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A ‘crazy’ race to capture German Millennials described at Newsroom Summit

“It’s crazy, what is happening now in Germany: Almost every week a new platform for young people is launched by legacy media.” That quote is from Sebastian Horn, Project Lead for ze.tt, who knows what he is talking about – he started the race in July 2015.

by Nick Tjaardstra nick.tjaardstra@wan-ifra.org | October 6, 2015

ze.tt is a journalism start-up from the publisher of Zeit Online and Die Zeit. Horn was speaking Monday at the International Newsroom Summit.

Horn was referring to the recently created bento.de from Spiegel Online and “byou,” the new millennial channel of Bild.de. Last year BuzzFeed and Vice expanded into Germany, and in the coming months other big publishers have plans for online brands aimed at young audiences, said Horn.

What’s interesting in the case of ze.tt is how it began as a start-up, in a location outside the big publishing company, with lots of freedom to experiment – but the support of Die Zeit staff when needed.

“We did not have any legacy to respect, and it’s easier,” said Horn. “For example, we did not have to use the company’s technologies. We choose to run on WordPress because it’s such a simple structure, and flexible enough for quick tests.

“We use Facebook as a second homepage. We can have a conversation with our audience there and use their feedback to define our news brand, and create new forms of storytelling. We want to create stories that people will want to pass on, opinionated pieces. And we try to be constructive in the way we cover news.

“The types of content that are the most shared on social media are those that are constructive and positive. I often am asked if that means we just pretend everything is fine in the world. And absolutely not – when you try to present solutions you first have to make people understand the problems they are trying to solve,” said Horn.

The ze.tt beta site will stay online for a few more weeks. The experimentation phase also includes tests of ad modules. Not surprisingly, the emphasis is on native advertising formats.

Earlier that afternoon at the Newsroom Summit, social sharing took center stage during a design discussion among Robert Amlung, Head of Digital Strategy at ZDF German Television, Martina Recchiuti, Managing Editor at the Internazionale website in Italy, and Alper Balkanlı from Hurriyet in Turkey.

The consensus was that social platforms have demonstrated their value in liberating audience conversations – particularly in Turkey, where young people feel they are more free online to express their opinions.

But all the speakers at the summit also stressed that Facebook and Twitter have become truly formidable machines for promoting all news offers.