The numerous approaches that local publishers are pursuing was readily apparent during a break-out session last week for publishers who are, or have been, part of Table Stakes Europe.

Designed primarily for local and regional news organisations, Table Stakes Europe is a programme to help drive digital revenue growth by re-focusing on audiences. Now in its third year in Europe, it is a collaboration of WAN-IFRA and Table Stakes architect Doug Smith in partnership with the Google News Initiative Digital Growth Program.

Among the content coverage ideas shared by the participants were both ones they have already started providing as well as those they plan to pursue.

Making it easy for readers to help

At the top of the list for most of these publishers are ways they can create actionable content for their readers to help the people of Ukraine.

The aim is to answer questions like “What can I do?” and offer suggestions for the best ways their audiences can donate money, clothes, food and other necessities for those in need. In the past couple of weeks there have been numerous successful appeals and efforts being made by publishers both large and small.

For most of the publishers taking part in Table Stakes Europe, their coverage areas are also within reach of refugees fleeing Ukraine, and so their readers want to know what their local governments are doing in terms of taking people in, as well as how they themselves might do so, and what the related impacts could be for all involved. In addition, some publishers who are seeing, or are likely to have, refugees arriving in their area are beginning to publish at least some of their content in Ukrainian.

Also high on the list are articles that examine the economic impacts of the invasion for a publisher’s region in terms of rising prices for food, petrol and energy. Likewise, what do the sanctions on Russia mean for businesses and prices for a publisher’s audiences? 

Other key coverage areas involve producing content that provides advice from experts to help parents talk with their children about the invasion and its ongoing aftermath, as well as ways to help explain some of the surrounding issues such as NATO.

Content relating to health and safety issues should things escalate are also a top priority for local publishers. Questions and coverage areas around what are the safest places in the local area, are there still bunkers / shelters from previous wars in the area? What condition are they in and should they be reused if needed? 

Finding the delicate balance between informing and overwhelming

Equally important here – and which has also been the case with pandemic coverage – is trying to find that delicate balance of keeping audiences informed without either overwhelming them emotionally or causing them to tune out entirely.

There is a linked need for publishers to try to create small places of comfort and safety daily by making an extra effort to have some positive news.

One publisher noted that while there is an audience need and demand for news related to the Ukraine, and that they had created a newsletter focused on the topic, they have already found that readers don’t necessarily want to read this news first thing in the morning. As a result, they are sending this newsletter in the evening.

Local military bases, banking and oligarchs

Some other areas of potential focus for publishers:

Are there military bases in your region that are, or could be involved in what is happening?
What are some of the banking issues and implications connected to the freezing of assets and what might these mean for local communities?
Do any oligarchs own property, businesses, or have a superyacht docked in your area? Two publishers mentioned their articles on oligarchs with local connections had received high levels of interest. 

Be careful with your language

Also important is a need to be careful with the language, attitudes and implications of stories that might be offensive to readers. For example, editorials asking “How can this happen in Europe?” can imply that it is more understandable or acceptable when similar acts of aggression happen elsewhere.

The past few years have also seen vast increases in disinformation, propaganda and outright false stories being shared on social media and elsewhere and publishers should be clear about the efforts they are making to verify what they are publishing and sharing with their audiences.

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