Sweden is the world No. 1 of digitalization, meaning the Swedes are not only super adept at using devices, they’re also super high-maintenance. For the newspaper industry, this super-sonic transformation has forced locals, regionals and nationals alike to pull out all the stops to please these fussy new readers, but without having to sacrifice their holy cash cow: print. This is the story about how they’ve succeeded so far.

Sweden’s digitalization saga is believed to have started somewhere around 2006, or 2007, no one seems to be totally sure. But in 2013, something happened; Swedish news consumers had reached such digital maturity that the traditional newspapers just couldn’t keep up. Neither technologically nor editorially.

“It was as though a bomb blew up in our faces. All of a sudden, digitalization wasn’t even an option anymore, it was the only way to survive,” Johannes Björck, a former journalist and editor who is now in charge of User Experience Statistics at Hall Media which has 18 newspapers under its roof, explains. “Before that, the digital evolution had been something fun and experimental, something that most newspapers were playing around with in their backyards.”

The usual suspects - Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter – had already taught the ultra-connected Swedes that news could be found literally everywhere, for free, and that they could easily access videos, slideshows and even live-streaming-feeds via a simple “search-and-surf”. But there were other, more perilous, threats that came crawling out of the woodwork too: New, serious mobile news apps, such as Omni and Flipboard.

Although the profits from print newspapers had edged downwards for years, this shock-change in reader behavior meant that the end for print – which remains papers’ main source of revenue today - was possibly much nearer than anyone had imagined.

“Readers had gotten used to getting everything for free. We had to come up with ways to boost content to convince them it was worth investing in paywalls, and keep their paper subscriptions. The production process also needed to be streamlined,” Andy Cederlund at Infomaker says.

Swedish newspapers went back to the drawing board. Content, tasks, layout, process-chains and even job descriptions – pretty much everything had to be upended and reinvented. Infomaker, which for decades had provided the vast majority of Swedish newspapers with editorial production tools, supported them by doing the same on the technological front, assuring a high-quality Digital First approach where journalists and editors could focus 100% on content. There would no longer be a separation between print and web.

This was how tools like Digital Writer saw the light of the day – allowing reporters to “go” for the story (mobility, speed), write them with their very own intuitive voices (platform flexibility, straightforward interface), give added value (embedded content, image workflow), and get immediate visibility (omni-channel publication). For editors, Dashboard has made planning of staff and content a piece of cake.

“Before, we would make newspapers, and TV would make TV, radio make radio etc. Today, Swedish Television writes articles, Swedish Radio makes blogs and newspapers broadcast sport events and political debates,” Björck says.

Ahead of the Swedish parliamentary elections in September, Hall Media, which used to be a traditional newspaper production group, broadcasted several live debates between different party representatives. In this picture, Hall Media’s Sophia Magasanik hosts a debate between politicians Andreas Sturesson (Christian Democrats) and Ilan de Basso (Social Democrats) “This picture really illustrates the huge transformation that both we (in the newspaper industry) and other traditional media companies have gone through in the past few years,” Johannes Björck says. Photo: Robert Eriksson/ Jönköpings-Posten

Peter Sigfridsson, head of production development at Gota Media which carries 30 local newspapers, says the changes the industry has gone through in the past few years is mind-blowing. “In 2006, a newspaper website would have something like 20 articles per day. Today that number is between 100 and 130,” he says, adding that paywalls are starting to pay off for real.

Peter Sigfridsson at Gota Media says that although digitalization has posed great threats to the traditional newspaper industry, it has also created brand new opportunities. Photo: Paul Madej

Sigfridsson says Digital First has also changed the way the print edition looks. “The content is more reflective, descriptive, deeper. It’s an added value product.”

But essentially, he says, the upending of the Swedish newspaper industry has opened up for the one thing that has the power to keep print afloat for a while still: “That reporters can focus on just being reporters.”

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