kom norway
Credit: Image by Kommunal Rapport

A Norwegian news organisation has transformed its output in the last six years using data, now focusing on digital-first products that offer its audience original reports and analysis.

Kommunal Rapport, a niche digital news site and weekly newspaper in Norway, is aimed at senior local politicians and local government officials.

"In 2010, we had one paper-based product which we hoped people would subscribe to once a year," said Ole Petter Pedersen, news editor, Kommunal Rapport, speaking at the Digital Innovators Summit in Berlin yesterday (21 March).

"In 2017, we have eight digital products, seven of which are digital-only, and they are a fantastic source of income for us and a great opportunity for good, important journalism."

Indeed, the small news outlet saw a 40 per cent increase in its turnover from 2010 to 2016, bringing in just under 30 million NOK (£2.83m) last year.

"We've put all our resources into creating more journalism," he said, explaining the newsroom team of 13 people is now bigger than it has ever been in the paper's history of 30 years.

Each online project started since 2010 has been given at most 24 months to test, and all have been successful so far using big data to reveal stories. All projects predominantly look at how money is spent and misspent within Norway's municipalities.

"If you can't do it within 24 months, will you ever really be able to do it?" he said. "You need a few months to get started, a few months to introduce things to the reader, and a few months to start monetising."

One product, Kommunebarometeret, has been combining the publisher's use of data with automation to provide readers with comprehensive editorial analysis of key figures in the municipalities in Norway, that ultimately show which are operating best.

"The 426 municipalities are our core readers, so we measure their services offered to the public by approximately 140 different indicators, then rank them top to bottom," he said.

"Then by using automation, we create a 7,000-word analysis of each of them – that's about 3 million words in total within an hour, more than the average journalist does in their lifetime, and it sells.

"Even those ranking at the bottom want to buy this product because we analyse their performance better than any consultants, and we do it from an editorial standpoint."

The news outlet employed a developer to code and analyse data, who works with the journalists in the newsroom to help find anomalies in the big data.

As a result, Kommunal Rapport has also been able to build a "supplier database", where the team maps all private and public donations to all of the municipalities in Norway using publicly-available data.

"The data was in the public domain, but no one collected it, so now we have a database that is the basis for intimate, investigative journalism," he said.

"Big data enables you to find original stories, for example to be able to analyse where the money goes. We have three data sets: suppliers, shareholders and politicians.

"And when you combine the data, it makes it easier to identify interesting cases where politicians have a share in companies that sell to municipalities."

Subscribers are able to buy access to the digital products and the weekly newspaper for just under 3000 NOK (£284) per year, or just to its digital offering for 2495 NOK (£237).

"One thing that we have learned over the past few years is to stop worrying about the newspaper and focus on all the fantastic technology that digital opportunities offer," he said.

"It is about freeing yourself from the idea that you have to keep the same revenue stream from the same people.

"We have created new revenue streams from new people, charging different amounts for different products."

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