At tabloid newspaper VG better understanding younger generations and learning how best to communicate with them is a top priority. So much so that it recently established a new department dedicated to bringing more young users to its website.
Launched in January this year, the new department, dubbed “Z”, currently consists of three editors, nine reporters with different skills, and one motion graphic designer.
Located close to the centre of the newsroom, the team takes part in the daily schedules of the breaking news desk and VG’s TV department, and works closely with developers and UX-designers in Schibsted on product-related projects.
In this interview, Gard Steiro, VG’s editor-in-chief and CEO, who will be speaking at this year’s World News Media Congress, shares more details about the new department, and VG’s youth strategy in general.
Gard Steiro: In 2020 reaching a young audience is one of VG’s four main ambitions. The priority is higher than ever. Our goal is not only to make more content for the younger audience, we aim to do it more systematically than before.
VG reaches half of the Norwegian population every day. Hence the average user of our main website is a 46-year-old male. If we do not recruit a new and younger audience, the average user will be 47 years next year. This is a deadly strategy.
“In the long term, we absolutely need to convert young people to become loyal users. As our main strategy is to be Norway’s primary news destination, we want the next generation to consume our content on VG.no, in addition to third-party platforms such as Snapchat,” – Gard Steiro
That means we have set goals for increased visits on VG.no from Norwegians between 15 and 25. 17.4 percent of the population is in this age group, but on our home page we normally reach significantly older audiences on average. One of the reasons is that we traditionally have made content for people who already know and understand the news, or content dedicated for the more adult base of users. This has to change.
Another goal is to give this age group interesting content from our home page every day, meaning we have to make content young people are engaged by.
We are measuring demography clicks from the front page with the aim to reach a bigger share than 17.4 percent of the unique users on this content – the actual share of this group in Norway.
Where do you currently stand with regard to the new department? What are its main tasks, projects and priorities?
Z launched the last week of January, and we’re currently in the first phase of getting everyone up to speed on our current platforms. That’s our first priority.
“Z will publish on social media, Snapchat Discover, and in our own app for easily consumed news (Peil), but our main priority will be to grow the younger demographic on VG.no,” – Gard Steiro
From focusing on each platform by itself, we will pivot to focus on creating engaging stories for 15 to 25-year-olds, and then tweak and publish those in the best way for each platform.
Z will also speak for young people in the newsroom, and try to make the rest of VG understand their needs better than today. Included in this is a greater focus on user research and feedback from our readers.
You were the first Nordic news brand on Snapchat Discover. What are your main learnings and takeaways from being on the platform?
We have learned a lot about mobile storytelling and young readers through Snapchat Discover. The platform let us focus solely on mobile, without having to think about how the content would look on other platforms. In the same way, we could cater exclusively to the younger demographic.
“Snapchat was the first platform to use the now widespread story-format. Being early on the platform we probably got a head start in building expertise in using this format for telling stories: It’s about using text, video, animation and images in the combination that works best for telling the story,” – Gard Steiro
Every story has to include several of these elements, so you can’t rely on a ‘wall of text’ doing the job – you have to really think about these things before you create something.
The platform also gave us a direct way into a lot of younger people’s pockets. The numbers told us early what worked in terms of topics and style.
For example: We early on got feedback that using emojis in our stories makes us sound like the reader’s parents – or their 8-year-old siblings. We obviously had a lot to learn.
What other platforms is VG active on to reach younger audiences?
Instagram and our own app, ‘Peil.’ We’ve also done some initial tests on TikTok. We also use Facebook, but the Z generation is not the most important group on that platform.
What advice do you have for a news organisation wanting to better engage younger audiences?
Talk to young people about their interests and needs. Take them seriously: They don’t want to be talked to as if they are kids, but they want to hear about things that affect them.
You have to be patient: Their use patterns won’t change overnight. For VG, it’s more important that a 15-year-old will choose VG regularly when they are 22, than that they start using VG immediately.