003: Innovations in local communication in Switzerland and the case of the Grisons

Burger, Johanna1,2; Matthias, Künzler1,2; Autenrieth, Ulla1; Fetz, Ursin3; Wellinger, Dario3

  1. University of Applied Sciences of the Grisons, Institute for Multimedia Production, Switzerland
  2. Freie Universität Berlin, Institute for Media and Communication Studies, Germany
  3. University of Applied Sciences of the Grisons, Centre for Public Management, Switzerland

Digitalization has shaped the media landscape quickly and drastically in the past years: It has weakened existing business models to fund journalism and it has changed processes to produce content. At the same time, it enabled new formats, new revenue models etc. due to changed media consumption behavior. This process is highly challenging for all legacy media, and it is even more precarious for local media since "[...] most [local news organizations] have fewer opportunities to pursue scale and more limited resources to invest in digital media" (Jenkins & Nielsen, 2018, p. 5). This is particularly problematic in countries with a decentralized political system, such as Switzerland, where citizens make political decisions even at the municipal level and participate in the government. Hence, citizens ideally need to be fully informed about local issues to make informed decisions (Park, Fisher & Lee, 2021, pp. 1-2).

Whilst this transformation is a challenge for local media organizations, it is a challenge for the municipality administrations as well (Möser, 2020, p. 202). Local communication is shifting on several plains. Media organizations and municipalities are not only adapting to these circumstances, but some are also developing innovative ways of local communication: certain municipalities have already implemented online participation tools (“digital village square”) while some legacy media and rather new online-media have successfully adapted to the changing system and developed innovative strategies to create economically sustainable local journalism in the digitalized world. These media often introduce new journalistic formats like citizen journalism or pursue partially different content strategies but do also look for new ways to fund journalism (as crowdfunding, funding by foundations, new forms of advertising like native ads). According to the structure-conduct-performance-model it is to be expected that their (organizational) structure (including work processes) and particularly their performance for local polity and policy differs from those of legacy media (Mierzejewska, 2018).

Thus, this paper aims at analyzing the transformation of local communication. Thereby, the paper is a reference to and a continuation of existing research (e.g. Jangdal, 2019; Jenkins & Nielsen, 2020; Brückner, 2021; Fawzi, Baugut & Reinemann, 2018; Klinger, Rösli & Jarren, 2015) whilst placing the focus somewhat differently from similar previous research: The main focus is not on the weakening local communication as the negative consequences of the media crisis and the connection with political participation (e.g. Oberholzer-Gee & Waldfogel, 2006; Nielsen, 2015; Kübler & Goodman, 2019), but on the current innovation-driven developments in Swiss local communication and its further potentials. How are municipalities all over Switzerland currently communicating? How are legacy and new local media structured (including journalistic concepts, business models etc.)? Can – and do – they contribute to sustain a local public sphere?

To answer these research questions, we present new data from a transdisciplinary research project about local communication in Switzerland which has never been realized to this extend. On the one hand, the data are based on a typology of local media we build upon a survey of all local media (print, radio, TV and online). On the other hand, this research is based on a survey of all Swiss municipalities conducted in 2021 and 2022. As the conference will take place in Davos, we plan to put our attention on results from the Grisons (with answers from 37 municipalities and 18 local media organizations in our dataset).

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