Remarks by the SWI swissinfo.ch
Public Council

A look back at 2017, by Cinzia Dal Zotto
Cinzia Dal Zotto, Member of the Public Council of SWI swissinfo.ch

The Public Council held three regular meetings in 2017. It addressed issues such as improvements to the questionnaires that are used to evaluate swissinfo.ch content, as well as reviews of the new "Quickwin" and "Nouvo" formats. The Public Council also followed with interest the meeting of representatives of regional organisations in Lucerne, which discussed issues surrounding the parent organisation. Among the topics covered was whether or not the current structure of SRG, as an association, is still the right one, as well as any need for reform. The principle that all fee-payers should be able simply and directly to become member of a parent organisation was very well received. The Public Council will monitor any further developments closely.


Areas of focus for the Public Council

The principal role of the Public Council is to evaluate the quality and relevance of swissinfo.ch productions, as well as their effectiveness among an international audience that is a mix of languages and cultures (cf. statutes of 31 March 2014). To properly fulfil this task, the decision was made to improve the evaluation questionnaire. A working group consisting of Diccon Bewes, Cinzia Dal Zotto (both members of the Public Council), the head of Communications + Marketing, Christian Burger, and Editor-in-Chief Larissa M. Bieler drew up the new survey. The new version is to be based on the scales used in scientific media research, as well as SRG's quality management principles, while at the same time making it easier for the Public Council to evaluate swissinfo.ch productions. The newly designed questionnaire is not only clearer in terms of its structure and the questions it asks, but also provides space for specific feedback. It was adopted at the Public Council's most recent meeting. Another new feature is that, where necessary, the Editor-in-Chief can include questions on specific topics for the members of the Public Council to answer.


Remarks about 2017

In the first half of the year, the Public Council focused on the "Quickwin" format. These are short, to-the-point articles based on the key issues of the day. Ten "Quickwins", which appeared in almost all of the swissinfo.ch languages, were chosen for this evaluation. All of the members gave positive feedback on this new product, and also found the topics that had been covered interesting. They were nonetheless concerned that concision and speed should not be achieved at the expense of quality.

In the second half of the year, the reworked questionnaire was used to assess "Nouvo" video productions. "Nouvo" videos are short clips about Switzerland and current affairs. They are produced primarily for distribution via social media, and are aimed principally at a young audience. The Public Council recognised the concept as a useful model, but indicated that the purpose and the target group should be more clearly defined, thereby making it easier to choose the subject matter for the videos, and also making them more effective.

Although the five members of the Council differed in their analytical verdicts on their chosen productions, they all came to the same general conclusion. The swissinfo.ch editorial teams are producing great work, while the new Editor-in-Chief has injected a certain energy and generated exciting momentum. The Public Council believes that swissinfo.ch's services meet the wants and needs of an international audience.


Usage of swissinfo.ch

The Public Council was briefed regularly on traffic on the swissinfo.ch website during 2017. The number of direct visits to swissinfo.ch remained stable. Visits routed via search engines declined slightly in the first half of the year, although this trend had been reversed by the end of 2017. Viewed over the year as a whole, there was a clear increase in access from social networks and from mobile devices. This might be associated with the new "Quickwins" and "Nouvo" formats. Whatever the reason, the steady increase in numbers is sound evidence that the information provided by swissinfo.ch reflects the interests of its global readership.


Quality checks

All of the members of the Public Council conducted their quality checks in 2017. These involved one-day visits to their particular editorial teams. Direct contact with swissinfo.ch staff enables new members of the Public Council, in particular, to learn more about the teams' work, and to become more familiar with the culture and language-specific qualities of swissinfo.ch. The resulting discussions help the teams and their Public Council members to gain a better understanding of each other's roles and expectations. The quality checks and in-depth discussions with the Editor-in-Chief of tvsvizzera.it, Daniele Mariani, provided Cinzia Dal Zotto, in particular, with a deeper insight into the aim of tvsvizzera.it and the specific content that it offers.


Decisions by the Federal Council and Parliament

The Public Council acknowledged the appointment of Gilles Marchand as new Director General as of 1 October 2017, and welcomed the corporate objectives that he set: digitalising SRG products, as well as the digital transformation of the organisation as a whole. It was less enthusiastic about the forthcoming round of savings, prompted by the level (ceiling) at which the Federal Council has set the media fee. It remains to be seen how swissinfo.ch will be affected by these austerity measures.
At the end of the year, the services of Sabine Süsstrunk were secured to succeed Lucy Küng on the SRG Board of Directors. The Public Council looks forward to welcoming her in 2018.

New member of the Public Council
The Public Council welcomed Cinzia Dal Zotto to its ranks in May of 2017. She succeeds Takemitsu Morikawa, who has moved to Germany for professional reasons. Cinzia Dal Zotto has been engaged in teaching and research at the University of Neuchâtel Faculty of Economic Sciences since 2008. She specialises in human resources, organisation and strategy, and also has experience in information and media management, as well as in business journalism. As an Italian citizen, she will pay particular attention to the coverage provided by tvsvizzera.it.