How a local Danish publisher is empowering high school journalists

On a recent evening in Middelfart, Denmark more than 100 teenagers gathered in an auditorium to meet with the city’s mayor and other local leaders to discuss a handful of community issues the young people were hoping to solve.

The event was called the Room of Solutions, and it was the culmination of a seven-week program run by local publisher Jysk Fynske Medier to introduce students to journalism and to use reporting as a way to improve the community.

In the Room of Solutions, the students and leaders worked together to brainstorm ideas for how to improve public transit, increase access to mental health resources, and more.

This week in Solution Set, we’re going to step into the Room of Solutions to learn more about how Jysk Fynske Medier worked with the students, what the students got out of it, and how it’s shaping the paper’s coverage moving forward.

Solution Set is a weekly report from The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Solutions Journalism Network. Every Thursday, we take an in-depth look at one awesome thing in journalism, share lessons, and point you toward other useful resources.

We’re also partnering with GroundSource so you can now also get Solution Set delivered each week via text message. You can sign up by clicking here or by texting SOLUTION to (215) 544–3524. I’m going to experiment with a new format for the texts this week, so I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think.


Here’s the TLDR:


TLDR

• The Challenge: A local Danish publisher wanted to find a way to reach younger audiences.

• The Strategy: The publisher partnered with a high school to create a journalism course and held an event with local officials to propose solutions to issues the students covered.

• The Numbers: More than 100 people attended the final event, and the program was supported by a local bank.

• The Lessons: If you want to work with youth in your community, you should empower them to do real journalism.

• The Future: The publisher hopes to expand the program to more schools and build a sustainable business model.

Want to know more?: Scroll down for a new report on how young people are accessing news.


The Challenge

Like news organizations everywhere, local publishers in Denmark are having to confront changing demographics and news consumption trends.

Twenty seven percent of Danes get news from a printed newspaper, down from 49 percent in 2013 according to the Reuters Institute for Journalism’s annual Digital News Report.

Meanwhile, just 10 percent of Danes said they read the website of a paid local or regional newspaper in the past week, the study found. Six percent said they read it three days or more per week.

Jysk Fynske Medier, Denmark’s second largest media company, which publishes 13 daily newspapers and 57 weekly newspapers, wanted to try and confront this reality.

It began to think about ways to help younger audiences understand the importance of local journalism while making local reporting more relevant to them, said Gerd Maria May, Jysk Fynske Medier’s head of editorial development, who led the initiative.

“To change the role of the media and to become relevant we need to listen louder,” she told me. “We need to go out to the community and ask them what is important to you and then engage in their lives, and then we can do journalism. We have to be a part of their lives and engage in their lives. If we only sit back and wait for them to come to us we will lose a lot of important relations and people will not find us relevant.”


The Strategy

To reach younger audiences, Jysk Fynske Medier launched an experiment in Middelfart, a community that one of its newspapers, Fyens Stiftstidende, covers.

The paper partnered with the high school in Middelfart, a town of about 15,000 people, to offer a seven-week journalism course for students.

May worked with a local teacher and a researcher to help develop the curriculum. The classes focused on the basics of journalism: How to fact-check, how to write a story, how to take a solutions-focused approach to journalism, and more.

At the outset of the project, May held a workshop with the students and asked them what local issues they were most interested in. Together, they settled on three core topics that were most important to them:

  • Improving a youth center in the city. Not many of the students actually used the facility and they were interested in finding a way to make it more fun and accessible.
  • Expanding public transportation. You can’t get a driver’s’ license in Denmark until you’re 18. The students are often reliant on public transportation, which has a limited schedule.
  • Mental health services. The students wanted to know more about resources to deal with depression and stress.

These topics informed how May approached the class, and she also shared this feedback with reporters and editors at Fyens Stiftstidende who also participated in the course. She asked them to cover them in a more in-depth way for the duration of the class so the students could see how coverage could play out in the paper.

In addition, one of the reporters actually worked out of the high school for a week during the course. He set up a desk in a public area, and students were able to share their ideas and challenges with him.

“We had cases and stories that we hadn’t had before because we were in their community,” May said.

At the end of the seven weeks, the paper held an event in an auditorium at a local bank (the bank was a sponsor — more in The Numbers) that brought together the students with community leaders to discuss solutions to the issues they focused on throughout the course. Middelfart’s mayor, the head of the public transit network, and the director of the youth center all attended.

The event was called Løsningernes Rum — the Room of Solutions — and it was designed to start a dialogue between the city’s leaders and the youth.

The evening started with everyone singing a song to set the mood, and then May introduced the event and emphasized that the focus would be on finding solutions to the challenges facing Middelfart.

The leaders joined May at the front of the room, and all attendees were given red and green cards that allowed them to show whether they agreed or disagreed with a question that was being asked or a solution that was proposed.

 

For instance, someone suggested that the struggling youth center collaborate with the high school’s party committee, which produces events that are already popular with the students. The proposal was met with a wave of green cards and the head of the youth center was open to the idea as well. During a break in the programming, a group of students met with him to set up a time to meet and continue the conversation.

“It gave the young  people a feeling that they could actually contribute to solving their own problems,” May said.

The conversation then turned to public transportation. The conversation was informed by data collected during the students’ seven weeks of reporting that found that 8 percent of the youth said they had driven themselves while drunk or been in the car with someone who was driving while they were intoxicated. They brainstormed possible solutions such as adding in a late night bus or collaborating with other transit agencies.

When it came to discuss the mental health issues, May asked the assembled group if they knew about the phone hotline the city had created for young people to get psychological help in emergencies.

Only red cards went up. The response was eye opening for the city officials.

“So the politicians realized, okay we have to do something to make this solution live among the young people,” May said. “If they don’t know about this solution it’s not a solution. They decided that they would go out in the high school and tell people about it. Things happened.”

The event ended with another song and the attendees met with the local leaders and  put ideas for follow ups on poster boards spread throughout the room.


The Numbers

About 110 people attended the Room of Solutions event, and a group of 10 students worked closely with May to help plan the event, which lasted for two hours.

Over the course of the seven week academic program, a total of 106 students participated in four different classes. They classes lasted four hours a week.

The program was supported by a local bank that contributed 25,000 Danish kroner ($3,800 USD) to support the program.


The Lessons

• Empower the youth: One of the reasons why the program succeeded was that it didn’t speak down to the students or treat them as children.

May and her team designed the effort to empower them and show that their voices and opinions matter and can make a difference in how their community is covered.

“The students got this feeling that ‘I’m just not a student, I’m someone who could make a difference and change things in my society,’” she said. “So I think that the purpose of doing this is to help the students understand democracy.  If they see something, they research it, they find good solutions, and they are actually able to change things in their own lives in their local community where they live. It is extremely important for the young people to have this feeling that democracy is something for them.”

If you’re looking to engage young people in your community, you should enable them to take on important issues and give them resources to learn and cover topics that matter to them.

• Relationships take time: Fyens Stiftstidende reporters attended the Room of Solutions event and used the discussions to shape the follow up coverage.

After the students at the event said they didn’t know about the city’s mental health hotline, the paper published a story that shared the number and tried to make a wider audience aware of its existence.

It was important that the reporters were in the Room of Solutions, but it also helped that they had taken part in the seven-week journalism course and had built relationships with the students.

As a result, they had a deeper understanding of what information would be useful for the students.

“It is hard when you are building relationships,” May said. “It’s not a job you can do 9-5 and that’s it. You really have to invest  your time and energy and some of your personal life if you want to build real relationships.”

• Get creative about funding: The journalism class and the Room of Solutions were funded by a local bank.

The bank had previously spoken publicly about how it wants to help the community, so May went to the leadership there to ask them if they’d be interested in supporting the project.

“I went to them before we started and asked, ‘Do mean anything about wanting to help local society grow? What do you think about this idea?’ They think what we were doing [shares] the same values that they [have] and they wanted to support it,” she told me.

Increasingly, companies want to project their brands as socially conscious. If you’re looking for support for projects, especially in-person gatherings, you can try to work with firms in your community that care about making a difference. It can be a challenge to sell the importance of journalism, but this type of support can help diversify your revenue. (Scroll down to Want to Know More for another example of a news org turning to corporate support for journalism projects.)

• Don’t parachute: Fyens Stiftstidende made it a priority to keep the relationship going with the students even after the pilot program ended.

The company hired one of the students to work five hours a week to “keep the contact with this part of our community and help us listen,” May said.

The role is still relatively new, but so far he’s created a Facebook video to promote a new app the paper is developing, helped organize a focus group, and assisted in testing out the app

By directly involving the student in its operations, the company can continue to show how it is prioritizing the community and can help make sure that its voices are heard. By including the community in their decision making processes, publishers can make a powerful statement about how they value it.


The Future

Once the program concluded, May surveyed the students and teachers and they largely said that they had a positive experience and that they would like to participate again.

And now that the first session of the program is over, she is looking to build in a new sustainable revenue stream beyond just support form the bank.

She also is looking to expand the program to other high schools in the region while still maintaining the personal nature that helped the first iteration of the program succeed.

“I’m trying now to make it happen again, not only in one school at a time but in a lot of schools  at a time,” May said. “In that way I’m changing it, so that it’s scalable but I think it’s very important that when I scale it, that the students get one on one meetings with the local journalists for the students and for the journalists to know each other and get the relationship.”


Want to know more?

• May wrote a Medium post highlighting the program and went into more detail about how she ran the Room of Solutions. (Here’s a version of the same post in Danish for those of you who live in Denmark or speak Danish.)

• The Pew Research Center released a study earlier this week looking at how young Europeans access news. The topline finding, via Nieman Lab: “  Younger Europeans are tuning out of TV news — but they’re into newspaper websites”

• The Romanian journalism platform DoR created a pop-up newsroom for high school journalists. Engagement Explained, an outstanding newsletter from the Engaged Journalism Accelerator, covered the pop-up and shared lessons learned.

• Ohio’s Richland Source worked with companies in its community to put on a baby shower to raise awareness around infant mortality issues. Here’s a phenomenal case study on the project from Solutions Journalism Network.


Anything to add?

Last week, I asked you to share some examples of how you’re connecting with audiences IRL. Kathleen Pavelko, CEO of public radio outlet WITF in Harrisburg, Pa., shared a bit about her station meets with listeners throughout Pennsylvania. (Disclosure: The Lenfest Institute supports PA Post, WITF’s new collaborative outlet that covers the Pennsylvania state government.):

“Here at WITF (and as part of PA Post’s event strategy), we hold community events in a variety of formats (town halls, debates, etc.) Our daily interview show on WITF-FM, called Smart Talk, has been taking “Road Trips” for several years—at museums, historic sites, the Capitol rotunda, train stations, you name it—where the on-location live audience gets first crack at the comments and questions (both during the show and before-and-after).

One format we’ve used for several years is called News and Brews. Yes, it’s conversation-plus-adult-beverage, usually in a bar/restaurant but occasionally elsewhere.

We’ve held a few of them with a sort of open-topic, speed-dating format (“come meet our reporters and ask them questions”). We position reporters at a bunch of high-top tables and let attendees circulate from one to another every 5-10 minutes or so. We’ve also held a few News and Brews that a topic-specific. Last month, we held one (at WITF) in partnership with Draw The Lines PA (the educational effort supported by the Committee of Seventy to restore the power of redistricting to citizens.)”

What are the cool things your news org is doing to connect with readers? Let me know! Send me an email, a tweet, or a text.

I’ll share some responses in next week’s issue or even maybe write a full Solution Set issue on them.

See you next Thursday!


Photos courtesy of Fyens Stiftstidende.
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