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Having it all: merging virality with fact-based journalism in the internet age

Bold and engaged coverage doesn't mean you have to give up on credibility and context

As most of the media world struggles to make the tough choices between journalism and activism, objectivity and opinions, some get to have it all. A digital native, the Polish web magazine NOIZZ manages to create viral fact-based content, take stands on social and political matters and grow its audience across platforms.

NOIZZ in Poland is a part of the Ringier and Axel Springer media company – a joint venture between Swiss Ringier AG and – German Axel Springer. Launched five years ago as a digital-only outlet, NOIZZ reports on everything that moves the urban and digital space: from fashion to street art and hip-hop, from politics to society. 

With more than 8 million visitors monthly, NOIZZ has a content exchange with Onet.pl, most popular news portal in Poland. NOIZZ is known for its native advertising work, and active support of social campaigns. 

The Fix sat down with its new Editor in Chief, Oliwia Bosomtwe, to talk about running such a socially engaged publication whilst still adhering to journalistic standards.

Oliwia Bosomtwe, Editor in Chief of NOIZZ
Photo by Piotr Kaczor.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Alicja Peszkowska: Your Wikipedia page states that your target audience is the “Internet generation.” Who reads NOIZZ?

Oliwia Bosomtwe: The “Internet generation” is, in my opinion, an attempt to stick millennials with another label. They are – despite appearances – quite a cohesive group. 

You know, sometimes people think World War II was 50 years ago, and that’s not true. Fifty years ago, we were in the 1970s. Millennials are in a similar situation. We keep thinking they’re the youngest possible target audience but the group is actually made up of people born between 1981 and 1992.

When you talk about Internet users, you’re really thinking of everyone who makes use of the Internet, young and old. But what brings NOIZZ readers together is their lifestyle. 

Our readers are interested in what’s happening around them, and that includes lifestyle trends as well as politics and news. We don’t profile based on gender, we don’t define ourselves as a medium for men or women. 

We write for people whose medium is the Internet – people who like to read online, on their computers or telephones. They care about online topics that develop or change quickly.

AP: So people who read your site are, demographically speaking, under 40, well educated and living in cities.

OB: In a simplified sense, yes. But there are people after 40 who read our articles because they’re interested in the topics we cover. Age is less a defining element than lifestyle.

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AP: The thematic clusters on your site include Society, Ecology, Food, Fashion, Lifestyle, LGBT+, Movies, Science and Technology… You also have Opinions, Big Stories and Interviews. In total, 16 categories. Do these define the extent of your publication’s interests?

OB: Yes. But the most important thing for us is a holistic understanding of societal issues – LGBT+ rights, women’s’ rights, sex education, climate change and ecology – and how they are rooted in a socio-political context. And that this context is important. 

We’re also interested in topics involving space, like where people live, but in different ways. We had “living in a town,” which was part of our “for rent” cycle, led for two years by Michał Bachowski and I, or materials about moving through a town, in terms of public transport, the cultural offerings of a city… 

Before the pandemic, we spent a lot of time covering music and film festivals, events, but not from the celebrity context, but rather from a cultural context.

An article from “Na Wynajmie” series (screenshot)

AP: What inspired your editorial philosophy and how is it changing?

OB: NOIZZ is five years old and it is a completely different medium than when we started. It’s a natural consequence of our development, of trying to keep up with our readers. We keep changing, our interests keep changing, and so do our readers. 

The best example of this natural evolution is what we did during the pandemic, when some topics moved to the background, whilst others became more important. Last year, we focused on music festivals, their atmosphere, and what comes out of these events. 

This is now completely gone. For example film festivals have moved online, opening new possibilities and the potential to reach a wider audience than before. 

Rather than high or hype fashion we’re talking about comfortable home clothes. We assign a greater weight to health, to everyday well-being and to what new shows Netflix has to offer – which, alongside watching HBO, is one of the few activities everyone takes part in at home. 

AP: I wanted to ask about “actvertising” (your unique native ad format that promotes social corporate responsibility). It’s a form of socially conscious advertising and includes campaigns created with business partners, where you function like a creative agency.

OB: This is part of so-called “native advertising.” Our approach comes from studies that show that for young people, social consciousness in brands is important. 

People realise brands can change the world because they’re global, wealthy and have enormous reach. If they change something in their approach for the better, choosing something more ethical and conscious, this has far-reaching effects for social well-being. 

I think this is something we should be developing – collaborating with brands in the realm of native culture, which is primed for societal change and something our readers desire.

AP: Your website encourages action and activism. You’ve picked your side in the current public debate in Poland. How do you feel about it? Do you regret this might be tied to further polarisation, or are options impossible to support right now?

OB: This is a difficult question on a lot of levels. It’s certainly the case that we’re a socially engaged and opinion-forming medium, rather than strictly news-based. We also filter news based on whether it appeals to our readers, and we often immediately take a stance on the issue that we’re writing about. 

Politically centrist media are meant to reach a very wide target audience, and they become centrist from covering so many different topics.

We’re unable to cover everything, so selecting a narrower target audience and relevant topics means that’s what we’re associated with. Even avoiding certain topics can define you.

In terms of my worldview, I look at it from an anthropological perspective. As an anthropologist researching something, one of the worst things you can do is assume that you’re an objective, neutral observer, who is able to describe reality without any personal biases resulting from your background creeping in. 

I think that in journalism, especially when covering topics like these that are widely discussed, what’s important is speaking clearly about your own platform and perspective – who you are, what you think. That’s what NOIZZ does.

Article from Rainbow Patriots series (screenshot)

AP: You have a very strong presence on social media, with over 483,000 followers on Facebook. You recently passed 95,000 followers on Instagram. What’s your vision for the future of social media?

OB: This year we chose to intensively build our Instagram, which was a great success. We also have high engagement, which, for a media Instagram account rather than an influencer, is a great result. 

I think our campaign #RealInfluencers, awarded by the Polish Klub Twórców Reklamy in the Best of Facebook category, shows us in which direction we should head. The campaign persuaded three of the biggest Polish influencers to let medical workers helping others during the current pandemic use their Instagram accounts, specifically the stories format.

AP: Do you have any special strategies for creating viral and simultaneously honest content?

OB: If we’re talking about journalistic standards, to me that’s linked with the difference between truth and lies. Because of the way social media and algorithms work, many voices carry the same weight, despite coming from different sources. 

I’m thinking about things like global warming, vaccines or the unfortunate 5G. New methods of disseminating information mean that scientific articles and those written by random, not knowledgeable people who dress up their opinions as facts reach the same amount of people. 

Despite existing in the same Internet space, it functions in a traditional media structure, even though our readers might see us as equivalent to their friend’s YouTube channel. As a publication we are, however, obliged by ethical standards to stand on the side of truth by presenting verified information.

AP: How many articles do you create in a week, or publish daily?

OB: It varies. It depends on a variety of factors, both personal and random, but per day it’s around 10-12 articles.

AP: How do you publish so many articles daily, without falling into clickbait?

OB: I think that’s a question of the environment, and a particular mental space, in which you assume that your readers are real people, clicking on a given article to learn about something. This is an important criterion, that it contains confirmed information presented in an engaging method, respectful of the reader and his or her time. 

We simply always think about the idea that at the end of the optical fibre is a thinking person, who has chosen to spend time reading our material, and we don’t want to disappoint.

AP: Have you considered other, new formats to reach audiences, such as Tiktok?

OB: When it comes to TikTok, it’s a question that we’re still considering, though we haven’t figured out how to bite into it, but we’re thinking about it. I think the best way I can answer is that we’re currently concentrating on the mediums that we know how to do well, and where our content fits naturally. 

TikTok is a big challenge in terms of platforms, because its purpose is purely entertainment, and entering there with opinion and information based content is a challenge. In order for it to make sense, we have to adequately know how to answer that challenge.

AP: How many people make up the magazine? As a native Internet platform distributing news through social media, do you have a lot of multimedia or graphic experts on the team? I know that you record podcasts as well.

OB: In our case, this is once more complicated. The magazine is staffed by six people, but certain requirements for creating our articles are complicated and include people in other parts of the company. 

We’re part of a large media syndicate, and for example, our podcasts are recorded at the Onet.pl studio, so it’s not the case that everyone on our team has to have all the necessary skills that we utilise to create NOIZZ

Even though each staff member has their own set of skills, they also have to know a little bit about everything, so that if a situation crops up spontaneously they’re able to react.

AP: Tell me a little bit more about your own path. In November, you became the editor in chief of NOIZZ. What are your plans for the future? What does it mean that a young, Black Polish woman came to head a progressive publication at this moment in history?

OB: I recognise the symbolic meaning, especially since first of all I’m the editor in chief of a publication that doesn’t cater exclusively to women. I’m a black woman and despite the fact that I represent a micro-minority group in Poland, I think it is symbolically important to representatives of this minority group, and especially to the current generation of young women, for whom this is a sign that many things are possible and that neither skin colour nor gender are limitations. 

It’s especially important in the context of the Constitutional Tribunal’s decision and the strikes, which are about more than just the ruling. It’s more general, about respect for women and their rights, and treating them like an equal half of our society capable of deciding for themselves. However, just because I became the new editor in chief, this doesn’t mean that NOIZZ will suddenly write more about specific issues such as the women’s protest, because that is something that we have always had space for, and in that respect, nothing will change.

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Alicja Peszkowska is a Copenhagen-based consultant, researcher, and a participation strategist focused on technology, digital culture, and social change. Her track record includes working with IOVIA, Outriders, Facebook Journalism Project, Google News Initiative, TechSoup Europe, and Creative Commons.

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