Six months ago, we published the first article about the new coronavirus on The Local's Swedish site. It was just a short article, based on news agency copy, about Ikea stores being closed in China as infections rose to around 7,700 at the time. But only two days later the first case was detected in Sweden.
We have published more than 430 articles about the coronavirus in Sweden since then.
This year has been like nothing most of us have ever experienced.
Here at The Local, we are used to writing about experiences that we are familiar with ourselves – most of our staff live or have lived abroad just like our readers – but the coronavirus brought it to a new level.
While writing about it, our reporters and other staff have been living through this pandemic just like you, worrying about family, cancelling plans, falling ill with the coronavirus, not knowing when they will be able to see friends and relatives back home, stressing about future uncertainties, working from home.
The Local's staff from our nine European sites flew to Stockholm for a meetup in January, just weeks before the pandemic hit. Photo: Tim Marringa/The Local
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It was near-impossible to disconnect from work during the peak of the crisis; as journalists, we always want to tell the latest story. I remember watching Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's televised address to the nation late in the evening at home and automatically pulling up my laptop to translate it to English for The Local. At least Löfven did not have a habit of giving important speeches after midnight as his Italian counterpart.
We made a decision early on not to try to be experts – we are not science journalists and there are others who do that much better than us. So we have focused on answering your questions and telling your stories. The crisis isn't over, so we're still updating our paywall-free blog every day with the latest developments.
There have been so many stories to tell. One that has stuck with me was investigating how Sweden's intensive care coped with the crisis, including speaking with doctors about their heroic efforts against all odds, and the failures that saw one daughter having to fight to get ventilator treatment for her father.
But the most important stories have come from you, our readers.
One of our main priorities during this time has been to simply explain what's going on to help you keep track of the latest guidelines, numbers and rules, and explain the intricacies behind Sweden's controversial strategy so that when you talk about it – whether you're for or against – you can make your best arguments. It is more complicated than we often think, and we have had to learn a lot ourselves along the way.
Another, equally important, priority has been to raise your voices. Whether we're talking about face masks or work permits, we want to make sure that the voices of Sweden's international community are not drowned out from the public debate. Our readers' views are not at all unanimous, but each and every one of you should be allowed to feel that you are just as entitled to criticise or praise Sweden as anyone else.
We have tried to hold decision-makers to account whenever we can. One behind-the-scenes aspect has been that working from home has made it difficult to get long interviews with representatives of Sweden's health authorities. I'm not even sure how many times we've been told “no” when we have requested an interview. But occasionally, we have managed to put your questions to senior government ministers.
— Emma Löfgren (@ekjlofgren) April 25, 2020
And we've been worried about the future of our jobs and business, like everyone else. So many media companies have had to lay off journalists this year, in Sweden and abroad. Here at The Local, we saw our advertising revenues plummet. We were rescued by a record number of readers who signed up as paying members (there are now 27,000 of you, but we will need 40,000 to be sustainable on membership alone).
You literally saved us. But it is not over.
We now need to keep growing to secure our future and develop our sites to expand our coverage of the issues that matter to you. And more importantly: we want to start paying you back. We're reinvesting much of our membership revenue into improving the site and our journalism – this is our way of saying thank you.
Here are some of the things we have started working on thanks to our members:
We have brought on board a new external columnist. Lisa Bjurwald is a well-known Swedish journalist and when she's on fire, she's on fire. Don't miss her thoughts on why Sweden's lagom doesn't cut it in a crisis.
We have been able to recruit more freelancers to help fill in for me and my colleague Catherine Edwards when we're away. Dutch writer Anne Grietje Franssen is one of them, and she has already written some of our most popular features on The Local this summer. Coincidentally, she is based in Gothenburg on the west coast, so we have been able to publish more reports from Sweden's second-biggest city.
Many readers have asked us if they can support us financially in other ways than membership, so we added a donation option on their request. We have not promoted this option much, so the funds are relatively small, but we have already invested some of it into expanding our coverage as above. Some of the things our tech team is also working on include improved apps, mobile sites and comment section.
We have launched a new article series featuring our readers' businesses, on the back of revamping our noticeboard to help readers promote their businesses so we can help each other through tough times.
We recently launched a new weekly newsletter for members only. I hope you'll like it.
At the start of summer, we received a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network to take an in-depth look at the responses to different parts of the coronavirus crisis in Europe, what's worked, what hasn't, and why. This gave us the opportunity to do more in-depth journalism, and we would love to do much more.
We have received more emails than ever from readers, and they have been so incredibly thoughtful. Our article revealing the racial slurs some foreigners have received for wearing face masks, and our article speaking with couples kept apart by travel restrictions, were both prompted by readers who got in touch.
Another project we've been working on throughout the year is a solutions journalism training course for migration reporters. We know, as do you, that migration can be good, bad and everything in between, but too often is the 'in between' left out of media coverage of migration. Here's what we've learned.
Thank you for reading The Local. We don't call our paying readers subscribers, we call you members, and it's not just a buzzword, it's because we see membership as a community. Our conversations with you, whether your feedback is good or bad, always help improve our editorial decisions – you're vital to us.
If you have any questions or thoughts about what you would want to see more of on The Local in the future, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us. We read every email we get. You can find my email below.
Editor, The Local Sweden
The Local Sweden's editorial team, Catherine Edwards and Emma Löfgren. Photo: Nele Schröder