COVID pandemic changed the way Dagens Nyheter teams work together

By Paula Felps

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, United States

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The pandemic forever changed many things in our world, including the way newsrooms work together. During INMA’s World Congress for News Media on Tuesday, sponsored by Stibo DX, Anna Åberg, managing editor at Bonnier, explained how the pandemic helped create lasting, positive changes within the Dagens Nygeter newsroom.

The month-long World Congress wraps up with its last session on Thursday. Registation is available here for all or individual sessions.  

“Changing culture takes a lot of time and effort,” Åberg said. “The work we’ve done with culture started before the pandemic. But because of the remote working we’ve all been forced into, our culture in our newsroom was frozen. So, we had a unique opportunity to change things within the organisation when it came to culture and actually speed things up.”

Like most publications around the world, when the pandemic began raging in March 2020, Dagens Nygeter sent most of its employees home to work remotely. And, like other publications, Åberg said they were hoping it would be for a short time. Teams already were using many of the tools that they would come to rely on over the next several months, such as Slack and Google Meet, and initially, the work-from-home structure was thriving.

“We had a very clear structure on how we communicate in Slack,” she said, noting they have an open channel policy so other departments can see what is happening company-wide. Teams were working well together, and it appeared they were growing closer and stronger in this new work environment.

However, as the days turned into months, the frustrations of remote working and lockdowns took a toll on the team. As dissatisfaction over how the government was handling the situation grew, so did tension amongst the Swedish population. Before long, Åberg said, that same tension began to show up in the newsroom.

“We could see tension between different teams in the newsroom, and we could actually see the culture changing within some of the teams. As time went by, we noticed people were losing the sense of belonging to something bigger than their small team. They felt that they didn’t know what was going on or what other people were doing.”

As frustrations grew, the conversational tone on Slack took a harder edge, and small misunderstandings developed into bigger conflicts. Åberg said it was apparent the company needed to take immediate action to preserve the culture it had worked so hard to build.

The exhaustion of dealing with the pandemic, isolation, and working from home left employees feeling less creative, disengaged, unhappy, and alone. Even the managers were being affected as they grew exhausted from trying to communicate with their teams.

Part of the culture change started with two weekly meetings open to all newsroom employees.
Part of the culture change started with two weekly meetings open to all newsroom employees.

“Because of all of this frustration, the meetings in the newsroom didn’t feel as safe,” she said. “People didn’t feel safe to share different opinions or perspectives and, as you know, this is really bad for journalism.”

Dagens Nygeter took immediate action to give people a sense of belonging:

  • It set up two meetings a week: one focusing on the editorial department, the other having a business focus. Everyone is encouraged to ask questions and, if they’re reluctant to do so in front of the group, they can send questions anonymously. “This has been really important for us,” she said. “We would address criticism or questions respectfully and listen to other perspectives.”
  • It created workshops for every team surrounding the topic of culture and encouraged employees to share what they liked, what they disliked, and what they would like to see changed. The theme that emerged was the need for a respectful, friendly, empathetic environment that promoted diversity.
  • It created small teams with reporters from different parts of the newsroom so they could collaborate on stories. This generated new ideas and built a stronger sense of unity within the newsroom. “Today, people really want to work together, and that’s such a strength for us,” she said.
  • It focused on supporting newsroom managers, most of whom are editors and were completely exhausted. By adding more editors and placing a focus on wellbeing, work/life balance, and building trust, Dagens Nygeter showed managers they were valued. “We really believe that if our managers are well-balanced and happy, then the rest of the newsroom will be as well.”

The company also began showing its appreciation in other ways, such as providing employees with chairs, desks, and computer equipment to make working from home more comfortable. Employees also would receive thoughtful gifts, such as flowers, bread, or chocolates delivered to their doors, and they could join in a weekly online yoga class.

These thoughtful initiatives were so popular and appreciated that Dagens Nygeter has continued some of these practices even after employees returned to work.

Management sent newsroom employees thank you gifts to keep morale up.
Management sent newsroom employees thank you gifts to keep morale up.

The efforts paid off, Åberg said, with newsroom employees developing stronger bonds and greater trust in one another. And because upper management was so accessible to employees, it helped reinvent the company’s structure.

“Because of these digital meetings we had twice a week — where top management was so visible and anyone could ask anything — I now say that during the pandemic we not only flattened the curve, but also flattened our organisational structure, which for us has been really good.”

This new mindset was put to the test in February when Russia invaded Ukraine, and Sweden — a country that has been neutral for 200 years — began talking about joining NATO. The newsroom sprang into action and needed to redistribute resources, and Åberg said she was heartened by the team approach across the newsroom.

Newsroom staff came together impressively when breaking news happened involving Ukraine.
Newsroom staff came together impressively when breaking news happened involving Ukraine.

“We needed people to … work early mornings, late nights, Saturdays, Sundays,” she said. “And we hardly had to ask people. They were volunteering, doing whatever needed to be done. Communication was working really smoothly.”

The work the newsroom is doing is some of the best journalism the company has ever produced, she said. And the credit goes, in part, to being able to tap into the immense amount of combined knowledge within the newsroom.

“If we can get people to work together and help each other, working as a team, we can use all of that knowledge combined. And I believe there’s nothing more powerful than that.”  

Follow coverage of the World Congress here and via #INMA2022.

About Paula Felps

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