For publishers with a sense of identity to a particular area, the idea of actively looking for audiences overseas can seem a peculiar one.
Indeed, digital editors the UK over will be used to hearing ‘oh yes, but it’s all for overseas and not worth much’ when challenged on whether rapidly growing reader numbers online are worth anything at all.
The Irish Times, however, appears to be proving that an overseas audience can be a very loyal one, especially if you show commitment and dedication to them … and seek their opinions regularly.
Ciara Kenny, is the editor of the Irish Times Abroad section of the Irish Times website which, as the name suggests, is dedicated to people who consider themselves Irish but who are living away from the Emerald Isle.
Speaking to the Google DNI Festival in Paris last week, Ciara told delegates that Irish Times Abroad began life as Generation Emigration, a section of the site which focused on the issues relating to move to and from Ireland.
The economic crash of 2008 prompted many in Ireland to move abroad, with over 100,000 Irish people moving to Australia alone between 2008 and 2014. Equally, as Ireland has emerged from the credit crunch it has become an attractive destination for people wishing to travel the other way, with Irish expats returning home as will as immigration from other countries too.
In total, 17% of Irish people live abroad, and 20% of Ireland’s population was born overseas
Ciara told the conference that the Generation Emigration project evolved into Irish Times Abroad and, through collaboration between the Irish Times’ technology and editorial departments, they began building a network of members.
The project has had support from Google’s Digital New Initiative fund, winning a ‘large project’ grant for the ‘Diaspora Journalism Project.’
The network now boasts 35,000 members in 140 countries around the world, said Ciara. When people sign up, they say where they were from in Ireland, where they live now and why they move abroad.
The network, said Ciara, has many benefits for the Irish Times’ journalism, not least the ability to draw on their members’ experiences of life abroad, especially when news-worthy events are taking place.
Highlights currently on the website include members discussing their feelings about Brexit while living in the UK, and US-based people talking about their experiences of the US midterm elections.
“We developed a an online form in collaboration with Contribly,” Ciara told the conference. “It allows journalists to create forms to be embedded in articles requesting stories and opinions, photos and videos.
“It is used to gather eyewitness accounts from readers in breaking news situations, invite personal stories, request photographers and run competitions. It’s now used widely across irishtimes.com.”
Ireland, Ciara added, is relatively unique in that it doesn’t allow nationals living abroad to vote on issues back home — so the Irish Times runs polls when votes, such as the referendum on abortion last year — to get the views of those who, if nationals of other countries when a vote is held in their home country, would get to vote.