In 2000, it made its digital debut and in 2017 implemented a paywall. Through harnessing data smartly, by 2020, 66 percent of its paying users were digital-only.

The company’s current goal is to establish a sustainable digital subscription business. In 2023, had 7,300 subscribers, and its revenue from digital subscriptions and advertising matched its print revenue.

For every other automated story the newsroom publishes, there’s a digital subscription sold.

Gunn Kari Hegvik, Editor-in-Chief, joined WAN-IFRA’s Newsroom Summit to discuss how automated journalism is helping the company support a reader-first strategy.

With just 10 reporters in their newsroom, Fosna-Folket faces an ongoing challenge of producing the journalism their readers need with such a small team.

“To do high-quality journalism, we need to spend more time identifying, researching, and developing stories, said Hegvik.

That’s where automation comes in. 

Fosna-Folket has automated its digital operations to cover local news, football, company revenue and real estate. The automated stories, data and information is directly fed into Fosna-Folket’s CMS through a licence with United Robots.

Real estate robot automates everyday news

Automated micro stories around the neighbourhood, local business, real estate and shopping outlets serve the readers and allow the newsroom to identify outliers. 

“They serve as filters. We have a real estate and labour market robot, which is an automated list of people moving into and out of our communities,” she said, adding, “All together, this allows us to be hyperlocal in areas that we hardly cover, but ones that we should cover.” 

Real estate data serves a higher purpose for an area like Brekstad, where the Fosna-Folket newsroom is located. In rural areas, statistics and predictions on how housing prices will increase are more or less worthless, Hegvik noted. 

“Houses in rural areas are less attractive for buyers than houses in city areas. My hope is that by publishing small stories, our readers can make better investments, because our houses are where we put most of our savings,” she said.

Automation saves time, resources

Like other regional newsrooms that face a scarcity of human resources and lack of time, reporters at Fosna-Folket are constantly fighting the clock. 

“It’s difficult to recruit skilled journalists to our newsroom, because it’s outside the city,” she said. “Most of the time, we have parallel stories across several communities that need to be covered. Automated journalism makes us work smarter.”

“At its best, an automated story is a source for another news story,” she said. 

For instance, a story that started as a company revenue story caught a reporter’s eye who ended up spinning it as one about the company manager – a former military officer – who quit his job and started working as a tour guide instead, “and his journey is the story here, instead of a story with numbers,” she said. “No way we would have found that story if it weren’t for automation.”

Hegvik said the newsroom is capable of automating the entire publishing process, but prefers human intervention.

“It minimises the risk of not identifying small stories that can be further developed. We’re a pretty small newsroom so we can handle the amount of data; for a larger operation, it would be too much,” she said.

‘If there’s data, there’s a story.’

Fosna-Folket’s goal is to build an easily navigable local encyclopaedia. The micro stories will also come into bigger play in personalising the website down the line, Hegvik said.

Automation has also been a huge hit with the reporters.

“They’re all fans; it makes their work easier and enables them to spend more time doing what they should be doing as journalists, when they know some areas have been taken care of,” she said. 

In the summer, during the company revenue season, the newsroom publishes more stories, compared to the winter. 

“From our real estate robot, we would have 2-3 stories a day perhaps, but this also depends on your area’s population,” she said.

In the coming months, Fosna-Folket is looking to automate more everyday things such as news alerts from the police and traffic updates.

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