Disrupting the Market: How is one small media challenging the industry giant in Poland

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Is it possible to create, in one year, a quality information service for a region with a population of 4.3 million, including more than 2 million living in a single agglomeration comprising several cities? Yes, and successfully, as exemplified by the Polish website Slazag.pl. It was founded by several journalists who left the editorial staff of Poland’s largest regional daily, Dziennik Zachodni.

Team of Slazag.pl, photo courtesy of the media outlet

When Eastern Europe's largest oil company Orlen, which has strong links to the Polish government, acquired a majority stake in Polska Press Grupa (PPG) from an independent owner in early 2021, more than 20 regional dailies and their websites became dependent on political decision-makers. In fact, it is the politicians who make the board of the company and they, in turn, decide on the managers of PPG.

In the autumn of 2022, a group of Dziennik Zachodni journalists decided to leave the editorial team and set up the news website Slazag.pl to run a news service offering quality content to users. The name of the site is a concatenation of words denoting two neighbouring regions in southern Poland: Slask and Zaglebie - hence Slazag. The media outlet was built with the support of the advertising sales department and Media Operator, the owner of its website, which offered its Content Management System. 

There are many local websites of similar nature in this region of Poland, offering useful information, but they are usually dedicated to the needs of the inhabitants of one city. Slazag.pl team decided to prepare quality texts at a high journalistic level and compete with the strongest and biggest website in region, DziennikZachodni.pl, which is a brand of Dziennik Zachodni - a daily newspaper with a tradition of more than 75 years, very well-known and recognised throughout the Upper Silesia region.

No local or regional service can do without content that touches on emotional issues; it should also tackle difficult, controversial topics. Slazag distinctiveness is evidenced by the fact that the journalists see their mission in providing content of interest to a demanding audience. Therefore, a lot of space is devoted to history, the region's identity, architecture, culture or opinions on important social issues. Due to this Slazag wins here against the regional website of the Dziennik Zachodni, which today limits itself to reporting only on current events and reports decisions that are convenient for the political authorities.

Slazag publishes several quality, unique texts every day such as elaborate texts, investigations, and pieces that address problems in the community, noting important events (note: there is hardly any information about traffic accidents!). Particular importance is attached to impartial coverage of the decisions of the authorities (national, local and regional), thus distinguishing it from the content offered by what is still the largest news service in the region, which presents only one point of view - that of the authorities.

Quality and a focus on formats other than just texts is something that quickly attracted internet users. Here, you can read the columns of writer Zbigniew Rokita (two-times winner of Poland's most prestigious literary award, the 'Nike', and one of the most important writers from the Silesian region). Slazag's journalists also produce weekly interviews with important figures from the region in video format, or a photo series on the architectural heritage of the region, which has had a very turbulent history.

Most interesting is the traffic structure of this regional service. Approximately, one-third of internet users' visits are direct entries, which means a strong and recognisable brand among internet users in the region, and these numbers are after only a few months of Slazag's existence. 

The biggest challenge proved to be supporting this dedicated group of journalists to quickly gain business knowledge. The biggest difficulty for Slazag's managing editors turned out to be looking at the work of the whole team more from the business side, understanding that managers need to be involved not only in producing quality texts, but they should also have knowledge in web analytics, understanding operating processes, knowing how to build user engagement. And also, that they should make strategic decisions in order to be able to monetise their content, aside from the advertisement.

That's why one of the goals of Slazag's managers for the future is to offer newsletters to internet users and, as a next step, to think about introducing a subscription model, which cannot be done without the trust between the media and the community. This is what the Slazag team builds every day in an effort to be credible in the eyes of the audience. A news service offering quality, verified information to the user can ultimately openly tell internet users: our journalistic service has to be paid for, the consumption of quality information is not free.

The case of the emergence of a strong news website, Slazag.pl, in opposition to the existing media on the regional market, is interesting because it is the first successful attempt to create competition for the dominant publisher here, Polska Press Group. It also illustrates how the monopoly of media dependent on political power can be broken, how local journalism and its quality can be positively influenced.

Paweł Nowacki is an experienced media and e-commerce market consultant specializing in digital subscriptions and communications. He is the founder of DigitalFlow.pl and partners with international companies such as Flowplayer.com, Piano.io, and Upscore.com. With over three decades of experience in journalism and content creation, Paweł offers consulting and advisory services to numerous high-profile clients. He is a lecturer at the University SWPS in Warsaw and completed postgraduate studies in Sociology in Human Resource Management from the University of Łódź.

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