Magnus Bjerg | Interview
A journalist by trade, Magnus’s current role is Digital Projects Manager for TV 2 Denmark — one of the country’s largest news broadcasters. He started TV 2’s innovative editorial development team and is a strong proponent of data journalism: using cutting-edge analytics to enhance the company’s award-winning coverage. Magnus was also a 2018-2019 Knight Fellow at MIT, during which time he endeavoured to learn as much as possible about the intersectionality between technology and journalism.
What is TV2 Denmark?
TV 2 Denmark is a publicly-owned television broadcasting service that offers news, sports, weather, drama, and more, as well as having its own internet-based paid streaming service. It’s one of the largest media companies in Denmark — boasting more than a million daily visitors to its website — and relies on funding from advertisements and subscriptions.
What exactly is data journalism?
To be honest, I’m not really a massive fan of the label… It essentially describes a loosely connected group of journalists, scientists, and engineers who work on heavily data-focused journalism across a variety of mediums: text, video, and images.
For example, right now we are gathering, cleaning, and presenting the most recent government data on the COVID-19 situation. We have a very basic page that visualises the current numbers and we update this information twice a day. Over the past couple of months, it’s received millions of pageviews and is probably the most read article in Denmark.
But it’s not just about topical news; we’re also expanding our skill sets into various different areas of the business. For instance, we’re in the process of updating existing articles to give them a longer shelf-life instead of constantly creating new ones. To help with this, we’ve started to build pages to aggregate content — we’re now also updating older articles and connecting them to newer topics.
What are you currently focusing on?
I recently put together an in-depth report on personalisation and automation. We’re also thinking a great deal about conversion, activation, and retention (especially with regards to our streaming service).
We are going to be heavily invested in growing TV 2 Denmark’s paid streaming service. If we want people’s attention — which we do — then we need to compete with the likes of HBO and Netflix. Paid streaming services that offer top-quality content are clearly the way forward, so that’s an area that we’d like to master. In fact, the company will gradually move the entirety of its business to this subscription-based model, so it’s a crucial project for us. We need to work out how we can get our users regularly coming back to the platform. I primarily work on our free news site, but it is also our job to think about and test ways for us to support that mission.
Why did you become so interested in blending data analytics and engineering with journalism?
I’m a big believer in cross-pollinating different specialities. When we hired our first editorial engineer about 5 years ago, it instantly had a transformative effect on the entire newsroom… You only begin to realise what is and what isn’t possible once you can actually discuss your ideas with an engineer!
Engineers/developers are involved in all the best things that we’re doing here at TV 2 — whether that’s maintaining existing platforms, building new ones, or helping us better understand our users. If you want to innovate, you need engineers or developers; it’s as simple as that. We currently have 3 developers on our editorial development team. We do twice weekly standups plus a longer weekly meeting — these short check-ups are super important to help us understand what’s going on and how things are progressing.
Did you come across any challenges when bringing these engineers on board?
Haha, we did indeed… We generally find that engineers and journalists almost have polar opposite attitudes. We journalists have been taught to be sceptical about everything: “If your mum says she loves you, you need to get her to prove it”. This is just the way that we’ve been taught — however, it’s not always helpful when you’re dealing with innovative projects.
There is a tendency, especially in journalism, to look down on engineering and have a lack of respect. Most of this comes down to not understanding what they’re doing, how they work, and how difficult the work that they do actually is.
The way we’ve tried to remedy this is by creating psychological safety: a concept I initially came across while reading about a two-year-long Google project. In short, it involves creating a space where people aren’t afraid of speaking their mind — being afraid of speaking your mind greatly stifles innovation and creativity.
The most straightforward way of doing this is to create a culture of sharing and understanding, where people can openly share their perspectives and give their input on things (even if it doesn’t fall within their normal domain).
Beginning Your Data Journey
Data can seem pretty complex. There are tons of different data sources, analytical tools, and ways to leverage it (both effectively and ineffectively). Plus, recent data protection legislation means that the penalties associated with mishandling or misusing data don’t bear thinking about.
But that shouldn’t put you off. Data needs to be at the heart of everything that you do — after all, how can you produce great products or services if you don’t even understand your own customers or know which strategies are proving the most effective?
Here are a few top tips to help get you started. And remember: data analytics isn’t about some flashy new piece of technology, it’s about getting to know your customers better.
Getting started isn’t as hard as it seems. Setting up a Google Analytics account only takes a few moments, but even the insights that it provides can transform the way your company operates. However, you need to make sure that your data is clean before putting it into action — inaccurate data can wreak havoc on your analytics.
Have all your data in one place, if you want a clear, coherent view of both your customers and your processes. Having a single source of truth is a key part of effective data management: making life easier for everyone involved and breaking down organisational silos.
This is the fun part! Once you have everything cleaned and collated into one place, you can then begin to analyse it. You can get as creative as you like here, provided that you have the right technical know-how to make sense of it all.
Create a comprehensive report of findings that can be shared with the rest of your team. Not only will this help you make sense of the numbers, but it’s also a great way to make your case for certain decisions going forward. It’s a lot easier to make changes around the business if you show that they’re backed up by the data.
There’s no point sitting on your findings and simply mulling them over internally — go out and put them into action!
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