Like De Correspondent and Blendle, NRC Q shows that the pace of news innovation in the Netherlands is remarkable. Freek Staps, head of NRC Q, will speak at the Tablet & App Summit about how to be mobile-first in a traditional organisation.
WAN-IFRA: Why did NRC Media decide to create a mobile news app?
Freek Staps: Although NRC Media has a strong name in business journalism, we didn’t have a presence in the morning. Also, we were looking to expand and start a digital-only publication aimed at a hard-working, ever-busy, always-online audience. It just seemed a natural fit to bring all these components together.
Internally, we consider NRC Q to be a training ground. It’s a place to test new publishing technologies, figure out how to innovate within the newsroom, start working with audience development and A/B-testing and, overall, just be a more digital-driven media company.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a new product from a well-known and established media house?
NRC Q is a start-up within a well-known and established (since 1828) media company, NRC Media. The advantage is, no doubt, brand recognition. But more importantly, we have a significant number of reporters contributing. The NRC newsroom has more than 200 journalists. All of them are welcome to write for NRC Q. Even though NRC Q mainly publishes stories about business, media and technology, reporters from the foreign-news, science, sports, and fashion desks all use NRC Q to start publishing online. This gives NRC Q so much leverage and access to quality journalism.
The same goes for our advertising department and our customer service department – it’s quite advantageous for us to be able to draw on their resources and not have to hire outsiders for everything.
Disadvantages? You would say that bigger companies are less flexible, less agile, operationally slower. We countered this by keeping the number of people involved in the development process as low as possible. Only one person per department was admitted at the table. The rest of the newsroom or the entire company, for that matter, was not involved, mostly not even informed. For instance: only a few in the managerial staff actually knew what we were developing. That way we tried to stay as focused and decisive as any other start-up.
Does NRC Q have plans to expand to another European countries?
No. Since we publish in Dutch, our language market is quite limited.
One of NRC Q’s claims is to be “the guide to the day.” Are you achieving it?
Definitely. We aim to drive the conversation on the workflow by looking ahead at the day in an email-newsletter and an article online. We have correspondents in the USA and Asia telling the Dutch reader at 05:30 what happened in the few hours before he or she wakes up. We can see this works by looking at our Chartbeat data. Readers seem to appreciate this, they click on links in the newsletter and visit the site to learn more.
After a free introductory period, NRC Q readers have to pay 15€ a month. If this paywall model succeeds, will it be applied to the other NRC online newspapers?
This is something to be investigated – which is also what NRC Q is for, internally: figuring out what works.
How is NRC Q integrating native advertising?
Our homepage is cut up into squares; each square resembles a story. Advertisers get one of these squares as advertising space. We always want to make perfectly clear who the author of the information is. Thus there’s a specific background color for ads: blue (regular stories are white/grey). The phrase “Business Partner” appears, as well as the logo of the advertiser and, at least twice, the words “By [the name of the company]”.
Where is your traffic coming from? Are your readers primarily coming from your 05:30 morning newsletter?
A part of the traffic is coming from nrc.nl, our company’s main website. An ever-growing percentage is coming from social media (between 25 and 33 per cent) and around a third is internal traffic: readers who decide to stick around.
NRC Q borrows from Quartz some elements like the endless scroll and the visual focus. Why Quartz as a model?
Quartz is a model, but so are Cir.ca, vox.com, and many other smart, innovative media. We were inspired by many smart news media, and we decided to use endless scroll (after a month of running in alpha) since we wanted to offer the reader as many of our articles as possible. Now, scrolling down, the reader will be introduced to hundreds of other stories. It increases readers’ engagement time and pages per session.
Why are the Dutch at the front line of news innovation?
A great question. There certainly is something happening in the Netherlands with initiatives like De Correspondent, Blendle, NRC Q and Dichtbij (which draws some comparisons to Patch.com). What surely helps are government subsidies for media initiatives (both De Correspondent and Blendle have received relatively large seed money from the government; NRC does not accept subsidies). Maybe it’s also simply stimulating to see others in the business innovating: it’s contagious?
This post is part of a series of interviews and articles on the occasion of the Tablet and App Summit (#TAS14), which takes place on 14-15 October in Amsterdam. #TAS14 is a paid conference part of the World Publishing Expo 2014 – the largest annual global trade exhibition for the news publishing and media industry.