NTM uses friendly SWAT team to tackle local newsroom challenges

By Jens Pettersson


Stockholm, Sweden


Transforming newsrooms is not easy.

At Swedish local media company NTM, we had a fresh start of making our 17 newsrooms more reader-revenue focused in 2020. Under the campaign name of “let’s get ready to double,” we took on a simple data-based strategy to double digital subscriptions in three years.

When doing a deeper analysis of 85,000 articles, we saw we needed to change some things. In short, we decided on a simple editorial strategy inspired by the amazing Amedia in Norway:

  • Produce fewer but better stories. We published too many articles that our subscribers didn’t care about.
  • Focus on seven prioritised topics. We could see these topics were the most engaging: breaking news, crime and legal punishment, city happenings, residence, job life, health and medical care, and family life.
  • Focus on the 30- to 50-year-old audience. We became obsessed with winning this “younger” audience. Our customers were way too old … even the digital ones.

After three years and three months, we reached the goal of doubling our digital subscribers — from 55,000 to 110,000. This happened without lower pricing or giving anything away for free.

One of the insights from these years work is how important it is to always stay focused on creating change in daily work between editors and reporters. It doesn’t matter how many powerful strategies and fancy presentations you produce; if you don’t manage to change routines and decisions at the newsroom desks, you will not achieve anything.

NTM's “sharpen daily work” initiative involves frequent meetings with editors and a SWAT team providing feedback to the newsroom.
NTM's “sharpen daily work” initiative involves frequent meetings with editors and a SWAT team providing feedback to the newsroom.

Aligned with this, we decided in early 2023 to create something we call “sharpen daily work.” This initiative is based on the wish to get really close with local management and be of help for them. It is essentially a friendly SWAT team of NTM senior management and editorial developers that reach a hand out to our editors-in-chief and their staffs to help tackle the specific challenges for each unique title in our company.

“Digital user behaviour has risen the demands on our journalism. Every article, video, or pod counts. This initiative helps us identify what can be improved, and helps the editors take the next step,” said Maria Kustvik, publicist manager at NTM.

How does it work?

We hold a start-up meeting where the editor-in-chief presents the problems he or she identifies and defines what help is wanted. Then our central team from NTM performs a close audit of everything published over a week. We cover all parts of the output, from headlines and front-page presentation, to video and podcasts, to all social media posts.

The SWAT team provides lots of feedback, such as comparisons of productivity to other newsrooms in the company and a line-by-line reading of their articles — specific notes like “you never pose the really tough questions” or “you tend to skip way too early from stories; dig deeper and publish more if the readers have an interest.”

The SWAT team was well-received by newsroom staff.
The SWAT team was well-received by newsroom staff.

During a joint workshop, we go through our findings and discuss them in the context of what local management sees as most challenging. At the end of the session, we summarise together what initiatives need follow up. This could be anything from workshops with reporters on writing more enticing headlines to shooting better video to creating better TikTok posts.

Initiative takeaway

“We feared it might be perceived that we forced upon the local titles an NTM conclusion, but it has not felt that way,” Kustvik said. “On the contrary, the editors have found it luxurious to be able to dive deep into their own title’s journalism together with us. They have expressed gratitude that someone the outside cares about every single published piece.”

They express the feeling that we want them to do well — not only point out mistakes but discuss how they can do better and what they need from us to take the next step. The titles have been very open to inviting us into the follow-up work, such as holding workshops with their editors, Kustivk said.

These kinds of inclusive initiatives tend to take a lot of time and effort, but it has been truly appreciated by the newsrooms we have visited. We have visited almost half of the newsrooms now, and we can already see how the first ones we started with earlier this year have made a substantial upward shift in subscriber engagement numbers.

Overall, this has been well-invested time for us, and we’re already making plans for continued closer collaboration.

Local newsroom perspective

This all sounds good, but what has the experience been for local newsrooms?

Kristina Levin, editor-in-chief at Södermanlands Nyheter, said: “Our newsroom has benefited widely from ‘sharpen daily work’ through the recommendations given to us from our NTM colleagues, acting as our readers, and communicating their straight-forward opinions and constructive ideas. I found it both eye-opening and inspiring. What they saw was unequivocally hard to ignore.

“Shortly after we started implementing Vässa vardagen, me and my team noticed two distinctive changes,” Levin said. “The subscriber pageviews increased significantly and our readers displayed different signs of appreciating our journalism more.

“We also noticed a happier and more energetic atmosphere in the office. To me, this proves that our co-workers gladly will take on a broader responsibility for improving our journalism if given the opportunity, and presented to them in a constructive and reassuring manner.

“‘Sharpen daily work’ has been such an opportunity and, with it, we are on the move to improve our journalism for the good of our readers and our community.”

About Jens Pettersson

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