This article was written by Ervin Gűth, founder of Mecseki Müzli, and lightly edited for length and clarity by IPI. Receive regular updates on IPI’s innovation and media sustainability work by subscribing to our newsletter, The Outlook: Media Innovation Unlocked.

Mecseki Müzli is a weekly editorial local newsletter covering public life in the town of Pécs, Hungary, with the core mission to create a healthy news diet for engaged citizens by curating, analyzing and explaining the most important local news.

Dominance of algorithms, dwindling resources and lack of trust: these are just a few of the problems I wanted to tackle two and half years ago when I started the Mecseki Müzli newsletter. 

I was not naive. I knew that only through long persistent work I would be able to provide some answers to those challenges. This is why, from the very beginning, I put a strong emphasis on doing only what: 1) is valuable and useful to the local community, 2) has high quality from a journalistic point of view, and 3) is sustainable and has potential to grow in the long run.

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Finding a balance

When we entered the incubator, the primary challenge for the Mecseki Müzli newsletter was clear: striking a balance between attracting new subscribers and deepening engagement with our existing base. Thanks to the programme, we (since I’m not doing this on my own anymore) have much more professional tools and skills to achieve our goals.

We’ve been using what we learned in the training modules to create better surveys and ask better questions to our readers. And, more importantly, we’ve managed to better interpret their answers in order to make better decisions for our products. The survey we created as a result was filled out by 15 per cent of subscribers, an increase over previous surveys.

When we started this programme, we wanted to build new news products, most probably a second newsletter on its own. But through our surveys and interviews, we realized that our initial value proposition (only one newsletter per week curating, analyzing, explaining the most important local news) resonates to such a degree with our target audience and sustainability goals that we decided to take a different path.

Building a loop

Instead, we started to focus on our readers’ news needs, creating a feedback loop around that. 

We collect topics, ideas and insights from readers via our site. After that, the editors select the ‘doable’ stories and suggest formats and angles to paid subscribers at an open, in-person editorial meeting. Paid subscribers and editors discuss and vote on what to cover in the upcoming weeks, also evaluating already published stories. So far we have published four long-form articles using this method and two are in the production phase. Our newsletter subscriber count increased by more than 40%, while the number of paid subscribers has increased by 50%.

Being told by readers that our value proposition resonated so strongly also inspired us to pilot a newsletter campaign encouraging free subscribers to become paying subscribers.

We also learned in the programme that it is very important not only to use feedback loops, but also to communicate it explicitly, so that our readers see the value in it and understand how we use their input. In the longer term, we hope this will further build trust in us.

Mecseki Müzli was one of the participants in IPI’s New Media Incubator, part of the Media Innovation Europe (MIE) project, co-funded by the European Commission. The programme is led by the International Press Institute, implemented in collaboration with Thomson Media, the Media Development Foundation and BIRN.