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Presented by Lea Nowack, Project Manager Digital Products at Tamedia in Zürich, Switzerland. Nowack has a university degree in Digital Innovation.

March 20th, 2024

Expanding hyperlocal coverage: Growing a local newsletter portfolio with automation

 Over the past year, Tamedia has strategically employed automation for content sourcing and production, allowing a substantial expansion of its hyperlocal newsletter portfolio in communities with as few as 5000 inhabitants. Today, the growing portfolio allows for a personalised and flexible distribution of local content and reaches up to 40% of the inhabitants of the serviced communities with engagement rates way above average. Next up: Fully automated email updates for over a thousand municipalities.

By Niklas Jonason

Background on Tamedia

Tamedia is one of the largest Swiss news publishing groups with 18 different brands in regional and national news in both the German and the French speaking parts of the country. Examples of regional brands are Basler Zeitung, Berner Zeitung, Thurgauer Zeitung and Zürichsee-Zeitung in addition to national brands such as Tages-Anzeiger and Der Bund. The company was founded in 1893 and today has over 1800 employees. Tamedia claims to have the largest journalist-network in Switzerland.

The challenge of being local

The challenge for the regional news brands within Tamedia is to be relevant also locally. The management realized the need to create differentiation by offering unique local content to stay relevant to readers. And digital media now enables the company to do just that through weekly email newsletters, allowing flexible and personalised distribution of very local content.

From proof of concept to problems

To see if it could work in reality, the groups regional title in Zürich launched a test covering three municipalities. This was in 2022. The result gave enough proof that the concept would work.
The engagement level of the newsletter readers was high.


However two main problems needed to be resolved to make it fly:

  • There was not always enough hyperlocal content to fill a weekly newsletter.

  • Production of the newsletter required a lot of manual effort. The time needed to produce one newsletter was approximately two hours.

With the resources available, the above issues meant the newsletter concept was not scalable.

The solution: automation

By automating the two problems areas; content sourcing and newsletter production, it would be possible to expand the newsletter portfolio. A project team was put together to find a reasonable compromise between the resources needed and the level of average reader engagement that had been achieved by the proof of concept. In addition to the project manager,Lea Nowack, the project team consists of people with competences in product development (two people), newsroom automation (one person) and, last but not at all least, the editorial department who brings in important knowhow about the workflow, about the content and about what works well with readers of the regional titles. The project team also had meetings with other teams such as the services and operations team for integration issues, with the consumer business and advertising teams for the monetisation and with the platform team for the new features. The team also carried out end user research to understand the user view on what content to prioritise.

In order to automate the workflow, the team focused on three types of highly streamlined production lines of content.

  1. One line sourced content directly from municipality websites and could, thanks to "scraping" (meaning that content is collected from Internet web sites), be expanded to close to 200 municipalities.

  2. Another optimization allowed articles to be pulled in the newsletters automatically via tags. 

  3. A third production line automatically pulled in relevant local real estate listings and official publications, via an API (Application Programming Interface).

The first newsletters based on the new automated production line were distributed in the beginning of 2023. It was a step-by-step process in which the team implemented whatever was ready. There was no "big bang" where they switched from "old production" to "new". By summer, the production and sourcing was fully switched over to the automated workflow.

The newsletters are available for everyone. You do not need to be a paying subscriber.  To be become a newsletter subscriber no other personal information is needed than the email address. The newsletters are promoted on the local pages that are relevant both on the news websites in general and in articles in particular (as seen in the example below)..

​Up to 40% reach in local communities

Today 25 different weekly newsletters are produced with a few clicks of an editor and distributed for a choice of municipalities and local areas. The editor checks everything that goes out, making necessary edits and removing anything they know will not work. The newsletters consist of stories taken from the editorial system, edited information from the municipality and local real estate listings. In addition there are relevant links to restaurant listings and regional sports news on the related news website. The smallest community covered by a newsletter has 5 000 inhabitants. 

The hypothesis of the proof of concept turned out to be correct. The total number of subscribers for all of the current 25 email newsletters are 90 000. Additional newsletters are continuously being launched. The production time for each newsletter has been reduced by 80%. Impressively, the newsletters reach up to 40% of inhabitants in the serviced communities. The average open rate (the percentage of people that receive the email and also open it) is 51% compared to an industry average of 17%. The click rate within the newsletter is 17% compared to an industry average of 4%. Since the launch, 130 subscriptions have been sold thanks to the local newsletters. And most importantly, the level of engagement of the proof of concept has also been reached. 

In addition, the automated production lines can also be implemented in other processes so that content and functionalities can be reused. For instance, Tamedia can reuse the logic to implement an automated feed for every municipality on its web sites. The newsletters also generate additional traffic to the news websites

The importance of cross team collaboration

Lea Nowack mentions some learnings and takeaways for those who want to copy the concept:

  • Having a successful proof of concept was crucial in convincing top management to take the decision to set aside enough resources to launch the actual service.

  • Creating a cross-functional team to combine skills and knowledge is key according to Lea. “It was really important to have the editorial teams involved early on for us. Of course they know the workflows and they know the content very well. I think also that automation and AI can lead to a lot of frustration and maybe to scepticism, so it’s important to involve  them early on and explain why we’re doing this. This is not to replace journalists but instead to make things more efficient so that they can focus on things that are more interesting rather than copy and paste from municipality documents every day. So, in conclusion, it was very good to have them on board early on to get their input and their buy-in”.

  • Allowing customization within the scalable operation is also important according to Lea Nowack. “We have different titles, and the different titles have different DNA and different levels of locality (meaning that smaller communities can require a more detailed type of local information). It was important to have some sort of customization options because we wanted to have one set-up that works really well to be able to scale it, but then within the set-up, we have little tweaks such as different criteria when filtering the data from the municipalities for example. In smaller communities, who is moving in and who is moving away might be relevant, but this information would not work in larger municipalities. One size usually doesn’t really fit all. It is important to have a bit of room for change and customization”.

  • Always ask: Can this be reused or applied somewhere else? So far the logic from the newsletter production flow has been used for at least two other new features.

Next steps

The plan is to continuously expand the portfolio to more communities and to further improve workflows. In the Q&A session at the webinar some were mentioned:

  • The plan is to replace the manual tagging of locality in the CMS with automated AI-based tagging

  • New content such as traffic alerts

  • Lea Nowack would love to see information about forthcoming events in the area, something which is a challenge due to the lack of structured data.

  • Thanks to the infrastructure that is now available, automated email updates for municipalities whenever there is local news will be launched for over 1000+ municipalities.


Going forward there will also be a focus on monetization. Today only 25% of newsletter readers  are subscribers, so there is a big potential for new newspaper/e-paper/plus subscribers. In addition to converting readers to subscribers, Tamedia is aiming for a combination of advertisers and sponsors. The advertising department is currently trying to get newsletter sponsors for periods of 3 or 6 months.

 Useful links and contact information

The webinar presentation of the Tagesanzeiger-case, as made by Lea Nowack, can be downloaded here.

Links to some services mentioned in the presentation :

  • A local newsletter can look like this

  • To subscribe to newsletters you need to register here

  • “Discover News and Stories from your community” here 

  • An overview of the communities can be found here  You realise that there is a challenge but also an enormous potential with the over 1 000 communities listed just in the north and west of the relatively small country of Switzerland. 

  • And every locality has their own page such as this one 

​The production workflow of the newsletters described in the case has been developed in-house. The newsletters are distributed as emails in the Salesforce CRM (Customer Relationship Management system).

There are, of corse, many examples of local newsletters. However the level of automation and the variation in types of content are difficult to judge and overview.  We asked ChatGPT to “give examples of local news media using automated production flows and AI to offer newsletters via email” and got some of the following examples (all in English):

  • Patch is a hyperlocal news platform that operates in numerous communities across the United States.

  • Nextdoor is primarily a neighbourhood focused social networking platform which also offers neighbourhood-specific news updates via email newsletters in partnerships with local news outlets.

  • Axios Charlotte is part of the national news brand Axios network

  • Block Club Chicago is a nonprofit news organisation that covers neighbourhood news in Chicago.

  • Denverite provides local news coverage for the Denver, Colorado area.

  • MyLondon is a digital news platform covering news, events, and lifestyle content in London, UK." MyLondon is part of the UK news group Reach.

If you know of other relevant cases of local news email newsletters with a high level of automation in the production in parallel with good quality that are similar to the Tamedia case above, please let us know and we will add the information here. Thanks in advance!

You are welcome to contact Niklas at the WAN-IFRA Innovate Local team if you have questions or examples of similar services:

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