The Local goes global

An English-language news site in Sweden is expanding across the continent

In 2004, James Savage and Paul Rapacioli were two Brits who had fallen in love with Swedes, leaving them with a need to find work in Stockholm.

Rapacioli started emailing weekly news updates to friends and newcomers. One early recipient was Savage, who approached Rapacioli with the idea of a full website. “He said, ‘Together we could make something of this,’” Rapacioli said. “I wanted to start my own business, and this is what I came upon.” The pair set up shop as, an online news site serving the English-speaking community

The site features a mix of off-beat stories (“Wallaby returns home after Sweden walkabout”), lists (“Ten Signs You Know You’ve Been in Sweden Too Long”), and photo galleries amid more serious reporting work (“Swedes to give six-hour workday a go”).

And 10 years later, that one site has grown into seven; Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Norway, France, and Italy all have their own versions of The Local. An Austrian site will launch this spring, and the duo owns domain names for about 70 other countries. The different sites share editorial and ad products, which include events, newsletters, and sponsored content as well as traditional banner ads.

“The more countries we’re in, the better the news coverage and the more exposure generally for The Local, so all countries benefit,” Rapacioli said via Skype. “And the more countries we’re in, the bigger the audience we have to sell to existing advertisers and hopefully new global advertisers.”

Two journalists in each country crank out articles. They have strict quotas on the numbers of stories they must write a day (four to six apiece), most of them with no bylines. The majority of the pieces are less than 300 words long and story choice is based on the editors’ analysis of what makes people click.

“It’s about getting the right balance of stories with that are sufficiently interesting and detailed; between stories that are serious and off-beat,” Savage said. They use Agence France-Presse wire copy to bolster content, keeping the website fresh at nights and the weekends.

So far, this all seems to be working. The Local generates around 3.85 million unique visitors per month across its seven sites, Rapacioli said, in key markets appealing to advertisers: places filled with wealthy expats who have disposable income, though about 75 percent of site visitors come from outside their countries of origin. Those, he said are primarily tourists, businessmen, and journalists.

The remaining 25 percent are the local expats, foreign professionals who form a dedicated core readership. They come back to the site more often and click on more pages than the visitors outside the country, Rapacioli said.

The group already has attracted venture capital, including a Swedish pension fund and one of the heirs to the H&M fortune. The Local has not been profitable for the last few years, Rapacioli said, but they expect to turn that around this year. He declined to give further details.

The Local’s social mediaad optimization team in India helps push out stories that editors believe could go viral. These are stories that someone will post on Facebook, like this one on the “rat from hell” found in a Swedish family’s kitchen.

The stories are practically BuzzFeedian, carefully selected to generate the most buzz. It’s carefully choreographed through what Savage called his “tried and tested” editorial policy. “We know which stories are likely to go global,” he said.

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Alison Langley has more than 25 years experience in journalism as a reporter and editor. Her stories have appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, The FT and The Independent. She currently lectures in journalism at Fachhochschule Wien and Webster University Vienna.