It is its unique place in the market that makes the business model for one Danish news outlet stand out. The audience for Koncentrat 13 to 16-year-old students. And schools pay subscription fees directly to the 4-year-old startup, whose goal is to teach, rather than to just inform the audience.
Koncentrat’s CEO Sune Gudmundsson says the model helps strengthen Danish youth media literacy and democratic self-confidence. Koncentrat is an interesting case study of an innovative news-product meant to function in an unusual market. Having teenagers as a core audience and schools as key clients, Koncentrat’s success is defined by the context in which the organisation came to be. All the same, a close look at this startup’s operating assumptions can prove inspiring for journalism innovators outside of the Scandinavian bubble.
Komcentrat’s editorial team produces daily explanatory and analytical stories on current affairs complemented by interactive tasks to teach students to engage with the news. All texts are available via Koncentrat’s platform accessed by students via a country-wide intranet. The access is what schools pay for. The price is 95 euros per class annually or approximately 4 euros per student. Koncentrat currently works with about 10 percent of Danish schools, reaching more than 20,000 eligible students in a 200,000-strong market.
Koncentrat’s core team consists of 3 co-founders working full time: Editor-in-Chief Sven Johannesen, Editor-at-Large Lasse Wamsler and Gudmundsson, who is also Head of Engagement. The team also has a part-time Didactic Editor and Illustrator, and regularly collaborates with freelance journalists.
Faced with COVID-19 and a school lockdown, Koncentrat designed an interactive news program called “Sofa News,” which is streamed on YouTube and Facebook. All episodes have been broadcast by regional TV stations in Denmark. The Fix talked to Gudmundsson about Koncentrat’s product, its audiences and stakeholders, and how the pandemic has affected the company’s work.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Alicja Peszkowska: How has Koncentrat fared during the pandemic? How did you come up with Sofa news?
Sune Gudmundsson: When the lockdown happened and schools closed we were thinking about ways in which Koncentrat could stay relevant for students.
We came up with an idea that took some of the burden off the teachers’ shoulders and made a TV news literacy programme with questions, discussions and special guests. The show was streamed on Facebook and YouTube, as well as all the regional channels of Denmark’s TV2.
The episodes were interactive and lasted approximately 35 minutes each.
AP: How did the interactive part work?
SG: We used this interactive tool called Menti, which gave each student a code. When logging in with this code, they would get access to all the questions that were part of the program and could add their own.
AP: What topics did the live sessions cover?
SG: For example, “how to write great headlines,” “constructive journalism” and “how to make podcasts.” We stepped out of the classic journalist role even more and became straight-on educators.
Sofa news was also an offspring of something called Sofaskolen targeted at students in grades 0 to 6. Sofa news is for older students in grades 7 to 10.
AP: This has become particularly relevant right now. You can provide an educational experience online ‒ you are ready while many schools are just testing things.
SG: That is true. Ultimately though, it is up to teachers to decide which Koncentrat articles will be read and discussed in class. According to a study from 2019, 36 percent of Danish elementary school teachers already use (only or primarily) digital resources in their teaching process and so Koncentrat provides resources for a highly digitized context anyway.
But our readership numbers have gone up over the past few months. We provided schools with articles about the pandemic, like “What is COVID-19?” “How does it affect our economy?” “How does it affect our mental state?”
We prepared these articles within a couple of weeks, which is slow for journalism but really fast for schools. No other curriculum available to schools covered that in the beginning of the pandemic. So we became their go-to media for learning about the coronavirus. We were the front-runners.
AP. Let’s take a couple of steps back to explain when exactly Koncentrat first came to life, what was your main idea, and what needs were you responding to?
SG: Our vision for Koncentrat is to strengthen the news literacy of school students and thereby strengthen their democratic self-confidence. If you understand the news, if you feel a part of the news cycle, you are included in the public debate and more likely to take action.
AP: Where did the money come from?
SG: We were originally funded through a state program called Innovation Fund ‒ a fund for new media – and we officially launched in February 2018. On top of the 470,000 euros we received, we added our own money and funded Koncentrat.
The money ran out last year because we were funded for three years. This is our fourth year as a company but third online.
Now we’re primarily funded through subscriptions and workshops. Schools sign up for a subscription for all the relevant classes ‒ in our case, 7th to 10th grade (students aged 13-16).
We also run other, grant-funded projects ‒ we participated in the European Journalism Center’s Engagement Accelerator. They helped us launch a Youth Correspondent initiative that is still running.
AP: Could you tell me a little more about your product? Is it a dedicated platform for registered users only?
SG: Yes. In order to access the site you need a specific, school-affiliated login, it is called Uni-login. Every kid in Denmark has one.
AP: How does this educational component work?
SG: Each news article comes with assignments. Before you read the article, you will have to answer some questions which provide context. After you read it there are assignments which help you reflect on what you just read.
We base our work on educational theories and explaining things first, so that you can get more from reading the core text. It is curious how journalists, unlike marketers, do not use information about how the human brain processes information while writing their materials.
While you read one of our articles, we will ask you some specific questions too. This is a way of checking whether you understand what you are reading and organizing this knowledge for you. For instance, list 5 things the source defines as necessary safety measures. We will also ask whether the text uses terms that a reader didn’t understand.
AP: Could you give me an example?
SG: For example, if you have a news article about COVID-19, after reading our background stories, it will be much easier for you to understand what others are talking about when they mention herd immunity, vaccines or antibodies. Most journalists assume people already know what they are talking about, but that is not always the case.
Before you even get to reading an article, you need to complete a few tasks. Let’s stick to the COVID-19 example. Before diving into the main text, we will explain that COVID-19 belongs to a family of coronaviruses, that viruses are different from bacteria,, what a lockdown is and so on.
Another didactic part comes after you read an article. There you can join a group discussion, do some individual assignments or something that would be linking the topic of a given article with other content available on the website or classes included in the curriculum.
We have assignments prepared for all the subjects (biology, physics, Danish, sexual education) in the curriculum, they are also organised by specific grades and articles’ topics.
AP: That’s a great example. Another thing I’d like to ask you about is working with teachers and schools. Despite your main users being students, your clients are, in fact, institutions.
SG: Teachers are the gatekeepers of Koncentrat. They’re the ones that make decisions about what gets read in class and why. Working with teachers is a whole separate part of our work: we organise meetings and events with them, and we run a section called “Teacher’s Guide” for every article we write.
But that is not enough. We are thinking of forming an official teacher’s board.
AP: What is your goal there?
SG: We want teachers who have not yet worked with Koncentrat to understand what we are all about. Most of the teachers at first glance think that they can use our articles as examples of how news articles look and present them to their students in that way. Our vision is slightly different.
We want them to be able to use our texts as supplements to whatever they are discussing, in a social science class, for instance. Let’s take poverty — we do have articles about the latest developments in the fight against poverty in Denmark, same with — for example — American politics.
AP: But before you get to talk to students, you need to form a relationship with the schools. You need to become a part of the curriculum.
SG: Yes. We are however, not a mandatory part of the curriculum, but we are a part of it.
AP: Are you in touch with students directly or just via articles?
SG: We have a strong relationship with a small group of youth correspondents, usually 5-10 at a time. We ask them what would be a cool piece of news to write about and they usually come up with ideas that don’t yet have a news angle. We help them find it, we also help with research, setting up interviews and writing articles. So we co-produce their articles, which helps us understand how they see the world.
When you have a close relationship with your audience, you don’t just read stats and look at how they click around your page. You talk to them.
AP: What other stakeholders does Koncentrat have?
SG: Last year we became partners with Alinea, Denmark’s leading publisher of educational materials for primary school children across platforms. The majority of schools have some kind of a product (books or digital) from Alinea. They basically have an email for every teacher in Denmark. Our ability to get in touch with teachers to make our case has become much greater after forming this partnership.
We basically wouldn’t survive without it. So my big recommendation for startups trying to make it outside of the traditional journalism context, is to team up with a commercial partner who, like in our case, already has a big foot in the market.
AP: And it is a gain for them too, I guess. They must be learning a lot from this collaboration and adjusting their own products.
SG: Totally. And they suddenly have a news media outlet in their portfolio, it definitely gives them an edge.
AP: Would Koncentrat work outside of Denmark? Or do you think your success is specific to how the Danish system works?
SG: Definitely. During the European Journalism Center’s Accelerator Programme we met people from all over Europe and learned about their news landscapes and educational systems. Our success depends on a very digitized and centralized school system. It could never work in Spain, Italy, or France. A similar concept could be successful in other Scandinavian countries, or the Netherlands, but what we do is very context-specific.
AP: What is your favorite part of your job? Do you miss being a full-time journalist?SG: I am probably a lot more motivated now than if I were still doing my regular job as a journalist. I feel that I am changing something in the world — I am giving a whole generation essential tools that help them experience and understand news. Hopefully, Koncentrat is also sparking a desire to read quality journalism. That is a huge impact when you think about it.