The Zeitung Online 2010 conference last week (see here) deserves one more mention which has nothing to do with the iPads that were mesmerising the audience. The very last presentation was from Tina Stiegler, the online development director of Norway’s largest newspaper, VG. It was so impressive that it led me start speculating on why newspaper websites in Scandinavia do so much better than the rest of the world.
VG Nett, the paper’s editorially-separate division has been profitable for seven years and reaches 1.6m Norwegians. Tina helpfully recalculated that for her audience: a German news site achieving the same would reach 25-30m people. Her audience knew that there is no such site. Only 3% of VG Nett’s traffic is from Google.
VG asks its journalists to spend 10% of their working time being active on social networks, debating and swopping links with peope interested in the subject they write about. The focus of the journalism is not on sophisticated tools but on engagement. When Norwegians went missing in the Asian tsunami in 2004, the government in Oslo released a list of 8000 Norwegians who might have been in the area. Too much information to be useful. By using information from readers, VG produced a list of 85 people thought to be missing. When the government eventually released its own list of the missing, it had 84 names on it.
During the recent Eurovision Song Contest (held in Oslo), VG Nett concentrated on running background and blog material which ran parallel to the TV broadcast. Tina implied – and she’s right – that we’re going to see much more web coverage designed to be complementary to a live broadcast.
I’m weaving a theory to explain this apparently effortless success in Scandinanvia. However effortless it may seem, no doubt the people who run the sites are highly creative and the companies are well-managed. But companies like Schibsted (which owns VG), the Stampen Group next door in Sweden or Helsingen Sanomat in Finland simply don’t seem to have the trouble recruiting loyal users and making revenue from them that occurs in the rest of the world.
Is this because these are small, homogenous countries in which the social trust level is high? Is it because the newspaper readership per head is already very strong (Norway has one of the highest on the planet)? Someone should research this.