We’ve taken an important step to learn how to co-produce stories with our readers without corrupting the editorial process

David Landes, Head of Commercial Content at The Local explains how they used a game-based narrative to tell the stories of refugees in Sweden. David participated in the European pilot of the Digital Identities programme in Stockholm and his team received support to conduct an experiment. He will be speaking at the seminar in Delhi. The global seminar series is powered by Google News Lab.

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David Landes, Head of Commercial Content at The Local

David, tell us a bit about yourself:
I am an American who has been living in Sweden for over a decade. I have a background in journalism and public diplomacy and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how people from one country think about other countries. I joined The Local in 2008 and served as the Editor of our Swedish edition until couple of years ago. Currently, I oversee commercial content and branded partnerships, where The Local Voices was born.

What is The Local Voices?
The Local runs a network of news websites across Europe that together attract close to 6 million visitors a month from around the world. The Local Voices is one of these sites that emerged as a concept back in 2015 when the refugee crisis was at its highest. Sweden was getting up to 10,000 asylum seekers a week. We figured, as a publisher that’s been trying to explain Sweden to non-Swedes for over a decade, we had a role to play — a common English-language channel to tell newcomers’ stories to Swedes and vice versa — and in a language both sides could understand. We were fortunate enough to secure financial support for the project from the Swedish Institute. And over a period of ten months we published over a hundred feature stories related to the life of refugees and asylum seekers in Sweden.

“We wanted to focus on people and not on statistics. We hoped this would provide more entry points for nuanced conversations and enable our readers to question assumptions.”

“…you could call our stories an augmented narrative to the existing narrative you would get reading traditional news coverage.”

“The Syrian immigrant in northern Sweden often worked out what was going on in the south of Sweden through an Arabic language network that was sharing our content on social media.”

What made you decide to come to the European pilot of the Digital Identities workshop powered by Google News Lab in Stockholm?
It was a combination of things. I live in the digital world every day and work for a digital-first newspaper. So I’m a practitioner. I thought the workshop would be an interesting opportunity to step back and hear a different perspective as well as the theory of how to use social media in new ways. I was keen to see if I could find any new approaches to apply both to The Local and The Local Voices.

“The ‘aha! moment’… was to figure out a way to use this technique to ask questions from our readers and increase the probability of getting useful answers without the issue getting hijacked.”

“By the time we came up with the story, there were several hundred people who had a fingerprint on it… ”

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How I fled Isis and celebrated Christmas with a Swedish circus, read the full story on The Local Voices

We got the coolest headline one could ever ask for — How I fled Isis and celebrated Christmas with a Swedish circus. How many times do you get to see these words in a sentence? We were able to frame a story from an entirely new perspective, which helped us reach new audiences. By the time we came up with the story, there were several hundred people who had a fingerprint on it. Now that I look at it, I feel this is as much our readers’ story as it is ‘our’ story. What if every story produced on every channel had the fingerprint of the audience on it? That can have profound implications on the way publishers can work. I think we’ve taken an important step to learn how to co-produce stories with our readers, without corrupting the editorial process.

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Digital Identities powered by Google News Lab is a free programme open to journalists. After a successful pilot in Sweden we’re running seminars in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Oslo and Delhi this year. Click here to learn more.

I am interested in the context & values of our Digital Identities.

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