NU.nl & NUjij
are borrowing readers’ brains
More original news, more ‘stories of the day’ and, thanks to NUjij, more articles inspired by readers: 2022 was a banner year for NU.nl. And thanks to last year’s investments, the best is yet to come for the Netherlands’ biggest online news brand.
Colin van Hoek
(35), deputy editor-in-chief of NU.nl until February 2023, now head of News Analysis for the Netherlands
(27), GENERAL REPORTER, NU.NL
t took time, effort and resources, but it paid off: NU.nl, which was acquired by DPG Media over three years ago, has turned NUjij into its secret weapon. While many other media outlets struggle with reader engagement, NU.nl was ahead of the curve when it launched NUjij four years ago – leaving the competition in the dust, says deputy editor-in-chief Colin van Hoek. “We write stories based on readers’ questions every day, so our readers feel heard.”
On the NUjij platform, readers can comment on news articles and are invited to share their thoughts on issues that are relevant to them. And while those responses, questions and suggestions do require constant moderation to filter out abusive comments, they also provide valuable ammunition for subsequent articles. A team of community moderators creates a daily top 10 of reader questions, which journalists sink their teeth into every morning.
“We’ve got five full-time moderators,” Van Hoek says. “And about 80 per cent of the replies are moderated by an automated system. Some are rejected for violating community guidelines, but most are fine and get published. The remaining 20 per cent, which are too ambiguous to be moderated by the system, are sent to our human moderators, who manually evaluate them. So it remains a labour-intensive process, but that’s a very conscious decision we made because we want to provide a safe environment where everyone can express their opinion.”
“And just as importantly, the interaction with our readers produces super relevant questions. Covid was a big help in that sense. The pandemic had a direct effect on everyone, and our readers asked us questions that had never been answered before. So we were able to use those to write very well-read articles. And we kept using the same approach after Covid. For example, when there were riots following World Cup matches and ‘neighbourhood fathers’ were tasked with keeping the peace, we were asked who these people were exactly, and how they got that job.”
NU.nl was launched in 1999 and
reaches more than 3 million daily visitors.
Reliable and neutral
With 8 million monthly users and 3 million followers on social media, NU.nl is known for its free (thanks to advertising), reliable and neutral news coverage. The news site, which was founded in 1999, has a large contingent of loyal readers who use NU.nl daily because it’s fast, factual and neutral, says general reporter Leon Moleman. “Other media outlets are easy to pigeonhole: liberal, conversative or outrage-driven. We’re not like that, which our readers appreciate. We don’t do opinion pieces, and we don’t have columnists either.”
Lately, the site has been focusing more on creating its own original content. Whereas in the early days, people would sometimes sneer that NU.nl just copied and pasted ANP reports, it now has a relatively young and diverse editorial staff of 70 journalists who have plenty of opportunity to provide their own input, Van Hoek says. “Our editorial team – thanks in part to the DPG traineeships – has become more diverse, which leads to different stories and angles.” Articles on topics like Ramadan, adoption, Indonesian cuisine as cultural heritage, or on the consequences of student debt take on an extra layer when they’re written by people who have a direct link to the story, or by reporters with a bicultural background.
One of NU.nl’s goals for 2023 is to make an even bigger impact. Which is a tall order, given the splash the brand made in 2022. NU.nl’s podcast Het geheim van Mallorca was number one on Spotify for weeks, NU+ published more in-depth stories and the editors focused on using simple language to make articles accessible to more readers. “Every outlet explains the news,” Van Hoek says, “but we have to do it better than any of our competitors, using the most approachable, accessible language. We also want to have ‘the story of the day’ more often.”
The strong connection with the reader remains invaluable, according to Moleman. “If you have the opportunity to borrow the brains of hundreds of thousands of readers, why wouldn’t you?”