Tired of digital transformation? We’re only halfway through the journey, says veteran Swedish journalist, Henrik Ståhl
Henrik reflects on the last 15 years in journalism and explains why there is much to be gained from having a profile online. Click here to attend the free Digital Identities seminar in Stockholm on 14 September, where he will be speaking. This seminar is powered by Google News Lab.
Henrik, tell us a little about yourself
I am a journalist turned product owner. It’s been an interesting journey to say the least! I started out at the age of 16 working at the local newspaper in Enköping, a small town between Stockholm, Uppsala and Västerås. In the last 15 years I have worked with no less than 10 different companies. From nationals such as Aftonbladet and Svenska Dagbladet, to local papers such as Jönköpings-Posten and Upsala Nya Tiding. I have also worked with both print and digital, and have often had to multitask, performing the roles of reporter, editor and photographer simultaneously. I was recruited to Dagens Industri last summer, and have been working as a product owner for both Dagens industri and Dagens Nyheter since April this year.
In 15 years what’s the biggest change you’ve seen?
The biggest change is, by far, the ongoing digital transformation. We’re not even half-way through this journey. I think the logical conclusion of this journey is an online-only era. It’s not too long before a major newspaper here in Sweden takes that decision. It’s already happened elsewhere — for example, at the Independent in the UK.
What is the fundamental challenge of going digital-first?
Most newspaper have been print-first or print-only, for 99% of their lifespan, but now they have to embrace a new distributed online presence. How do you take one publication and distribute it across different online platforms? In this scenario, it’s not just content, but people and personalities within the organisations that will have to exist alongside each other, in real-time.
Could you explain this idea that journalists will co-exist alongside their content online?
To put it simply, social media is a platform for social relationships between people. News websites can’t be social platforms. But on the other hand, a social media platform is nothing without content. Journalists play an important role in this relationship. They add context, and can participate as well as encourage debate. This increases the life-cycle of their stories.
Does every journalist have to be active online?
No, not active on social media, but be present online. Use it as a research tool. For example, when I was at Aftonbladet, we used Google Trends to get a snapshot into what people were looking for. I think it’s a really interesting aggregator of behaviours and activities that offers inspiration into developing stories in real-time. So rather than just reporting on what people in Sweden were searching for, this snapshot started us on a journey to answer why, which often led to an interesting story. This is how we become proactive rather than reactive. The same logic applies to using social media.
Could you name some Swedish journalists who have created a unique digital identity?
There are a quite a few. Henrik Mitelman (@Mitelman) from Dagens Industri and Martin Jönsson (@DagensNyheterMJ), who is currently at Dagens Nyheter. They are engaging and participate in discussions. Aftonbladet’s online TV reporter Angelica Karlsson (@ViktigaNyheter) balances objective reporting with personal engagement. The same goes for Kristina Lindquist (@syrran). Also, I should mention Frida Boisen (@fridaboisen).
How has your presence on social media helped you and your organisation?
Social media helps me find and connect with like-minded people. It is important for me to have a connection with my peers outside of my organisation and outside the media sector. You never know where inspiration can come from. It’s also important for me to have a connection with the audience for whom I am developing a product.
Let me give you an example of how this come together. Last year we launched Börsen på 3 minuter (The stock market in 3 minutes) as an early news roundup for the stock market. We could have done this as a live broadcast in a studio environment. But we wanted to bring our viewers one step closer to us. So we decided to go ahead with Periscope to broadcast from the news floor. Right from the heart of our organisation. Very quickly, this evolved into a genuine dialogue. After the broadcast, we uploaded the video to the website. This has allowed us to develop a niche, fast-growing community in a cost effective manner. It is successful at various levels. This happened because we were early adopters of a new channel, and we thought about the context.
Why do you think journalists should spend a day with us at the Digital Identities seminar powered by Google News Lab in September?
In my experience, it is essential to experiment in order to make the best use of the growing number of social and digital tools. And you need your team onboard! However, before you launch into an experiment, you must define a clear purpose. We need to make informed choices and set clear boundaries. That is why I think the Digital Identities session in Stockholm will be useful. Take some time off from the news floor. Use the day for learning and to develop new ideas that you can take back to your organisation.
Eliza Anyangwe, Henrik Stahl and Sarah Cheverton will be speaking at the European launch of the Digital Identities seminar in Stockholm on 14 September. This free programme is powered by Google News Lab and is open to journalists across Sweden. If you plan to attend, please register soon as places are limited.