By Kristian Andersen
Not too many years ago, it was a common perception that the emergence of the Internet would doom the existence of quality journalism. The myth claimed that not only would legacy media be forced to cut back on less profitable resource-demanding stories, but furthermore the Internet was inherently unfit for long articles. The overload of information found online would dwindlee people’s attention span, and why would they even waste their energy reading, when they effortlessly could find a three-minute video on the subject? Luckily, the fears are being proved wrong these days. Some online news outlets have found a profitable business model for in-depth stories that are outside the daily news cycle. Most famous is the Dutch outlet De Correspondent, which by February 2015 had more than 30,000 paying subscribers.
Today, November 16, a new Danish online media outlet, Føljeton, was launched with the ambition of engaging specifically young people in quality journalism by making it accessible on mobile platforms. Similar to the Dutch predecessor, Føljeton’s idea is to offer longreads that adds context and new perspectives to the general news picture. The novelty is that all stories will be adapts to the format of mobile phones – and mobile phones only – targeted to the generation that has grown up with them as natural extension of their hands.
“We don’t want to write something short, because that is what everybody else does,” said co-founder Nikolai Thyssen in an interview this summer with the Danish newspaper Berlingske. “There is an arrogant perception that people below the age of 40 are only interested in tweets and Snapchat. We believe that it is possible to write good and long articles, but they will not be the same texts, as you will find in the Sunday papers. The structure and narrative of the texts will be customised to mobile phones. We have to consider the reading situation of our target group.” For start-up funds the outlet has been granted approx. €600.000 in state subsidies and another €400.000 from private investors, however, the project aims to be fully funded within three years by subscribers paying a monthly fee of €6.5.
Transition to the mobile
Even though new outlets such as De Correspondent has shown that it is possible for quality news to survive online, the prospects seem more grim for Føljeton. Mobile phones have long been considered a platform unsuited for quality news, and in late 2013, The Mobile Marketer claimed that “the average mobile reader tends to skim through headlines and snackable content as opposed to diving into long-form articles.” But is that true? Last year, Buzzfeed published a 6000-word article that revealed an interesting trend. The article received more than one million page clicks, and according to The Atlantic, 47% of those clicks were from mobile devices, and the average mobile user actually spent more than 25 minutes reading the article, which is more than twice as long as the average reader on tablets. In addition, data from Quantcast shows that during the last month more than 70% of Buzzfeed‘s visits came from mobile devices.
Perfect for a bathroom break
The people behind Føljeton seem to have seen the potential. In order to attract the young and reader constantly on the move, you have to adjust to their daily routines. Føljeton, which in Danish means a serial, will continuously focus on five topics (the pick is the prerogative of the editors), and these will develop into a series of related articles. The readers will be able to come up-to-date with the serial they follow, whenever they have some spare time during the day. This could be while waiting for meeting, taking a bus ride or sitting on the toilet, or any similar situation when they only have access to their phones.
Danish media scholars have already raised their concerns about the viability of the project. Some say that the Danish news consumers are not as far in the transition to the digital as their American counterparts, while others question if the young people are willing to pay even a small fee for quality news. Considering the success of subscription-based platforms like Netflix and Spotify, getting young people to pay may not be the biggest hurdle, and Buzzfeed’s numbers clearly show that people are not rejecting reading long formats on their phones. And with 500 subscribers signed up even before the official launch, the project is off to a promising start.