German newspaper of record tries social media

In an attempt to reconnect with its readers, German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) introduced a thematic and participatory website a few weeks ago.

The translation of The Kindly Ones, a blockbuster book wherever it’s been released, landed in German bookstores last Saturday, February 23. Its controversial content (sex, Nazis and sadism) makes it a favorite conversation topic among the quality-newspaper-reading population. FAZ decided to organize this conversation.

Lately, what many consider the most boring newspaper of the known universe has seen its readership figures decline steeply. Such a move, reinforcing reader involvement, could be a good idea if this venerable institution wants to compete online. Currently, FAZ.net lies at the bottom the German web and its growth is flatter than Niedersachsen, says Comscore.

The first 120 pages of the book were published as a feuilleton in the paper version. Online, the Reading Room (sic) was introduced, a minisite aiming at transferring the paper’s offline literary reputation on the web.

There, local superstar and Oscar Nominee Christian Berkel reads several chapters, available in streaming video and downloadable mp3.

More daringly, FAZ built a debate around the book, despite its poor track-record when it comes to user participation. Every day, FAZ journalists choose a topic related to the book, which is then discussed by ‘experts’ and readers, in two distinct forums.

This oh-so-old-media-like two-tier structure notwithstanding, the conversation seems very qualitative. Elegant design and crystal-clear Ajax help readability and fosters interaction.

So far, so good. The Reading Room boasts 850,000 pageviews in February and the concept was implemented on Martin Walser’s Ein Liebender Mann on Monday.

This article was written by Nicolas Kayser-Bril, one of the Online Journalism Blog’s Virtual Interns.

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