Schibsted’s Oslo city guide is a model cross-team collaboration

By Peter Bale


New Zealand and the U.K.


Welcome to the latest INMA Newsroom Initiative newsletter.

This week I want to share what I think is a best practice lesson from Norwegian publisher Schibsted — or more particularly its Oslo team behind the going-out and city site Vink. 

It is a great example of how product and editorial teams can and must work together with a joint sense of mission to serve known user needs and iterate. Many talk about it, but Vink is doing it.

I also look at a landmark defamation case in Australia, which a publisher and journalists won but at immense cost after five years of litigation. It highlights the risks of legal dangers that newsrooms need to be prepared for and the costs that publishing businesses can face when they defend the hard-hitting work of investigative reporters.

Oslo city guide may be a model for journalists working with product and engineering

A new city guide from Norwegian publisher Schibsted embodies a best practice strategy of editorial and product teams working together to address user needs and constantly test and adjust content and functionality based on data and feedback.

Reader needs guided Vink's development.
Reader needs guided Vink's development.

Schibsted has long been the gold standard of digital innovation. I recall watching the speed and focus of products from the tabloid VG and more sober Aftenposten in awe while leading the digital media operations of The Times and The Sunday Times in London in the mid-2000s. Schibsted embraced digital thinking in all aspects, from more modern newsroom practices to sophisticated advertising techniques and investment in technology.

Vink, a city guide for the Norwegian capital Oslo, shows that spirit of innovation and iteration. It is as much a story about embedding product thinking in the newsroom — for me the idea that every piece of content you put in front of a reader has to be considered in all its elements, not just the story — as well as skilled product development that understands the audience.

Vink — the name comes from the Norwegian for a knowing wink — is aligned to the flagship news product, Aftenposten, but has its own identity and content stream and what may turn out to be a model methodology underlying both editorial and product strategy. That’s where it may have important lessons for other publishers and newsrooms.

“Everything that is made for Vink is made especially for Vink,” said Aftenposten Culture Editor Cecilie Asker, who leads Vink, and whom I met in Oslo on a recent visit. Vink reviews make it back to Aftenposten, but there is little or no content or branding from the newspaper on Vink.

“Making stuff for a paper and putting it into a digital service doesn’t work, but making stuff for a digital service and then putting it into the paper, that actually works,” she added. However, the quality, she insists, is the same: “We’re working on the tone of voice (but) it still has the same journalistic quality quality as our war coverage … the same ethical standards.”

The Vink product and editorial method is simple but disciplined:

The five rules of Vink content.
The five rules of Vink content.

Those five rules could be applied to almost any journalistic product, whether a launch or an existing application or site. To me, they overcome the all-too-frequent problem of editorial and product departments wrestling over who “owns” the product and the vulgar “owning” the audience. The answer is they are both responsible for a great journalistic experience.

Vink set out — after significant research — to deliver against two primary user needs for the people of Oslo, especially younger people than Aftenposten normally reached, most in that coveted range of hard-to-reach people in the 25-to-35 range:

Vink was created to meet two primary user needs.
Vink was created to meet two primary user needs.

Schibsted says Vink has performed above targets and that 96% of users view it positively.

Mobile is the obvious place to try to meet those needs, but the Vink team also publishes Vink content on social media, carefully tuned to those needs and the different platforms.

Asker says the Vink model flips the usual way journalists discuss what they think audiences might want and then produce it. Vink does it the other way around.

“The product team started out doing interviews, digging into the user needs,” she said. That’s where those two targeted needs came from, and Asker believes the idea that users wanted a trustworthy source and felt they lacked it was actually good news for established publishers and a potential competitive advantage against social media and start-ups.

The Vink creators also looked carefully at how to differentiate against a range of competitors to meet those needs, from Google with maps and bookings to TripAdvisor with user reviews. They determined the key differentiator was going to be reliable, independent, reviews.

At this point, the Vink team is also sticking with the product as the site maximised for mobile rather than creating a standalone app, partly because they consider promoting the content rather than a download is the way to increase early engagement.

To keep Vink developing, representatives from the product and technology teams sit with the editorial team, hearing in real time what the challenges and problems might be or what the newsroom believes it is trying to achieve or what it might need to achieve objectives.

“It’s very different for the journalist because the newsroom is not used to mistakes. In this project, mistakes should happen. We’re learning from our mistakes … because if you only succeed, you don’t know what’s wrong,” Asker said. 

That concept of iteration and taking risks with minimum viable products seems to be paying off and may be a model for other projects that combine newsrooms, product, and engineering.

Journalism is the big winner in Australian defamation case, for now

The Sydney Morning Herald and its sister title The Age, under the Nine Entertainment umbrella, won an epic defamation case taken by a celebrated Australian war hero, but it was a case which highlights the risks of legal dangers to journalism and the cost of defending tough reporting.

In a stunning judgment which also cleared The Canberra Times, a federal court judge found the news organisations had proven that a decorated soldier who had become a national celebrity had committed war crimes during service in Afghanistan.

The case, brought by Ben Roberts-Smith, with the backing of some of the country’s wealthiest people (including investors in rival media organisations), was the latest big test of some of the most plaintiff-friendly libel and defamation laws in the world. It also is a test of how costly it can be for media organisations to defend the work of their newsrooms — no matter how accurate or truthful.

I am not going to go into the details of the case, which you can read here on The Guardian Australia site outside a paywall, but suffice it to say the judgment is a vindication of the work of the SMH, Age, and Canberra Times journalists and of the determination of their employers to defend their work against the enormous cost of standing up to litigation. The SMH coverage, much of which is available outside a paywall, is here.

It is also a warning of the cost of defending libel and defamation and the need for all newsrooms to train reporters in legal dangers — especially in jurisdictions favourable to plaintiffs such as the United Kingdom and most Commonwealth countries, as well as countries were governments are less than supportive of press freedom and use the judiciary as a lever of power.

The Roberts-Smith case took five years to get to the verdict — which may yet be subject to appeal — and Nine Entertainment is reported to have spent tens of millions of dollars to defend the allegations made by the investigative team that uncovered war crimes and a cult of secrecy and impunity among Australian special forces in Afghanistan. The cost of the case across defence and the government, plus Nine has been estimated at A$35 million (USD$23 million).

“Sadly, irrespective of the outcome, this won’t be encouraging to brave, responsible, risk-taking journalism,” one of the journalists involved, Chris Masters, was reported as telling The Guardian’s Hugh Riminton. “If this is what it takes, it’s too much.”

Even if Nine manages to gain a settlement of most of its costs, it is unlikely to get it all back, let alone the time and management investment required to fight such a case.The company has hailed the victory as justifying its reporting and its investment to defend the case. It is unclear yet whether the soldier who took the case will try to appeal the ruling.

Talk back

Tell me what you want to read and what you like or don't like in this newsletter, please. E-mail: There’s also an INMA Newsroom Initiative Slack channel

About this newsletter

Today’s newsletter is written by Peter Bale, based in New Zealand and the U.K. and lead for the INMA Newsletter Initiative. Peter will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global newsrooms.

This newsletter is a public face of the Newsroom Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Peter at or with thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

About Peter Bale

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