It’s Friday afternoon, March 28, at our publicist’s headquarters. We are a couple of journalists and teachers gathered for an unusual editorial meeting.
Because of the corona pandemic, Denmark is in a state of lockdown, and our readers at Koncentrat (a digital learning-oriented news media start-up for seventh to 10th graders in Danish primary schools) have not been in school for three weeks. Koncentrat is founded to be an early instrument for building trust in journalism through participation. Our articles are combined with assignments made for group interaction in the classrooms, but the shutdown of the schools prevents them from doing exactly that.
We needed to find a solution to create a community that allows interaction from a distance. And by doing so, also give the teachers a helping hand with the huge challenge of remote teaching.
That Friday afternoon we come up with a solution called Sofanews (roughly translated to “News from the Couch”), and the following Monday morning we went live. Sofanews is a one-hour daily educational programme on YouTube Live and all regional public service TV stations in the country. We run the programme in cooperation with our partner and educational publisher Alinea, owned by Egmont, a leading Nordic media group.
Through polls and quizzes during the programme, students engage in news literacy issues anchored in current frontpage stories from national newspapers. These news stories set the scene for basic education in core journalistic values, formats, and press ethic issues. We transformed the normally crowded office space of Alinea into Sofanews’ interim broadcasting studio with a huge flat screen hovering over a grey couch as the centrepiece.
A longer-lasting endeavour
When first started, we thought Sofanews would run for a couple of weeks, but we end up producing 22 episodes covering topics ranging from crime and sport reporting to constructive journalism. If a student watches every programme, they are basically halfway through their journalism education!
Each episode uses two hosts — a journalist from Koncentrat and a teacher — who have an expert guest via video that allows students to ask the guest questions. To participate, the students type in a code on the Web site mentimeter.com (an interactive presentation tool) that allows the hosts and viewers to see their answers and interactions in real time.
Admitted, we have to moderate a little, so pranks and offensive language from the anonymous students that can’t help themselves doesn’t reach the viewers. But the questions and poll answers are mostly serious and good. And combined with the quizzes and polls during the show, we create an engaging platform with the community feeling of a classroom for students at a time when all students are physically separated.
Koncentrat is a young media start-up with lots of energy and new ideas, but we do not always have the organisational muscles to lift our potential. We succeeded in turning our newsroom (that normally published two articles weekly) into a daily TV show because we partnered with an established publicist like Alinea. Alinea is the leading educational publisher in Denmark with a strong focus on digital innovation and development.
When Danish schools were locked down due to COVID-19, Alinea was the first to create remote education through YouTube. A few days in the lockdown they launched “Sofaskolen” (“the Couch School”), offering daily educational shows via YouTube to all Danish students. More than 275,000 have followed Sofaskolen, which Sofanews is a part of.
Late in May, the oldest students returned to the Danish primary schools, and Sofanews stopped airing a couple of weeks before that. But the programmes are still getting views on demand, and the editorial lessons from our pop-up interactive TV programme will stay with us. We are thus already planning a Sofanews 2.0 in post-lockdown version.