How a Swedish journalist saved a city’s local reporting from her house
Marianne Rönnberg Galmor was left with one option. She had to start her own local online paper.
The experienced news reporter got the idea of local news site Bjuvsnytt.se – which covers the municipality of Bjuv, consisting of a couple of small towns in southern Sweden – about two years ago. She had moved back to the town where she grew up after working in Stockholm for about 40 years at, among others, Expressen, TV4, Svenska Dagbladet and Utrikesdepartementet. But she quickly realized the media coverage of the place was lacking.
A few years ago, the local paper Helsingborgs Dagblad had at least one reporter covering Bjuv. But when Rönnberg Galmor returned, all they basically did was printing the police report from the night before, she says. The other local paper, Lokaltidningen, didn’t really cover Bjuv’s social issues.
‘‘I thought ‘I have the knowledge and all I need is my laptop, phone, some gas to put in the tank and a decent camera,’’’ says Rönnberg Galmor. ‘‘I got help with building a web site and sorted all the required paperwork. On June 1 two years ago, I launched [the site].’’
Rönnberg Galmor is one in a group of journalists and media entrepreneurs that in recent years have started local news sites as a response to the crumbling newspaper industry. As print revenues keep falling and news organizations are forced to cut positions in their newsrooms, these small local news outlets have filled a hole and are trying to fulfill the democratic mission of journalism. Rönnberg Galmor has during her two years managed to make a name for herself and the site. She is well-known in Bjuv, partly because she’s the most visible journalist in the town, and it didn’t take long before the readership shot through the roof. Bjuvsnytt’s got 17,000 unique visitors per month. The population of Bjuv’s municipality is 14,500.
Bjuvsnytt.se has also been used as a blueprint on how to create a viable local news outlet. But Rönnberg Galmor is far from alone. There are other examples, too.
A few years ago, former TV4 reporter, Malin Lindberg, started Burlövs Nyheter (this summer Tommy Paremo stepped in as the site’s new publisher). The news site covers a few of the smaller towns surrounding Malmö, Sweden’s third biggest city.
In other cities the competition has toughened as more and more local media startups are fighting for the readers’ attention. Four news outlets (not counting public radio and TV) are battling it out in Jönköping – Jönköpings-Posten (the print paper with an online edition), Jnytt (owned by the same company as Jönköpings-Posten), Jmini and JKPG Live. All these news outlets, with the exception of Jönköpings-Posten, are digital only.
‘‘But you can’t look too much at what others are doing,’’ says Krister Leimola, CEO of Jmini. ‘‘It’s a new age and the competition is so tough and the feeds so enormous. It takes time to make the readers loyal [to your site] and it costs a lot of money.’’
A similar situation has arisen in Kalmar where sites such as 24Kalmar is challenging legacy print media outlets Barometern and Östra Småland.
And there’s no denying local news sites fill a need. Smashdig’s sister site, Smashdig.se, could this summer reveal that Jmini was negotiating a deal with one of Sweden’s biggest dailies, Aftonbladet. The deal would see Jmini deliver news stories to Aftonbladet’s Jönköping section whereas the national paper’s sales division will handle the ad sales for the site. As of right now, the only confirmed part of the deal is a cooperation around ad sales between the two news outlets.
Aftonbladet recently announced they want to venture into local news in addition to its national and international coverage. The paper’s editor-in-chief, Jan Helin, confirmed in his podcast that Aftonbladet has reached out to local media entrepreneurs.
But local media startups are also facing difficulties. The revenue models for online journalism are not yet fully worked out. Big media companies struggle to make the web profitable and local news sites are no different. In Feburary, Burlövs Nyheter announced a crowdfunding effort in order to keep the site alive.
Bjuvsnytt.se relies on ad sales as all of the site’s content is available for free. Rönnberg Galmor did not turn a profit during her first couple of months. Today, she has enough to support herself and keep the site up and running, she says. But the revenues aren’t big enough to hire another reporter.
‘‘I would like to hire someone part-time. Partly because I would like to do something other than just working with the site but also for the sake of the product. It’s always good to have a couple of different tones and voices,’’ says Rönnberg Galmor. ‘‘The fact that I’m alone means it’s my tone on most things.’’
But being the sole reporter in a city can potentially mean you get criticized for becoming ‘‘too close’’ with the people you’re covering – you might after all meet them in the line at the supermarket. This is, however, of no concern to Rönnberg Galmor.
‘‘I don’t do this to be popular,’’ she says. ‘‘If politicians seem to like me too much, I know I’m not doing a good job.’’
Nowadays, Rönnberg Galmor is a long way from the well-staffed newsrooms and big media companies. But she doesn’t miss it.
Running her own local news site has instead showed her another side of the journalistic profession. A side she never thought she’d love.
‘‘I’ve never had so much fun during my career despite having worked in newsrooms with flashy names,’’ says Rönnberg Galmor. ‘‘I never wanted to become a local reporter so it’s funny that when I’m now doing it, I think it’s the most fun you can have [as a journalist].’’Bjusvnytt.seMarianne Rönnberg GalmorKrister LeimolaJmini