We are often asked how SWI swissinfo.ch (SWI) selects its topics. And given the almost endless torrent of information, it's a fair question. In the past media professionals thought they knew what readers wanted and needed, and they made their own decisions about what to report on. But those times are gone. Today empirical analysis, together with user surveys and comments, makes it possible to identify public preferences with a relatively high degree of precision.
SWI journalists adopt an all-round view when selecting their topics.
- They primarily consider the Federal council's explicit instruction that SWI must report on federal referendums. The stakeholder wishes that on top of the official explanations, we also give journalistic coverage to enable the 5th Switzerland to exercise their constitutional right to vote in elections and referendums.
In 2017, for example, SWI carried detailed reports on Corporation Tax Reform III, which in February was rejected by a clear 59.1% No vote. The proposition on Facilitated naturalization for the 3rd generation attracted a great deal of attention, and it was accepted on the same day by a clear 60.4% Yes vote. In May SWI reported on the Energy Act, which was accepted by a clear 58% Yes vote. And in September, finally, the hotly discussed Reform of the pension system was rejected with a 52.7% No vote, while the proposal to increase value added tax by 0.3% to fund the AHV also failed. This was another subject on which our Internet platform carried in-depth previews, analyses, interviews and referendum results.
- The second priority in subject selection is the needs of foreign readers who are interested in Switzerland. Their interests vary widely depending on their language area and cultural environment. Both Chinese and Americans are very interested in the dual education system, while the Arab world focuses mainly on questions of asylum and integration. In Japan the Prix de Lausanne (ballet) and Swiss energy policy attracted great attention, while Germany was excited about the whereabouts of the Gurlitt trove.
In 2017 reports from the World Economic Forum and the Locarno Film Festival, and on the condition of Swiss banks and the pharmaceutical industry, were read attentively and often all over the world - as were items on jobs, healthcare, the environment, traffic, migration and Geneva.
- Swiss nationals living abroad, for whom SWI forms a digital bridge to their homeland, were especially interested in subjects and reports on e-voting, political rights, banking policy, Swiss schools and the No Billag initiative.
- swissinfo.ch pages are also read in Switzerland, mainly by expats, migrants, cross-border commuters and foreign agencies (embassy and consular staff), whose prime concerns are basic questions of day-to-day life: work permits, schools, healthcare, mobility, shopping, tax, rights and obligations. These and other needs also emerge clearly from user studies.
SWI staff see their obligation to meet the needs of all stakeholder groups within the all-round view as self-evident. The focus on high-quality services, analyses and audiovisual contributions, however, means that there is not enough room for everything. swissinfo.ch cannot and will not be a site for breaking news. Sporting fixtures, local journalism and simple reporting on events do not fall within the editorial perimeter. We are happy to leave this sort of content to other SRG units and the private media.
User-oriented production requires a rethink, and this was central to the changes at SWI in 2017. The configuration of our multimedia and interactive products must be such as to make them highly relevant and usable. This is achieved by placing users' preferences, goals, wishes and characteristics at the core of the development process.
If SWI is to be appreciated in this new environment, its content must be prepared, related, presented and disseminated in new and different ways – and more attention must be paid to how audiences assimilate and discuss our content. Technological advances offer the splendid possibility that once produced and shared, content can be discussed by users in real time – enabling us to enter into a dialogue with them.
If we succeed in generating sufficient resonance in these communities, our readers reward us with their attention, retention time, loyalty, reach, inputs, praise, criticism, trust and their own contributions. This is the primary aim of SWI, and so it will remain in 2018.
Director, SWI swissinfo.ch