In 2004, shortly after moving to Stockholm from the UK, Paul Rapacioli started running a weekly email newsletter from his bedroom sent out to his friends on a Swedish-language course. Eleven years on, he and co-founder James Savage have expanded this newsletter into a series of English-language news websites based in nine European countries.
The Local websites attract 4.5m unique browsers a month with 14 full-time journalists working across them, the majority based in its various territories and a central team working from Sweden.
The site was first rolled out from Sweden into Germany in 2008, Switzerland in 2011, and then to Norway in 2012. It moved to France, Spain and Italy in 2013 and then Denmark and Austria last year. Ultimately, The Local's aim is to have two journalists, supported by freelances, based in each country.
Before founding The Local, chief executive Rapacioli was a director at employment website Reed for around nine years. Managing editor Savage previously worked as a radio journalist and PR consultant.
Some 75 per cent of The Local websites’ traffic comes from outside the country the individual sites are based in. Rapacioli says this is because they are used by “linguistically-challenged”, English-speaking newsrooms as a way of following the news in countries such as Sweden where few outsiders understand the language. Overall, he says, around 1.2m monthly browsers come from the US, 380,000 from the UK and a large portion of the rest from Australia and Canada.
This interview takes place the day after a launch date is announced for US-founded politics title Politico in Europe. It will have a website and weekly print edition.
Rapacioli says: “Europe’s where it’s all happening right now. Europe is, in my opinion, the most interesting news story that we’ve got right now. And I just don’t think it’s being covered properly by European media.
“I think European media still has a very parochial approach to the news. I mean there’s 28 different conversations going on in Europe and nobody’s trying to pull them all together and explain them or distil them.
“And that’s what we do, not by taking the top-down view, not by having some sort of lofty explanation of the European vision, but by reporting from the ground, and just explaining across Europe: ‘This is what’s going on.’”
Savage (left) and Rapacioli
The Local is aimed at a group the founders categorise as “well-educated and affluent” cosmopolitans.
Rapacioli says that he and Savage started out by writing stories and selling banner advertising. Nowadays, he points to native advertising as the site’s main source of income, growing 300 per cent over the last couple of years. “That’s where the money is,” he says, meaning The Local employs a number of writers to work for clients. The sites also host job and property adverts.
And how do things work on the editorial side? “We try to think of it as a single distributive newsroom," Rapacioli says. "It is very unlike the notion of a foreign correspondent, out there in the field on their own, an island in a foreign land. They’re very much a part of it.
“So James every morning has a Google Hangout with the editors, goes through what’s on the day’s agenda through all the countries, makes sure it’s all co-ordinated.”
Rapacioli adds: “The idea behind The Local is that we largely reflect the news that’s happening in each country. The original purpose was that anybody in Sweden or France or Germany or wherever who didn’t speak the local language could read The Local and be sure that they could have the same kind of conversations as the local Swedes or Spanish people or whatever.
“We very much reflect what’s going on in the news, but of course we put our own twist, our own voice on to that. It’s not translation – these are journalists, not translators.”
How is The Local viewed by existing media brands? “We’re a Swedish company. The Swedish media market is dominated by two or three massive, massive corporations. And they’re running very big news businesses.
“And for us we started off as a curiosity, I think. People were interested in what we were doing, and of course our fear was that one day we were going to wake up and discover that one of the big newspapers had started doing an English language version – we understand now that that wouldn’t make sense and that wouldn’t really have been a threat that we feared it was at the time.
“I think what they’ve understood now is that we fulfill a role that perhaps they hadn’t even conceived in the sense that more stories go global through the Local from our countries – particularly countries like Sweden, but even some of the bigger ones – Germany, France, Italy."
He adds: “So we are the route out of the world for the news that is breaking in these countries.
"That has made our colleagues in the news industry in our various countries sit up and take notice.”
Where will The Local be expanding to next? “There are some obvious target markets, it’s just finding the right way of going into these markets. Increasingly we get a lot of big local media companies asking if we want to set The Local up in their country with them. We’re having pre-discussions… and it’s quite positive. So there are a few plans in the pipeline.
“I mean, you can look at a map of Europe and see where we’re not present and basically that’s where we want to be present. The job won’t be done until we’re providing Europe’s news in English – and even then we will go beyond.”