Upsala Nya Tidning (UNT), a Swedish paper serving the city of Uppsala, wanted a better way to gain insight into the daily lives of their community. Specifically, they heard rumblings that the highly-touted train system that carries Uppsala’s commuters back and forth to Stockholm each day, had gotten too crowded and was falling behind schedule. The paper wanted to bring this large group of commuters together so they could share their stories with each other, and the paper could use this information to create meaningful journalism for the community.
UNT created the Facebook Group “UNT pendlingskollen” (UNT commuter check up), to create a journalistic ecosystem around the daily challenges of the city’s commuters. It’s become a space for the 1,100 members to share real-time updates on train delays, and for UNT to have direct contact with sources. We talked with Jens Pettersson, Managing Editor, about how the group started, and how the journalism that’s come out of the group have led to tangible reforms and real world change for the city’s commuting population.
Why did you decide on this specific topic to start up a Facebook Group?
What research did you conduct?
One of our biggest challenges the recent years has been the struggle to keep on being important to the people of Uppsala while competition over the readers time and interest has increased tremendously. Everyday we work really hard to be important for our community. One part of that work is to find the areas truly relevant to our readers, and find subjects where we can make a difference with our journalism.
In autumn of 2017 we found out that many commuters between Uppsala and Stockholm (15,000 of the Uppsala’s 200,000 citizens) have a hard time getting back and forth to work, and their experiences didn’t match with the official picture given by the statistics of punctuality from the railway companies. We decided a Facebook Group could connect commuters in an easy way, and we could discover whats happening on the railway at the moment. That kind of information would be hard to get a hold on in other ways.
What were your goals for the group initially and how did they evolve over time? How much did the behavior of group members inform that change? Is there a concrete objective you were trying to solve?
We had two main objectives when we started. First, to create a new channel to get insight into commuters’ daily problems, and be able to make journalism about the subject. That would help increase page views and subscribers. Second, to strengthen our relationship with this group of commuters. ”Make Uppsala a better place to live in” is an important part of our media company’s vision.
What were the challenges in promoting and growing the group? Which elements of Facebook Groups helped you most?
Growing the group wasn’t a problem. We started the group, wrote articles about it, and encouraged our followers on UNT.se:s Facebook Page to join. After three months we have 1124 group members and we get new members every day without any efforts. We also mention the group whenever we write about commuter issues.
Has the group’s success translated into the real world. Do people in the group and yourselves interact offline as well?
At the moment it’s solely a digital relationship, but we have plans to award the three most contributing members with breakfast delivered to them at the railway station. We want to show the fact that this group would be nothing without the dedicated users.
How did the problems raised by the group translate into real action?
One day in January the press secretary of the CEO of SJ (the government-run company that owns the train line) called and told us that the CEO Crister Fritzon was available for an interview. In the interview, he said that SJ had decided to relocate train wagons from other train routes in Sweden to the route between Uppsala and Stockholm. They intended to increase the number of seats by 400 on the most overcrowded wagons during peak commuting hours.
After we had highlighted the massive amount of delays and overcrowded trains in several articles the local politicians also started acting. They called upon the railway company SJ for meetings in Uppsala. The outcome of that were promises from SJ on more train wagons.
What has been the result of the group’s success for your newspaper and for your readers?
The creation of the group has led to many new articles which have more than 50,000 page views. It has also been a great way of getting new digital subscribers. Within the group’s first three months we’ve seen: 1124 members, 532 posts, 2,912 comments, 6966 reactions.
What is next for the group? Do you have plans for further groups and how will you decide on the topics for those?
Our next idea is to get the group members to measure the delays during peak hours. Those kind of statistics are not available from SJ and the The Swedish Transport Administration. The results will be very interesting to compare to the official numbers which are for the whole county.
We have been discussing new groups, maybe something on bicycling, since Uppsala is a city with huge amounts of students who preferably transport themselves by bike.
Knowing what you know now, do you have any learnings or tips for someone starting out?
The key to success with a group like this is truly finding the right subject. Something that people are really concerned about. It is hard to find, but if you hit a bullseye you’re going to get a lot of engagement in an easy way. It’s also really important to show members that you appreciate them. We have for instance given all members good deals on subscriptions. One key to success is of course to get all members of the newsroom engaged in the work with the group — so show them it’s a useful journalistic tool as well as a perfect place to distribute our journalism.
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