Disrupting German Youth Media: The Rise of 'Inconvenient Facts' News Startup NiUS

Jul 11, 2023

Imagine if Putin were to report on the OceanGate sub wreckage. Most likely, he would put on that weaselly smug followed by his infamous one-liner from the CNN interview: "It sank". The problem with that statement is not that it is not quite factual (it actually imploded) but conveniently "lame". Let's face generation Z's perceived reality: inconvenient facts rivet us, mainstream narratives bore if not trigger us (official POV sucks anyway). Sounds edgy, right, but "ain't that a kick in the head"? A fresh German news startup NiUS (high five if you nailed the word origin) has been launched less than a week ago, on July 5, to toy with the idea of creating appealing content based on inconvenient narratives. Dissatisfied with the kind-of-underground-hub profile of its news platform, the NiUS empire has rapidly extended its corporate identity over Pleiteticker. Pleiteticker goes pleite: Reichelt's ill-fated brand has been vanquished and succeeded by the news media platform NiUS.de.Prior to the merge, the digital-only media outlet, backed by the former BILD editor-in-chief Julian Reichelt, showed a presence both on TikTok (41.5k followers) and Instagram (15.9k). The channel once expressing unpopular opinions converts into the "voice of the majority" (Stimme der Mehrheit), the self-acclaimed purpose of NiUS, according to the footer on their homepage. If we were able to revive Friedrich Schiller, he would state that the voice of the majority is yet no proof of justice. The modern news consumer has different priorities, though. Since Gen Z appears to seek entertainment and insight rather than the universal truth, this may make them fertile ground for NiUS-led experiments on news content delivery. The tempting question is whether they are really desperate to have Gen Z on their side and what content tricks they use to grow upon Pleiteticker's legacy. @niusde 💬 Communication at eye levelThe first perk that NiUS could not afford to miss out on is, of course, to keep up being on the same level with its audience.  It's essential for every grassroots community, the members of which are eager to express their will in a certain physical or digital space. Therefore, NiUS went ahead and retained the staff of young presenters, who were once scouted by Pleiteticker, to eventually build loyal audience clusters around each of them. To strengthen the bond of trust, they added a caption containing the presenter's name. This is a massive step toward back-pedaling the outlet's underground roots and navigating its way to transparent public discourse.This trick is employed to build a sustainable trusted brand and, reversely, to intensify the skepticism toward official narratives. In fact, Edelman’s trust barometer shows that German consumers prefer to confide in the output from privately-run companies (47%) rather than state-owned enterprises (40%). By securing broad support within the young, "rebellious" audience, this ongoing trend may become a powerful tool to generate more leads in the years to come.Screenshot from the Edelman Trust Report (assessed in 2019)🖌️ Full-scale rebrandingTo feed the audience with inconvenient facts, one must ensure they are comfortable with listening to it. Accordingly, to appear trustworthy, any media company meticulously avoids bad PR, especially when it comes to testimonials given by brand partners or corporate influencers. One of the recent bloopers on that part was Call Of Duty removing the in-game skin bundle named after Nickmercs, who had been outspoken in his criticism of certain LGBT+ practices. Such an "evil lord" behind Pleiteticker used to be Julian Reichelt, a highly controversial tabloid media tycoon who was profusely accused of compliance and work ethics breaches over the last five years. Nobody would suffer from his vanishment, that's what the board executives probably thought. However, Reichelt is still pals with the new media owner, so the compromise offer has been made: he keeps his label "Caution, Reichelt!" (Achtung, Reichelt!), consisting of full-video reviews on YouTube and short sequences clipped out of it, and gets a special rubric on NiUS.de.The outlet's name itself harbors a negative connotation, as well. The invented compound word traces back to the TV term "newsticker" replacing the first stem with Pleite- which translates as "bankruptcy". This term is very common in various populistic media narratives in Germany, stating due to erroneous governmental policies the net households will wind up going bankrupt (Pleite gehen) one day. In this respect, NiUS sounds way more neutral as well as kind of cool and relatable to the subject.The range of news coverage formats on NiUS.deThis trick may help the board of directors to gain new investors, for once. The inflow of funds leads to a growing budget for content editors allowing them to produce more compelling and exclusive news productions - and hence to reach a larger audience and lure big sponsors.📣 Rich multimedia to engage more sensesThe occasional pop-ups of news articles provide content, while camera movement, vfx and background jingles may accentuate certain parts of the narrative. As a matter of fact, NiUS short clips often embrace Pleiteticker's legacy by bearing a sarcastic tone, poking fun at every world phenomenon that appears to steer away from common sense. For example, the ban of public gatherings of more than two persons or enforced vaccination in Germany during pandemics. Aside of the retrospective side, there is a bunch of recent controversies that come to light, as the German law that requires newly installed heating systems to be powered up to 65% by renewable fuel sources starting in 2024. The reel that discusses it uses the typical steam-off sound of a heating battery in the background to illustrate the anger of German householders toward the law. The other reel pounces on the German federal agriculture minister, who calls for a ban on advertising junk food to children; the young female presenter grabs a package of Haribo gummy bears, takes a bit, and looks provocatively into the camera.Finally, at the end of each reel, presenters try to engage the audience by asking them to provide their opinion in the comment section, anticipating wide support.All in all, the NiUS content format builds a remarkable contrast to the matter-of-fact and barely dramatized storytelling, like that produced by Tagesschau (the public-service news broadcaster with the greatest number of followers on TikTok in Germany). This is why NiUS allows itself to do some mockery there (see the reference below).Embedded tagesschau clip in the Instagram reel shown on NiUS🤳🏽 Crossmedia content streamingNiUS pushes its content boundaries by employing internal linking. Pinned posts, post galleries, stories with integrated links, and highlights with embedded videos - everything points to the launch as a milestone for interactive news storytelling and a new decade for the news industry itself.With a whopping amount of linked content, everything leads to the main news platform🤔So what?The delivery of inconvenient facts can be diluted by adding an eye-pleasing branded surface and the empathy-evoking appearance of GenZ presenters. Yet, the bigger the outlet's network is getting, the more complicated it will be to hide controversies between the stakeholders. They stand a chance to reciprocally undermine the brand's value and audience trust, whenever the opportunity arises. However, as long as the balance of factual and emotion-loaded narration is kept upon, the fresh start is likely to be promising for NiUS. It can only mean that Germany is likely to be seeing a new mighty counterpart of the official news agencies very soon.