Helje Solberg, News Director of NRK, joined a session of WAN-IFRA’s recent World Media Leaders eSummit to discuss how publishers can use the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink their journalistic mission.
“It’s now up to us to decide what our mission is in a post corona era. This crisis has sped up the transition to digital and shown how important it is to have independent media. We can’t risk not seeing or hearing our young readers,” Solberg said.
At NRK, a government-owned Public Service Broadcaster and the largest media organisation in Norway, journalism rests on three pillars – breaking news, investigative journalism and solution-oriented journalism.
NRK has managed to increasingly reach a younger audience (under 30) by integrating the three pillars in its daily workflow, acknowledging the overwhelming negativity of news, continuing to ask the tough questions, and holding the powerful to account with a focus on solutions and hope.
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“We want to make you use your head, talk to your heart and give you hope and humour; our journalism is based on these guidelines,” said Solberg.
“Everyday, we reach about 90 percent of the population,” she continued. “The pandemic has also seen an increase in trust with around 86 percent who trust our brand, in the surveys we have carried out.”
Solberg noted that online public discourse has become too toxic and young people often relate politics with scandal. To open up a safe space for a trusted and safe exchange of dialogue and thoughts, the company launched “NRK Replies” and “NRK – Always Together” in March.
NRK Replies has acted as a platform for people to exchange information freely and contact the company directly. The aim of this portal is to ensure precise two-way communication around news, and particularly the coronavirus.
“It is a digital driven service that uses content across all platforms. This also gives our journalism a new dimension. We receive thousands of questions in real time and use this service for all major news stories,” Solberg said.
While news about coronavirus has certainly topped newsroom analytics, publishers must ensure that other content is part of their daily coverage, too. NRK – Always Together was launched with an aim to provide readers infotainment during this distressing period. With a young perspective and focus on audience dialogue, the company got the platform up and running in just three days. “This has been a great way to give our audience the feeling of not being alone during this crisis,” said Solberg.
Youth and inclusivity
It is imperative for news organisations to maintain a fact-oriented, balanced, honest, transparent and reliable reportage tone. Diversity is imperative for driving change and innovation. Solber said that while NRK strikes a good gender balance in the newsroom and management section, the company still has a long way to go to achieve racial diversity.
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A recent study by NRK, before the pandemic hit, showed that there is less optimism about the future among young people.
“It is a safe bet to say that the results of this study are relevant even in today’s pandemic-hit times. An increasing number of youngsters in Norway believe they will be unemployed and only a few believe they will have a happier life. Far too many say they are not satisfied with themselves,” said Solberg.
“What does it take for young people to believe that their participation matters? What triggers hope? We need to listen to them, learn and then act. We have to make sure that they are met with curiosity and inclusiveness,” – Helje Solberg
For example, she noted that in January, five climate protesters gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate, was initially cropped out of an Associated Press photograph. Nakate was the only person of colour in the picture.
“We live in a world where authoritarian leaders consolidate their powers. Press freedom is under pressure and legal systems are manipulated in countries such as the Philippines, Russia, Cambodia and Hungary,” she said.
“The coronavirus has given leaders sweeping power that they may never give up and international giants such as Google, Amazon, Netflix and Facebook are coming up in this crisis even stronger,” Solberg continued.
People globally, especially the youth, are taking to the streets, even with the dangers posed by the pandemic.
“We need to be desperately curious about the young generation. What are their concerns? This is about fear and hope,” she said.
The onus to help communities recover from the impact of COVID, and help them flourish economically and socially, lies on journalists and relevant reportage that facilitates debate.
“The virus forces us to question the kind of future we want, and the media’s role in it,” – Helje Solberg