to follow the news everyday. 

Trust comes first, money comes second

The second thing we found is that trust comes first and money comes second. This is vital. Maybe people become members of Krautreporter because they want to read a story. We have a paywall, they want to read or finish a certain story, but they don't stay members because they want to finish the story or they want to read our content. They stay members because they liked the idea. They like our mission. They're like organization. They like the other members of Krautreporter or the Facebook Group or the comments section, which is quite special in Germany. 

This is what I mean with trust comes first, money comes second. The moment they start trusting us, it's actually a lot easier to convert them into members or even super users and ambassadors. This is hard work and you've probably heard of some debates. Recent debates about fake news and so on. For us that is hard work. We always have politics. There's a lot of political discussions to be had first, and then people start trusting you. 

Memberships are not subscriptions

And the third thing, and I want to stress this, is that memberships are not subscriptions. The difference is if Netflix ceases to exist and all the content that is currently on Netflix comes up on another service, you just become a subscriber to the other service. Do we love Netflix, or do we like the series, the shows, the actors that are in the movies that Netflix has on their platform? 

This is the difference and we hope that we are not an organization where you just can exchange the content. We hope we are a community of people who are very special and unique. Membership based newsrooms is something people need to identify with first. This is the main difference. We have a mission and if people subscribe to the mission they become member. If you just want to access our content, for us you aren’t actually that valuable, because we don't have any tools to make you stay.

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