Østlands-Posten, a daily local newspaper serving the town of Larvik in Norway, has been inviting people to its newsroom to discuss subjects currently affecting the community and how the town could be improved.
Two meetings have been held so far, with one more planned before the beginning of the summer, and the project has been successful enough to prompt the organisers to plan to do it all again in the autumn.
Marthe Eveline Røsholt, news journalist, Østlands-Posten, told Journalism.co.uk the meetings aimed to counter an unfriendly debate climate on the politics scene in the country, where some people did not want to be involved in discussions out of a fear of being attacked for their views.
“We wanted to create a new scene where everyone could speak and where you were allowed to talk without someone interrupting you.
“This project aims to make people feel like they’re a part of the community again, and a part of democracy, and for them to trust us as a media organisation.
“We can see that people feel quite distant from a lot of media organisations, so we want them to feel closer to us and for us to feel closer to them and to have a good conversation.”
Some 60 people attended a meeting about urban development, and 30 attended one to discuss ways to live life in a more environmentally friendly manner.
Politicians were not allowed to attend the first two meetings, as they were aimed at people who do not usually seek out the media. But they will be able to attend the third meeting, currently in the works, that will explore how democracy works in practice on a local level and how more people could get involved.
The third meeting will also take place outside of the Østlands-Posten newsroom as a larger space is needed.
The meetings are run using the open-space technique, with people divided into groups based on the specific topics they wish to discuss. To make sure everyone has their say and nobody dominates the debate, the person with the smallest shoe size in each group speaks first, and the spotlight then moves from person to person around the table.
Before each meeting, Røsholt and other Østlands-Posten journalists write articles on the subject of the meeting, to give attendees more information and background to enable the discussion.
Østlands-Posten, owned by Amedia, has 11,150 subscribers – its website operates a paywall, but readers can access some articles for free.
Amedia, the largest local media company in Norway, uses a three-step approach to convert readers into paying subscribers, which has proven to be a successful strategy: moving subscribers from print to digital, getting non-paying readers to register on the website, and up-sell.