By Anne Koopman
In this unclear future of journalism, we should not simply say goodbye to the traditional media brands. Read the story of NRC, a multi-faced Dutch media brand who tries to survive in the digital era.
For some the answer to the uncertain future of journalism should be found in start-ups of which you can read a lot on NewsNext. But should we therefore forget the traditional media brands? Dutch brand NRC is the country’s first to actively let go of the old-fashioned way of providing news and extends its brand with new products. Will they survive in the big pool of media innovation or will they drown?
The traditional way: NRC Handelsblad and NRC Next
The brand NRC was established in the 1970s with the release of the newspaper NRC Handelsblad. For more than forty years NRC Handelsblad is known as one of the Dutch most popular broadsheets. Targeting the highly-educated professionals, the newspaper likes to inform their readers, but also to provide them with fact-checked background stories to develop well-formulated and grounded views of the world. This all by producing qualitative articles, the core value of the brand.
This value is also visible in the newspaper NRC Next, which was released in 2006. NRC Next aims for the young professional, as it is this group who has the lowest contribution to the brands readership rates. Even though the new morning newspaper looked promising and has caused an increase of readers in the very beginning of the production, by now, the circulation figures have dropped drastically between 2011 and 2014 from 73 thousand to 36 thousand subscriptions.
(Source: Pictures from nrcmedia.nl, infographic created by author)
The road to online news
The first online step NRC took was creating websites for their two main products. However, the brand also tries to meet their readers there where they are, on their mobile devices. NRC created the app NRC In Beeld in 2011, a platform for news photos, selected by the photo editors of NRC.
For their busy readers, NRC created the NCR Reader in 2013. The articles in the app are written and selected during the night and published before 6am. The news can be read in 15 minutes to provide the user with background, explanations and in-depth information of the daily news.
To address the business professionals, NRC released another product in 2014, the online platform NRC Q. This group lacks time to read the news that is important for their job, but also private life and career. They are non-stop online and mostly use their laptop, tablets and mobile phones. Therefore, the website is designed to function on these devices.
A struggle to survive
Statistics* show how traditional media, and especially newspapers, are losing ground on the media market. The numbers are against them, and the struggle to survive is difficult as start-up cause for more competition. NRC’s answer: develop the brand alongside the trends. Do readers mostly use their mobile device? Then develop products following these demands.
But are new products the way to prevent this Dutch media brand from losing their share in the media market to start-ups? For me there is a clear reason why I’m not part of the group of people who believe the future of journalism should be found in new media. There is a reason why I want your take-away from this blog is to not forget the traditional media brand. Because in the end, there is something that differentiates them from start-ups, and this is the value of quality. Who can you trust more? The established brand or the new start-up of which you have never heard off?
It took forty years for NRC to be able to claim they do qualitative, and therefore trustworthy, journalism. It is not easy to build up this image because it is a very fragile one. The Dutch audience is critical and NRC’s readers are highly-educated professionals. Whether NRC publishes its journalistic pieces in a newspaper or on a mobile device, the reader knows what the brand stands for. Therefore it is okay for NRC to say goodbye to their traditional platform. As long as they keep providing that what they promise, grounded, fact-checked and informative journalism to inspire its readers, the future of journalism when it comes to this media brand might surprise us.
Anne Koopman is a Dutch journalist, currently finishing her Master’s in journalism & media. Contact her on Twitter.