Le Quotidien Jurassien: Small Swiss daily turbo-charges its digital transition with Big Bang

Main image: Sébastien Voisard, owner of Le Quotidien Jurassien, presenting at a Table Stakes Europe alumni event in June 2022.

The French-language publisher has recently overhauled its website and updated its newsroom operations to support its digital transformation process. The renewed digital channels and streamlined newsroom workflows gave them a huge push with digital subscriptions.

Publisher bio: The Swiss news publisher Le Quotidien Jurassien was founded in 1993 after the merger of the newspapers Le Pays and Le Démocrate. Based in Delémont, in the northwestern Swiss canton of Jura (80,000 inhabitants), the publisher has a print circulation of more than 17,000, over 1,000 digital subscribers, and a newsroom of about 30 journalists.

Today, Le Quotidien Jurassien has an attractive, modern website with a mix of paid and free content, an active social media presence on Facebook and Instagram and a daily morning newsletter. While these may all sound like standard items for many publishers, for Le Quotidien Jurassien they are quite new. At the beginning of this year, to the world at large anyway, they seemed to be a print-focused publisher, with an ageing website whose content was entirely behind a paywall.

Behind the scenes however, Le Quotidien Jurassien has been hard at work planning and developing their new site and the workflows needed to support it since 2019, when the owner of the small family-run newspaper decided it was time for the company to make a major move towards transforming their business from print to digital.

Until then, the French-language publisher, which is located in the northwestern Swiss canton of Jura, had been primarily focused on their print product. They had a website, of course, but it hadn’t been revamped in years, and all of its content was behind a paywall. They also had a digital replica edition of the paper and an app.

‘There were a lot of technical problems’

“It was an export from our IT system to our website, but the quality was very poor,” says Sébastien Voisard, owner of Le Quotidien Jurassien. “There were a lot of technical problems. The articles were not available for free. You had to have a subscription to read them. It was just an export at five o’clock in the morning from the paper, and that was it. There was no update during the day. Nothing on the weekend. It was very incomplete. Sometimes there were no pictures. Just a very, very basic and insufficient solution,”  Voisard said.

In 2019, while attending a WAN-IFRA event in Paris, Voisard learned about the upcoming European edition of Table Stakes, at the time a US-based programme aimed at helping local news publishers to transform their businesses through improving their engagement with their audiences.

After applying and being accepted, Le Quotidien Jurassien’s team joined 13 other European publishers in the first edition of Table Stakes Europe, which began in the autumn of 2019.

Many of the other publishers taking part had already started digital transformation projects within their companies and were at various stages of implementing them or fine-tuning them. But for the team from Le Quotidien Jurassien, Table Stakes Europe truly represented a fresh start.

‘We were really at the beginning’

“In those days, we had been thinking about our digital presence on the web for a couple of years,” Voisard says. “For a small company, we didn’t actually know how to start and grow all these parts.”

“In that sense, Table Stakes was a big help because it gave us a structure, and a methodology, because we were really at the beginning compared with the other 13 colleagues in our first Table Stakes group. We were the ones who were furthest away from the goal,” he says.

With that being the case, they naturally had a lot of questions, Voisard says, such as where exactly should they start and how? Not least were the numerous technical aspects making such a transformation would require and how to go about solving those issues.

“We didn’t know, for instance, should we internalise the IT and the CMS? Do something ourselves on WordPress? Or should we delegate this to a third company?” says Voisard. “We went through all these different stages. It took us some time to ask ourselves the questions and then test and compare and go to colleagues and see how they did it. Finally, after the first year, I would say we were half-way.”

Since they were still some distance from their goal, Voisard asked the Table Stakes Europe co-ordinators if they could remain in the programme for another year.

“At first, they said ‘It’s not possible, we’re fully booked.’ And then after a couple of weeks, one participant decided to stop and they came back and said, ‘There is a place for you if you want to participate for the second round,’ and we said ‘Of course.’ ”

Communicating about processes and goals

About a year before their new site was launched, those most directly involved with Table Stakes Europe from Le Quotidien Jurassien helped put together a 10-person team they referred to as “the Pioneers,” from different sections of the newsroom to help communicate about the process they were undertaking and their goals for it.

“We created a group of 10 people from all sectors of the newsroom to share the process,” says Rémy Chételat, Le Quotidien Jurassien’s Editor in Chief. “People were involved in the transition, in the process, for around one year.”

Adds Digital Editor Amélie De Tomi, a key member of Le Quotidien Jurassien’s Table Stakes team: “We had two meetings a month with the Pioneers, and it was really like an open discussion. We talked a lot about the different things, and we tried to share a lot of the things coming from Table Stakes, so people can really understand what we are doing and why we are doing it.”

While both Chételat and De Tomi say the Pioneers were among the most motivated people within the newsroom, the rest of staff, as one might expect, were at various levels of accepting the new changes.

“For sure there were some fears because of the change. It’s always the same: Each change means fear. People have to be a bit reassured,” says De Tomi.

“There were all kinds of people,” she continues. “Some who were waiting for this for a long time, and others who were a little bit more frightened. But at the end, as Remy said, ‘We will all be on the same road, the same path. Some of you will run, and others will just walk, but we all have the same shoes and will go in the same direction.’ ”

Starting earlier, fewer silos, more deadlines

Among the biggest changes for Le Quotidien Jurassien’s newsroom, which has a total of around 30 journalists, is that they now start the day earlier.

“We are starting really early in the morning,” says De Tomi. “The first people start at 5:30 with the newsletter and also the first changes of the headlines.”

Adds Chételat, “The newsroom now works less in silos. They are more open. We communicate more and we are more integrated.”

In addition, there are now three people dedicated to the web team, which previously did not exist, says De Tomi.

In the past, says Chételat, the journalists got their assignments during a morning editorial meeting and would write them during the afternoon.

“Now it’s different,” he says. “You get the information, you write the information, and you put it on the website. That’s totally different for the personal organisation for each of us because before, we used to have lunch and then it’s time to write.”

Le Quotidien Jurassien’s technical work behind the scenes also underwent a major transformation, going through various iterations, including the introduction of an important new planning tool they call “Conductor,” which the in-house IT team developed in partnership with their CMS provider. The tool helps the newsroom coordinate and track the progress of articles from assignment through the writing and editing process to where and when they were being published on their digital as well as print products.

A screenshot of Le Quotidien Jurassien’s planning tool “Conductor”.

“This tool is the reference,” Chételat says. “It’s the Bible of the newsroom to manage the content of both the website and the print newspaper.”

The Big Bang: Launch day

On 23 March 2022, Le Quotidien Jurassien relaunched their completely redesigned website, published the first edition of their new daily newsletter (sent around 6:30 am Monday-Friday), and also made the plunge into social media on Facebook and Instagram, platforms on which they previously had not been active. All of these developments went live on the same day.

Interviewed several weeks after the launch, Voisard, Chételat and De Tomi are clearly proud of what Le Quotidien Jurassien’s staff has accomplished and pleased with the early feedback they are receiving.

“People immediately see a difference between what we did before and now,” Chételat says.

“The results are good,” adds De Tomi. “We’re really happy with the results and the website. This is really positive for us, this new change in the newsroom.”

“I can’t see any negative points,” De Tomi says, “except for the change [in general] because that can sometimes be a little scary for people. But we’re very happy to be in this new era. We call it ‘The Big Bang’ because it’s a new atmosphere, a new life for the newsroom.”

Subscription pricing reflects belief in value of digital

Along with the positive feedback and overall vibe, new subscriptions are coming in at a higher rate than they expected as well.

Subscribers can choose among several offers, including for one month, three months, six months, or one year. There is also a bundled package, which includes print delivery and digital access.

Voisard says the bundled subscription has been popular, and is the one that has seen the greatest increase during the past couple of years.

Somewhat unusual among publishers, Le Quotidien Jurassien has long had a firm belief that digital news deserved to be priced very much in line with what they charged for their print newspaper.

“From the very beginning, 10 or 15 years ago when we started having our replica app, we were one of the ones that had the highest prices,” Voisard says. “All of our colleagues went with very low prices, which we thought was wrong. We did the contrary, we had one of the highest prices in the digital world. To give you an idea, our print product was like 360 francs per year (about 354 euros), and our digital replica was like 240 per year (approximately 236 euros). We’ve increased the price of digital, and now our print product is 399 per year (about 392 euros), and our digital product is 327 (322 euros). And it’s working. We didn’t encounter anyone who said ‘This is too expensive.’ ”

Voisard notes that setting a higher digital subscription price is also something that is advised to publishers taking part in Table Stakes Europe, where he said they were told “ ‘Be careful. People tend to put the prices too low for the digital version, and it gives the impression there is little value for the digital offer.’ And it is wrong,” he says, “because there is a lot of work behind it, and it brings a real service to the reader.”

“We have had a 20 to 30 percent increase. We had small figures, but I think in the last three years, we started with around 1,000 subscriptions, and we are now at about 2,000, so we doubled the number of subscriptions.”

With the new website, Voisard says they have a goal to sell 200 new digital subscriptions by March 2023. One month after the launch, they had already reached a quarter of this target.

“Of course, those are on the trial, a special offer, and we have to follow up on that, but we have a renewal rate of 60 percent,” he says. “It’s very recent, but in a sense, quite a good start.”

Next step, sharing meaningful metrics

So far, one thing that Le Quotidien Jurassien is not yet doing is sharing the metrics and data they are collecting through their new website with their journalists, though this is in the works, De Tomi says.

“We’re still waiting to make sure of what we have, and we don’t want to share inaccurate information,” she says. “We want to share some metrics, but we want to do it in a clever way, not just giving some data and saying ‘Ok, your article got 3,000 clicks.’ ”

“We don’t want to be a newsroom that’s really worried about the clicks,” she adds. “The goal is to have a diversity of content, quality content, diversity of speakers, of really having a lot of different things, and it doesn’t mean that if an article is not working well with the clicks that it is not good. And we don’t want the journalists thinking like that.”