Transcript excerpts with Espen Hansen, VG, Norway

Posted on April 24, 2006 
Filed Under Blogs, Journalism, Multimedia, Social Media

Here is the transcript of the talk by Espen Hansen, Managing Editor, VG, the biggest newspaper and website in Norway, on rise of integrating online journalism, user-generated content, online ad campaigns and mobile video.


4.00: Today information travels very fast, it’s global. Eg: The controversial Prophet Muhammad cartoons. There was an outcry for boycott of Danish products not by newspapers or TV stations but by SMS and within days, it was very effective.

We don’t even know who the editors are anymore. In a sense we are all editors. Within minutes a (rioter with a handphone) will have his own audience.

5.33: Today information is much more complicated. It is not one-way. And this is important – the readers communicate with each other.

6.20: Cites Rupert Murdoch’s buy of MySpace for US$600m: Power is moving away from editors, the chief executives and the proprietors. Power is moving away from us. A new generation of demanding consumers who want content delivered when they want it. They want to decide.

7.30: Growth on Internet is from sites that have user-participation: Blogger growth : 520 percent and MySpace 318 percent. Something is happening.

In VG we don’t think about it as “Internet vs paper.” This is not the big difference. We think it is going from “telling the readers” to “creating arenas where people can come with their content, communities”.

We think from “deciding what they should read” to “making content available when it is convenient for them.” From “delivering our content”, to “creating content with the readers.” Everyone seems to understand this except us (newspapers). Search engines, aggregators and communities are the biggest websites. Where are the newspapers? No English newspapers are on the Top 10 worldwide. In Norway, No 1 and No 2 are newspapers.
VG is the largest Norwegian newspaper, the largest website and largest mobile site.

10.40: Going from analog thinking – printing once a day, to digital thinking – printing all the time for many platforms.

11.05: More than 1 million readers everyday on the Internet, together with newspaper we reach half the population of Norway. Rev: 121m Norwegian Kroners (Only Internet, profit about 25m ringgit). The newspaper makes a lot more money. It’s real money now.

12.24: We deliver news when it happens – not once a day. We get our Internet users to go to read our newspapers and vice versa.

13.50: In newspapers we talk about deadline.I have banned the use of the word “deadlines”. We talk about BIRTH of the story Deadlines are when you work until a certain time, and you can’t get the story better. When we have story confirmed we print a few lines and then we ask “What can we do more”. The most important words we use:” We will be back shortly.” It builds expectations.

16:00: We are reporting near real-time of a major court-case currently in Norway. When the verdict is about to be announced, we had ( series of mugshots with flippable graphics on the final sentences for each accused).

18:26. All this happens before the TV News. Our goal is not to let our readers wait for TV news anymore.

19:10: Big ship capsized on Norwegian west coast. We figured there are houses nearby. And we called these houses. Within minutes, people were helping us about the incident, reporting what was happening and sending us digital pictures that they had taken.

We decided to systemize this and have a four-digit number 2200. Now we can receive SMS, digital photos, video.

21:40: Stabbing on the tram via SMS. The news battle is about being the first to know. We could be the first to break the story online. We publish as fast as we have the story confirmed. Because we could be early, we could have exclusive pics. People were on the way home during rush hour, people wanted updates on their phones, because there was a manhunt and he was on the run. People were frightened. Our reader with a mobile camera transmitted the capture, and it was the first pics of his arrest on our website

24:38: Tsunami. 10,000 Norwegians involved. We discovered from this that our greatest assets was not the money to fly to Bangkok, our hire a helicopter or satellite links, but ou greatest assets is we know our readers and they have mobile phones in their pockets. Our readers, SMS us first. Our reader sent us the first pics. He was sitting on a rooftop documenting and transmitting to 2200.

27:55: Because we were early, they in Thailand was asking us where is the nearest hospital, the embassy. So we made a page to update our readers in Thailand. As our own reporters are still sitting on the plane 15-20 hours away, we got our readers to send us articles, photos, videos, being there and telling us what was happening. We also set up a service of a survivor list. The only thing we checked was whether this was confirmed by close relatives. After four days, the police took over from Foreign Dept. They had 10,000 names and we had 8,500. There were mistakes, but within minutes we had confirmation.

The Foreign Dept had 6 percent right. The police had 30 percent right. We had 79 percent right. And 90 percent right by the time police figures were out. This gives you idea of the force of this approach.

33:25: We got thousands of questions for the government. These were very relevant questions and it made our journalism better. When we posted these questions, we had Ministers really trying to answer questions at length. We asked our Foreign Minister to have a live chat with our readers. For one hour he answered questions. It was a great success.

36:00: Debbie, a victim of tsunami was there trying to reunite lost children. Via satellite phone, we had our readers talk to a young, intelligent, Muslim Norwegian in the middle of the crisis. For our readers much stronger story, much easier to relate than if I told the story. We had a heart-breaking tsunami picture of man being reunited with his child, and Debbie was in the background, someone they could relate to.

38:05: We have developed a lot of tools for user-generated content. We have a whole section called Readers VG. Integrated communication. (Newsblogs stats: In six months, 9,000 readers, 40,000 articles, 350,000 comments, 35,000 photos). I have an editor for this, but all the content is from our own readers. It’s a great success. 10,000-13,000 postings in our discussion forums everyday. This is in a country with 4 million people. We print it in our newspaper everyday, making newspapers more lively. The readers’ letters page was last week news, handwritten by old ladies. But today, we have SMS, and postings right up to the deadline. We let not only our own team of critics, but our own readers to critique movies, food, wine, etc.

40:58: We do live chats everyday – politicians, pop stars, experts in different fields. Very popular. The blogs are the most important thing right now. We have developed a new system for blogs. We tried blog (ware) on the market but we needed to develop a blog (ware) that was suited more for a newspaper. Almost 10,000 blogs, with an incredible amount of content.

Example: A first-time father’s blog of birth of child in the car, before they reached hospital. The happy father documented it via his phone on straight onto his blog telling the world. No deadline. You don’t want to wait with news like that, you just want to get it out. We have a blogger near the North Pole blogging about polar bears. Even the prime minister is blogging with us.

43.18:How did we get the prime minister to blog with us? I wanted the top politicians to blog with us. I went to the leader of the main right wing opposition party, the one who always complains “I never get on TV”. I gave him his own blog, and he accepted. And from then getting one by one of the leaders of the nine parties and eventually I got the Prime Minister. Young readers can write straight to him.

44:40: We pick out one blog every week and print it in the newspaper. On Page 3 our editors have their own blog and it is also published online. We bring readers to the blogs and the other way around.

46:00: We bring news to the blogs. We integrate news on the blogs. That’s why we had to do it ourselves. We needed some kind of control, we needed to be able to kick people out. If they don’t behave, they don’t follow our rules, if there is racism we can kick them out.

46:53: Eg: Story on SIS pilots were on strike. We integrated our users’ comments, blog posts and discussion forum posts on our front page of our website.

49:44: Katie Melua, No 1 on popchart. We did live concerts with artists. We ask readers for questions and we ask the artists. (Katie answers questions) Good questions, good answers. The readers feel we are connected to them.

51:28: ADVERTISING: Started with standard banners. Sold by impressions. Problem was we already big traffic. But advertisers asked “where’s my ad?” because his paid impressions was done by lunch. No one really liked this. Then we did bigger boards and we sold it for 24-hours or for one-week. That was a success. Advertisers liked this, because they are used to it. Much easier to re-use material than a newspaper.

53:00: In 2001, we had to educate our advertisers because there was general feeling that “online doesn’t work”. We gave them dominance on one page, where they are the only ones there. They liked this.

54:30: Developed ad campaigns. (Shows very successful campaign for a movie 37 and half, with individuals that when clicked they would talk one-by-one) We told advertisers to tell their story on the front pae, so users will not go to their sites, but read their story there.

56:27: If you click on the mag ad, you can subscribe there, you don’t have to go to another page.

58:00: 17,000 Euros for a top banner ad on front page for 24-hours. Sold out everyday. Sold out for six months. It’s easy to sell the front page, but we have to sell the other sections. Make those sections more visible, more attractive.

1:01:00: Exposure of ads is the most effective for the first four times. It is no point paying for the 5th and 6th and 7th. More effective to show just a few times.

Going back to impressions. Can guarantee impressions, and sell the same space after 5pm-6pm.

1:02:50: Integrate all the newsclips into our site for VG TV. NRK, the national station, did a study we have only three dedicated people for our TV and they have 400-500 people, they see us as a threat.

1:04:40: A schedule. You have to view it then or record it. TV is passive. They decide what when and what I should watch. On VG TV we do active. It’s outside timeline. We just make things available. We decided when to watch. VG TV is not going to be within timeline. Our vision is deliver when news happens. And we make it available for our readers right away. We are trying to set a new standard to present and produce this news.

The Potential: Time spent on Internet versus TV. Internet is 35 percent, but advertisers only use 11 percent of their money on Internet. We analyse how many watch video on web, still only 14 percent. They sell 60,000 downloaded episodes of Lost a week. Why shouldn’t The Star do that? You have readers right?

1:08:30: DumDum Boys, rock and roll band in Norway was away for 8 years and did not ask big stations but came to us. Because they want to reach the young readers. We transmitted a live concert.

1:10:05: This is our new tool. Mobilephones as a video camera. Olympics, weather reports. As a journalistic tool, it’s good enough.

1:11:00: Sometimes no strategy to what we do. Eg: The Edward Munk painting of Scream was stolen. Use your mobilephone and take your own scream, and we had a programme to transmit back a painting of your own scream.


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