Berlingske shares its radical transformation into a digital news brand

By Catherine Miller

Antwerp, Belgium


What’s the most shocking thing you can do to update a newsroom? Outsource the printed newspaper! That’s exactly what happened at the Danish newspaper Berlingske as part of its recent transformation to a digital news brand.

During INMA’s Media Innovation Week in Antwerp this week, Editor-in-Chief Mette Østergaard outlined the dramatic changes Berlingske has made.

Berlingske was a 275-year-old daily conservative newspaper that had a mandate to change. With its legacy came a huge responsibility to preserve quality and stay loyal to the brand. “When you’re a manager of a news brand that’s been there 275 years, it’s not about you. It’s about making a brand that will be there in another 275 years,” Østergaard explained.


Berlingske began in 1749 and is one of the world's oldest newspapers, so transforming to a digital brand was a significant change.
Berlingske began in 1749 and is one of the world's oldest newspapers, so transforming to a digital brand was a significant change.

Initiatives for change

It’s one thing to have a digital strategy, but it’s another thing to implement it to create real change in the newsroom: “You have to identify the cultural symbols in your organisation,” Østergaard said. 

Identifying and changing the symbols of the legacy culture led Berlingske to outsource their printed newspaper, and it has worked: Subscriptions increased from 65,000 to 100,000 from 2018 to 2023. Pageviews are also up 300%, overtaking Berlingske’s competitors.  

Subscriptions and pageviews both increased as Berlingske moved to digital.
Subscriptions and pageviews both increased as Berlingske moved to digital.

At the heart of this change, Berlingske has focused on three core elements: readers, mobile, and data. These have underpinned decision-making in the change process, and Østergaard said they fueled five transformative initiatives:

1. Cultural change is key

Outsourcing the printed newspaper was fundamental in changing the culture at Berlingske. It was a critical decision to relocate everyone working on the printed newspaper to a different location and outsource this part of the newspaper to a different company. “It can be terrifying. There is still a big business in the paper,” Østergaard said.

But even a 275-year-old newspaper can become digital. Berlingske built a new heart, putting the people who worked on the Web page and video content at the centre of its work. Only two people remain on location who have responsibility for prioritising what goes into the newspaper, and they aren’t allowed to talk to the journalists.

This decision is about framing the way journalists write, Østergaard explained. Berlingske wants journalists to write for digital — not with the idea that they are writing an article for page five.

Berlingske has done away with the page one meeting and instead meets in the afternoon to discuss content for prime time the following day. “We have a huge prime time at night and in the morning. So we choose for the next morning.”

The company also said goodbye to all print-only content and will only do a great story if it works digitally. This resulted in staff changes in the graphics department, as it no longer uses flat graphics but focuses on motion graphics and video for its Web site.

2. A data-driven publishing strategy

The daily deadline is no longer applicable for a digital news brand. Instead, Berlingske’s publishing strategy is driven by four prime times: early morning, noon, late afternoon, and late night. Østergaard explained the focus is on shorter news in the morning, with more items behind the paywall for the nighttime peak.

Another key change in becoming digital was shifting the focus from the weekend newspaper to emphasising Monday morning. Berlingske now publishes the main story at the beginning of the week. Publishing content this way means that stories for Monday (and sometimes Tuesday) are planned the Friday before, with the planning cycle running from Wednesday to Wednesday.

3. Digitalise or die

What works in print does not work digitally. Østergaard and colleagues wanted to keep many aspects of the legacy brand but knew it had to be formatted differently and the stories needed to be told differently. As part of the transformation, Berlingske rewrote the use criteria to fit the digital needs of the reader.

“Relevance became the most important criteria for us,” Østergaard explained. “We learned that if we really get people to read a story on our Web page, it should be about someone, not something.”

In addition to appealing to readers’ minds, hearts, and feelings, Berlingske focuses on bringing context to readers, not just delivering breaking news: “Breaking news without the translation wasn’t worth much to our readers. They wanted the translation right away.”

Other changes include lowering the company’s target age group from 35 to 30 years and including more constructive journalism. “Writing in a different way is one of the key issues to getting young people to interact with your content.”

4. The U-turn model

Berlingske uses the U-turn model, with short news items on one side of the “U” and longer stories with more perspective on the other. Østergaard said that journalists need to be aware of what they are writing before they start.

This model has helped frame content as part of the digital transformation. Likening it to a store on the street, Østergaard explained you have to get many people in the door because only a few people buy something. “We need the short stories to pull the traffic and the long stories to pull the sales.”

Writing stories “down in the heavy bottom of the U” doesn’t work well for digital needs. “You need to choose which way your story is going.”

5. The perfect article

Berlingske uses data to produce the “perfect article” to engage readers behind the paywall. The traditional newspaper layout that caught readers’ attention does not work for digital. Highlighted quotes and fact boxes designed to break up a story in print become an excuse to skip the story or stop reading in the digital version.

Instead, Berlingske leaves out quotes and puts fact boxes at the end of its stories: “We don’t want anything to distract how we read our stories.”

Østergaard recommended looking at data and identifying patterns to produce the perfect article as a guide to digital transformation.

Berlingske created a formula for what it considers the perfect article.
Berlingske created a formula for what it considers the perfect article.

Celebrating success

Berlingske’s digital transformation has been a huge undertaking, and Østergaard acknowledged that transformation is daunting. “It’s a legacy you’re representing and it can crash.

“Identifying the wins along the way is part of the success of the change. You always celebrate when something goes in the right direction.”

As change brings success, it encourages everyone. “When it started working, people were more positive. People could see it was necessary to keep the workplace alive.”

About Catherine Miller

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