Expanding hyperlocal coverage: Tamedia grows its local newsletter portfolio with automation

2024-03-26. In the past year, Tamedia strategically implemented content sourcing and production automation, which has led to a significant expansion of its hyperlocal newsletter portfolio in communities with as few as 5,000 inhabitants. This growing portfolio now offers personalised and flexible distribution of local content, reaching up to 40% of the inhabitants in the serviced communities, with engagement rates well above average.

by WAN-IFRA External Contributor | March 26, 2024

By Niklas Jonason, WAN-IFRA’s Innovate Local Program Director

Replay Innovate Local webinar presented by Presented by Lea Nowack, Project Manager Digital Products at Tamedia, 20th March, 2024.

Tamedia is one of the largest Swiss news publishing groups, with 18 regional and national news brands in the country’s German and French-speaking parts. Examples of regional brands are Basler Zeitung, Berner Zeitung, Thurgauer Zeitung, and Zürichsee-Zeitung, in addition to national brands such as Tages-Anzeiger and Der Bund. The company was founded in 1893 and today has over 1,800 employees. Tamedia claims to have the largest journalist network in Switzerland.

The challenge of being local

The challenge for the regional news brands within Tamedia is to be relevant locally. Management realised the need to differentiate by offering unique local content to stay relevant to readers. Digital media now enables the company to do just that through weekly email newsletters, allowing flexible and personalised distribution of very local content.

From proof of concept to problems

To see if it could work in reality, the group’s regional title in Zürich launched a test covering three municipalities in 2022. The result gave enough proof that the concept would work.

The engagement level of the newsletter readers was high.

However, two main problems needed to be resolved to make it fly:

  • More hyperlocal content needed to be added to the weekly newsletter.
  • Production of the newsletter required a lot of manual effort. The time needed to produce one newsletter was approximately two hours.

With the resources available, the above issues meant the newsletter concept needed to be more scalable.

The solution: automation

By automating the two problem areas, content sourcing and newsletter production, it would be possible to expand the newsletter portfolio. A project team was put together to find a reasonable compromise between the resources needed and the level of average reader engagement that the proof of concept had achieved.

In addition to the project manager,Lea Nowack, the project team consists of people with competencies in product development (two people), newsroom automation (one person), and, last but not least, the editorial department, which brings in critical knowhow about the workflow, the content, and what works well with readers of the regional titles.

The project team also met with other teams, such as the services and operations team, for integration issues, the consumer business and advertising teams for monetisation, and the platform team for the new features. The team also carried out end-user research to understand the user’s views on what content to prioritise.

To automate the workflow, the team focused on three types of highly streamlined content production lines.

  1. One line sourced content directly from municipality websites and could, thanks to “scraping” (meaning that content is collected from Internet websites), be expanded to close to 200 municipalities.
  2. Another optimisation allowed articles to be pulled in the newsletters automatically via tags. 
  3. A third production line automatically pulls relevant local real estate listings and official publications via an API (Application Programming Interface).

The first newsletters based on the new automated production line were distributed at the beginning of 2023. It was a step-by-step process in which the team implemented whatever was ready. There was no “big bang” where they switched from “old production” to “new”. By summer, the production and sourcing were fully switched over to the automated workflow.

The newsletters are available for everyone. You do not need to be a paying subscriber. No personal information is required other than the email address to become a newsletter subscriber. The newsletters are promoted on the local pages that are relevant both on the news websites in general and in articles in particular (as seen in the example below).

Up to 40% reach in local communities

Today, 25 different weekly newsletters are produced with a few clicks of an editor and distributed for a choice of municipalities and local areas. The editor checks everything that goes out, making necessary edits and removing anything they know will not work. The newsletters consist of stories from the editorial system, edited information from the municipality, and local real estate listings. In addition, relevant links to restaurant listings and regional sports news are on the related news website. The smallest community covered by a newsletter has 5,000 inhabitants. 

The hypothesis of the proof of concept turned out to be correct. The total number of subscribers for the current 25 email newsletters is 90,000. Additional newsletters are continuously being launched. The production time for each newsletter has been reduced by 80%. Impressively, the newsletters reach up to 40% of inhabitants in the serviced communities. The average open rate (the percentage of people who receive and open the email) is 51% compared to an industry average of 17%. The click rate within the newsletter is 17% compared to an industry average of 4%. Since the launch, 130 subscriptions have been sold thanks to the local newsletters. Most importantly, the level of engagement with the proof of concept has also been reached. 

In addition, the automated production lines can be implemented in other processes to reuse content and functionalities. For instance, Tamedia can reuse the logic to implement an automated feed for every municipality on its websites. The newsletters also generate additional traffic to the news websites.

The importance of cross-team collaboration

Lea Nowack mentions some learnings and takeaways for those who want to copy the concept:

  • A successful proof of concept was crucial in convincing top management to set aside enough resources to launch the service.
  • Creating a cross-functional team to combine skills and knowledge is key, according to Lea. “It was essential to have the editorial teams involved early on. Of course, they know the workflows and the content very well. I also think that automation and AI can lead to frustration and maybe to scepticism, so it’s important to involve them early on and explain why we’re doing this. This is not to replace journalists but to make things more efficient so that they can focus on more interesting things rather than copy and paste from municipality documents daily. So, in conclusion, it was perfect to have them on board early on to get their input and buy-in”.
  • According to Lea Nowack, allowing customisation within the scalable operation is also essential. “We have different titles, and the titles have different DNA and locality levels (meaning that smaller communities can require a more detailed type of local information). Having some customisation options was important because we wanted one setup that works well to scale it. Still, we have little tweaks within the setup, such as different criteria when filtering the data from the municipalities. In smaller communities, who is moving in and who is moving away might be relevant, but this information would not work in larger municipalities. One size usually doesn’t fit all. It is important to have room for change and customisation”.
  • Always ask: Can this be reused or applied somewhere else? So far, the logic from the newsletter production flow has been used for at least two other new features.

Next steps

The plan is to expand the portfolio to more communities continuously and to improve workflows further. In the Q&A session at the webinar, a few examples were mentioned:

  • The plan is to replace manual locality tagging in CMS with automated AI-based tagging.
  • Add new content, such as traffic alerts.
  • Lea Nowack would love to see information about forthcoming events in the area, which is challenging due to the need for more structured data.
  • Thanks to the now available infrastructure, automated email updates for over 1,000 municipalities will be launched whenever there is local news.

In the future, there will also be a focus on monetisation. Today, only 25% of newsletter readers are subscribers, so there is a significant potential for new newspaper/e-paper/plus subscribers. In addition to converting readers to subscribers, Tamedia aims for a combination of advertisers and sponsors. The advertising department is trying to get newsletter sponsors for 3 or 6 months.

Useful links and contact information

The webinar presentation of the Tages-Anzeiger case by Lea Nowack, can be downloaded here.

Links to some services mentioned in the presentation :

  • A local newsletter can look like this
  • To subscribe to newsletters, you need to register here
  • “Discover News and Stories from your community” here 
  • An overview of the communities can be found here. You realise that there is a challenge but also enormous potential with the over 1,000 communities listed just in the north and west of the relatively small country of Switzerland. 
  • And every locality has its own page, such as this one 

The production workflow of the newsletters described in the case has been developed in-house. The newsletters are distributed as emails in the Salesforce CRM (Customer Relationship Management system).

There are many examples of local newsletters. However, the level of automation and the variation in types of content are difficult to judge and overview. We asked ChatGPT to “give examples of local news media using automated production flows and AI to offer newsletters via email” and got some of the following examples (all in English):

  • Patch is a hyperlocal news platform that operates in numerous communities across the United States.
  • Nextdoor is primarily a neighbourhood-focused social networking platform that offers neighbourhood-specific news updates via email newsletters in partnership with local news outlets.
  • Axios Charlotte is part of the national news brand Axios network.
  • Block Club Chicago is a nonprofit news organisation that covers neighbourhood news in Chicago.
  • Denverite provides local news coverage for the Denver, Colorado area.
  • MyLondon is a digital news platform covering news, events, and lifestyle content in London, UK.” MyLondon is part of the UK newsgroup Reach.

If you know of other relevant cases of local news email newsletters with a high level of automation in the production in parallel with good quality that are similar to the Tamedia case above, please let us know, and we will add the information here. Thanks in advance!

You are welcome to contact Niklas at the WAN-IFRA Innovate Local team if you have questions or examples of similar services:


On Wednesday, April 3, we’ll hear a case from Iceland: Driving conversions and advertising: Building on the tradition of obituaries and death announcements

Morgunblaðið, Iceland’s biggest daily subscription newspaper, has a long tradition of publishing obituaries and death announcements. Obituaries and death announcements are the most significant drivers of retention and anti-churn in the subscriber age group 50+. The distribution platform is a daily morning newspaper delivered to homes nationwide and under a paywall on Morgunblaðið free website. There is a strict policy of non-advertisement in the category – apart from funeral homes and similar services, which drives ad revenue from the premium content.

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