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May 29, 2024 @ World News Media Congress

Publishing unique local content. How Amedia turns local public data into hyper local and valuable journalism and a tool for journalists

Imagine you have 120 local news titles spread over a geographically large but relatively sparsely populated country. And imagine you were tasked with making sure they all have enough journalism and content to fill their sites on a daily basis. What would you do? This is what Norwegian local media group Amedia is faced with, and they have reached a definite conclusion: You go even more local. And you do this by turning publicly available data into hyperlocal content and building tools for your journalists to turn the data into deeper stories about your communities. Because their key finding is that hyperlocal news with the right timing and context really works to drive reading and conversions. And that hyperlocal is better than just local.

Presented by Markus Rask Jensen, Director of News at Amedia in Norway

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Amedia in numbers
• 700,000 subscribers (Norway has 2.6 mi households)
• 2 mi daily readers (Norway has 4.3 mi people aged 18+)
•120 news titles
• 1000 journalists

By Cecilia Campbell

Hyperlocation is king

Markus Rask Jensen, Director of News at Amedia, joined the Innovate Local session at Congress to talk about how his central team supports the group’s vast network of local titles, some as small as a single journalist, in providing relevant hyperlocal content to readers in their communities. “One of the key findings that we've made is that the more local a news title’s content and its distribution are, the more relevant it is to readers and the better are its numbers. Hyperlocal news with the right timing and context really works, and reader numbers and sales suffer if publications become stale and static.”

The challenge: reach at hyperlocal level 

Clearly, going even more local is not only an opportunity, but also brings with it challenges. One is that you need enough journalists to actually produce the journalism and content at such a hyperlocal level. But it’s also a challenge to reach out to enough readers. For Amedia a key part of the solution to this problem has been to build out a very structured data lake, something they started doing back in 2014. As of December 2023, they had almost half of the Norwegian adult population registered in their aID sign-on solution, and for each logged-in person they have 120 demographic and interest based variables. “We know a lot about our readers. We know how old they are and where they live for example, and the latter is of course very relevant when you want to serve someone hyperlocal content.”

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The power of hyperlocal. This graph shows that an article about a particular house sale gets considerably more reading in the neighbourhood where it’s located than in others. The pink bars show the number of subscribers and the blue curve represents time spent.

How data is used: Journalism & automated content

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So Amedia has very demographically and geographically granular data on their readers. They then combine this with publicly available local data to produce content and journalism that is highly relevant to readers on a hyperlocal level. They do this in three ways:
• They’ve built journalistic tools which means reporters can access the data to produce deeper journalism. A journalist can e g subscribe to subscribe to news alerts that enable them to choose which stories they make. Easier research and workflow equals better journalism, Rask Jensen pointed out.

• They turn the local data into automated content pieces on for example house sales or income (we’ll come back to this)
• They also turn this data into local top lists and personalised lists (i e related to the reader’s own data)
 

“The first automated hyper local article concept we created was hyper local weather news, back in 2018. I think it's fair to say that with today's opportunities in terms of technology, we could do a lot more advanced things than what was possible then. But we asked our readers to score these weather articles and they were quite impressed by them. So that was the first discovery we made. This actually works – people read this.”

The big news day: Tax records are out!

In Norway, tax records are public, and are made publicly available every year. It’s possible for anyone to search up the salary of anyone they like, although the person you are searching up does receive a notification that you’ve done the search. The tax records are of course gold for media companies. “We get access to these data sets. Obviously we can’t publish personal, searchable tax records, but we can create lists of, for example, the top 50 earners in a certain part of Oslo. So taking myself as an example: I was born in 1984 and I live in Nord-Aurdal, I can have a look at the top earners born that year in my town. We automate this into every single news title we have.”

 

For journalists, tax records day means they can dig deeper into questions of equity for example, surfacing stories about earning differences from town to town or even within a town. “This then allows reporters to go out and talk to people in the community, to do the real journalism.”
Unsurprisingly, readers love the income content. In 2021, Amedia sold 3300 subscriptions on the automated content and the data journalism created from tax records.

 

Markus Rask Jensen pointed out that a lot of the value of what the content Amedia offers lies in the combination of the automated pieces and the in-depth community reporting their journalists do. “Not every story needs to be a journalistic article. The hyperlocal automated stories have obvious value for the people in those places, and can help fill in news deserts, like they do in Los Angeles [referring to the Crosstown case also presented at Congress]. But I wouldn’t advise you to replace human interaction with automation because it's not a substitute for journalism. What we do is make this data available through our newsroom tools, which help reporters work more efficiently and find more stories and as a consequence enable them to do even more local journalism and meet even more people in the community

Other examples of local data content

Amedia has found that as long as the data is hyperlocal enough, stories generated from it will convert readers into subscribers. Amedia is successful in producing hyperlocal content and journalism on topics like house sales, local sports, Covid numbers and traffic. “And all of this is just the tip of the hyperlocal iceberg,” said Rask Jensen. “Hyperlocal news with the right context and timing really works.”

Useful links and contact information

The Congress presentation of the Amedia case on data journalism can be downloaded here.

Innovate Local tech partner United Robots offer automated hyperlocal content based on structured data, similar in set up to that developed by Amedia. United Robots provide automated content products to local newsrooms in Sweden, Norway, the UK, Belgium, Netherlands, the US and Canada.

 

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