Vladimíra Dorčová-Valtnerová is the editor-in-chief of Hlas Ludu, a minority media publication targeted at the Slovak communities in Serbia and written in both Slovak and Serbian. Hlas Ludu is a moderator in the upcoming 5th Regional Conference on Minority and Local Media, and given the occasion Vladimíra shared with us some of the insights and lessons she has learned by transitioning a minority medium into a digital multiplatform publication.

Hlas Ludu is a weekly newspaper that started out as the first minority newspaper in former Yugoslavia, with its first issue coming out during World War II, on the 19th of October, 1944. Now, its content is not only available through its weekly newspaper, but also through their website and, most recently, their app.

With over 3,800 newspaper subscribers and 380,000 readers online, they cover topics ranging from local political elections and Slovakian festivals in Serbia to stories from members of the Slovak community. Their editorial staff, of over 16 reporters, editors and correspondents, now cover a wide range of topics and territories, mostly in Vojvodina and more than 30 villages and towns inhabited by Slovaks in Serbia. Their seat is in Novi Sad.

Tell us Vladimira, why you started this digital transformation and what was your main goal during this change?

V: It started when we realized that a presence on several media platforms, ranging from print, web, mobile and social networking platforms, would increase the number of real readers, consumers, and members of the local community. In fact, we also became aware that the role of the newspaper had to be in line with global trends and the changes in the media. The media is not there just to inform, but also to play an important role in the development of society as a whole, not only by the strengthening of democracy and free expression of opinion, but also by opening up new horizons, not just sharing fun stories.

What is more, the habits of consumers of information have changed tremendously in the past two decades. Information is increasingly sought on social networks and search engines. And this is pretty much what happens with our readers, listeners and viewers – the companions of our minority media. The fact that now all media can and must "operate" on a global level, by placing information under these multiplatform principles, creates a real opportunity for the development of minority media through the introduction of a new communications strategy, digital transformation, and the creation of new media brands. The paper has certainly been affected by global trends; the most important factors have been demographic (migration, aging population, changes in relation to the number of former and current typical family compositions), economic (scarcity due to the long-term financial crisis), socio-technological (the flow of information, higher acquired educational level, knowledge of the mother tongue that seems to be weakening – the process of assimilation is visible), and political trends (the protection of minorities is at a good level, but there is a danger of loss of identity due to accelerated assimilation, in spite of a great relationship with the state of Serbia and with the home country). So the digital transformation of Hlas Ludu provides a new medium for a stronger position in society by attracting younger readers, which will in some way push us to create different, more relevant content in both the online and print editions, since this content will have to be adapted to the needs of different target groups.

What skills did you have to develop for this digital transformation project?

V: One of the main issues was to develop a new set of skills for online journalism, for instance, learning how to use WordPress and trying to understand the benefits of video content. The transition to the multiplatform launch basically meant changes in the technology we use and how we go about our content creation, in both our newspapers and online publications. In technical terms, we developed different approaches in writing, and are changing our media contributions with the introduction of smart devices and audio and video recorders, as well as the technology for precessing sound and imagies, managing various web tools, programs and software. But we are still looking for a way to overcome the cultural 'switch-off' in the editorial office, as each technological revolution comes with some resistance at the beginning.

What were the main editorial challenges during this transformation?

V: The biggest challenge during the editorial process of digital transformation is still avoiding the cannibalisation of our own media and contributing to an easier, less painful cultural change in the newsroom. But I think we are slowly managing to overcome these challenges and we are learning how to offer different content in print and online, since they are not like two peas in a pod or having the same reflection in a mirror. Of course, editorial policy still remains the same in both; we are looking for nuances that are reflected in the different content, such as online monitoring of local elections, and a special online Christmas section where we are creating the components for some self-generating content to occur online.
The big editorial challenge is the lack of funds. For some editorial and journalistic projects, the goodwill of individuals just isn’t enough for completion. They need financial incentives to function. In the future, the next challenge we are anticipating is about how we will try to charge for our online content.

What have been the benefits of the transformation?

V: The biggest advantage that digital transformation brings is a growing audience, especially younger children. It also strengthens confidence in the brand; in our case leading the development of Hlas Ludu has brought better positioning on the advertising market, and with that comes the possibility of financial stability and independence from government financiers. We gain strength by providing unique content with a focus on members of the Slovak nation, in two languages - in Slovak and Serbian. And at the global level, we can be a bridge between Slovakia and Serbia.

What would you say to others in the minority and local media who are struggling to make the leap to digital?

V: The digital agenda is here, it will not disappear, and it is better to adapt as soon as possible to the digital media environment on the internet. Each revolution brings another behind it, and if we do not move forward with the times, the medium becomes a dinosaur. And we all know what happened to the dinosaurs.