In the Netherlands’ crowded and sophisticated newspaper market, a new launch might seem foolhardy, but this Dutch daily has found an untapped market with its wit, analysis and opinion. And all for a euro. Is this the role model for the European press?
Launched in March 2006, Holland’s NRC Next is a morning tabloid that has sparked national debate on world hunger, war and the nature of the media itself. Next shares staff, many stories and a newsroom with its august evening stablemate, the NRC Handelsblad. Not served by Holland’s four free national dailies or the pricey traditional broadsheets, an untapped market of new readers has turned to Next in droves. It has a circulation of 85,000, including 55,000 subscribers of whom 80 per cent have never signed up to a paper before. And with the typical reader a well-to-do, liberal-minded 33-year-old, advertising is ticking along nicely too. Monocle visited Next in Rotterdam to meet the people who make this mould-breaking newspaper.
“When we started out, I did media training to promote the paper. I was sitting next to two other writers on a TV discussion show and we were asked which book we were reading. They both gave the names of highbrow novels. When it came to me, I just said ‘I’m waiting for the film’. They laughed but it’s true – I feel I don’t have the time and a lot of people feel the same. I have unread books cluttering up my house and Saturday’s newspapers stop me from reading Sunday’s. Next exists to guide people through the information overload, to save readers time, so they know more in less time.
We feel that Next is actually a daily magazine. Traditional papers are done page by page and sent off to the press to be put together. At Next we put all the pages on the floor at 18.00 and see how it works as a whole. In the evening it’s just six or 10 young people doing what they want to do with these pages.
We share a newsroom with the Handelsblad and a lot of Next is re-packaging its stories in a more relevant, reflective way for our readers. There are some stories that you can just reprint, like a football report, but often there are big developments where we need specially commissioned stories. In fact, we have spies at the main paper on the foreign desk and politics desk who tip us off about the big stories so we can prepare how we will cover them.
And we cover things differently, of course. A while ago there was a horrible family murder here in Holland and the story was on the front page of many papers, but we ran the story as a small box on the inside of the paper because it’s not really news; it’s not happening all over Holland, it’s not a trend. We were asked why we’d run it small, so we decided it had become much more interesting as a media story. The next day we ran the little box on the front page with a red circle around it, asking, “Why did we run it like this? When we could have run it like this?” When you turned the page it was splashed tabloid-style with all the gory details – it sparked a debate about how the media covers stories. It asked questions of the readers and really connected with them. It’s a paper people actually read – there’s not much waste.
My niece says that if she’s on the train and she sees two good looking guys and one is reading the Metro and one is reading Next, her smile goes to the one reading Next, because he is more likely to be intelligent and liberal – and he has a spare euro to buy the paper! So maybe that’s a good way of summing up the brand. Our readers are young and beautiful and so is our paper.”
“News is free, but information is not – we tell people the news but do more with it. I came from the Handelsblad where I could only make small tweaks because there was such a long tradition, so coming from the big paper to set up Next was great fun – we could roll up our sleeves and experiment to find new readers with our blank canvas.
At Next I design for short reading and long reading – we often mix short articles and background stories down the side with a well of copy in the centre. We have a style but it’s good to have surprises – we’ll run a full-length portrait but narrow, like a column, or use a small amount of copy and lots of captions or speech bubbles. We all know a good image with a great headline can be worth a whole article and sometimes it’s just our role to present a great story. But it’s all of our jobs to get the reader’s attention.”
“I joined Next when it launched, after studying photography. I’ve always been interested in how images and text work together. A good photograph should tell its own story with a little difference, a little humour; it should surprise the reader. If we are telling a story about a well-known Dutch politician then we know what he looks like – we might take another element of the story and explain that with a picture. You find that you often don’t need the same old faces to tell a story.
I always work together with the writer to discuss the story. Sometimes we’ll run a straight picture if it is a short story or a very new idea and we just need to show what something or someone looks like. Sometimes I’ll lead the process – I’ll have a great set of pictures and a strong idea of what to do with them and speak to a writer to see how they can strengthen them with a story. It’s all about being imaginative with the photos on the newswire – around 90 per cent of our pictures are from the wire, we only commission a small amount.
All newspapers will see the same photos every day, so it is interesting to see the decisions of the other picture editors in the morning. We often see 10 pictures of George Bush standing outside the White House and we might be the only paper to have used the slightly off-the-cuff picture, the non-posed one. We want to put a grin on people’s faces first thing: it’s possible to help people start the morning well. If I was just ordering in pictures of politicians, I would be somewhere else.”
NRC Next and NRC Handelsblad are both published by PCM Uitgevers, Holland’s second-largest newspaper publisher behind De Telegraaf media group.
PCM has an annual turnover of €675m, employs 2,700 people across newspapers, freesheets, trade and educational books and advertising sales.
PCM also owns 63 per cent of AD NewsMedia BV, publisher of AD, a Dutch national daily with 22 regional editions and a circulation of 542,000.
In February 2007 PCM joined forces with Dutch telecoms group KPN to produce DAG – a news brand with a daily paper, and online and mobile editions.
NRC Handelsblad has 190 staff, 23 of which are in foreign bureaux including Washington, Moscow and Tehran. Next shares foreign correspondents, and has 30 full-time staff.