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Zero Hora's online strategy: promoting interactivity while protecting print

Zero Hora's online strategy: promoting interactivity while protecting print

Zero Hora, a southern Brazilian newspaper covering the Porto Alegre region, has a proactive online strategy aiming to foster an innovative, interactive website while protecting its print edition, the circulation of which grew 2% in 2009. According to data from the World Bank World Development Indicators, about 37.5% of Brazilians are Internet users, and the number is rising fast, constantly creating new challenges for the country's newspapers. The Editors Weblog spoke to Zero Hora's editor-in-chief Altair Nobre to find out more about the paper's strategy, which has resulted in unusually high penetration among young people.

There are 210 journalists at Zero Hora, working in newsroom that has been integrated since the end of 2007. Although there are specific teams allocated to print and online, these teams are fluid and journalists are expected to understand the work of others and be flexible in what they do. Print is still very important to the paper, and the company invested $50million in a new printing plant in June 2009. A lot of energy is dedicated to the design and layout of the paper.

The Internet has dramatically changed the way that Zero Hora puts its paper together, Nobre said. People now look for news online, so what they want from a newspaper is context and analysis to accompany the straight news stories. This means, said Nobre, that a greater investment in editing is required "to translate the storm of information that the Internet put up the day before." As a result of the Internet, he said, newspapers constantly have to strive to be more original and creative, working harder to convince people to read the paper.

Online, the paper focuses on breaking news and multimedia, but saves many of its exclusive stories to publish fully in print first. When Zero Hora is planning to break a big story in the following day's paper, "to create tension and increase anticipation we put a hint or a teaser online," Nobre explained, adding that "we tell readers that to find out more they should see tomorrow's paper." The following day the story will also go online, but not until it has been published in print. "The Internet provides a way of sending an alert and it helps to get attention for the paper," he said.

"We believe that it is foolish to hide content from the web because you affect the impact that the information could have." Nobre believes that many of the same readers use both platforms to consume news, and that linking the two makes a lot of sense. He gave the example of one reporter who works on a series of 'stories with no ending,' publishing one each Saturday. He started to make videos each Friday for the web in which he discusses the story that will appear the following day, and the series is now a success both in the print edition and on the web.

High levels of interactivity online

Zero Hora aims to make its online version very interactive. The Porto Alegre region has a rather unstable climate, Nobre explained, and so Zero Hora editors invite readers to send in pictures and short reports when there are storms. These are put on the web and the best pictures will often be put in the print paper the following day. Readers are not paid for their contributions but having their content in the paper is motivation enough, said Nobre.

This effort to promote reader interaction extends to the very young: children are invited to send in photos of them with their friends at various events, and there are story-writing contests for children and adolescents, with a published story or a trip to the printing plant as a prize.

A young attitude = more readers

The newspaper has very high penetration among younger people: a 78 percent penetration rate among 20- to 29-year olds in its market, and a 71 percent penetration rate among those aged 15 to 19. Voted 2009 Young Reader Newspaper of the Year, Zero Hora has looked innovatively at ways to encourage young people to take an interest in the paper. As well as having specific sections of the paper aimed at children - supplements, series about children's lives and games and contests, for example - the feeling at Zero Hora is that a young attitude in general is the way forward, believing that older generations are unlikely to be alienated by the issues in which younger people are interested. Sports news, for example, steers away from golf and racing and towards surfing and more extreme sports. One third of the newsroom is under 30 years old and 25 journalism students work in the newsroom in support functions, so the paper is not out of touch touch with the younger generation.

Nobre believes that a main motivation for young adults to read the paper is its potential to help them with their careers. "In Brazil, the young people read the paper to get a job or to get a better job: to get training or to improve their career," he said. Zero Hora has supplements about university entrance exams, a large amount of information about post graduate studies and employment sections with career tips.

Using social networks with care

Zero Hora journalists use social networks such as Twitter to alert people about their stories and to keep track of what people are talking about, but Nobre stressed that his staff are careful to use information from social networks wisely. "They can be a good source of news, but also a trap," Nobre said. The paper has many different Twitter accounts, and journalists are told to be careful that what they write on social networks, even when they are not at work, could not damage their credibility as journalists.

Focusing on younger readers while putting considerable effort into both print and online initiatives, while keeping the two relatively separate, does seem to be working for Zero Hora. Although operating in a very different market, are there lessons that American and European newspapers can learn from Zero Hora's success?



Emma Goodman


2010-07-15 17:41

The World Editors Forum is the organization within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.

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