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Innovative journalism for the future – an example from Norway

Can the story of traffic accidents be told in a new way?  Journalists and programmers in the Norwegian media house Bergens Tidende joined forces to push local journalism to a new level.

Watch multimedia journalists Lasse Lambrechts explain how they worked with “Killing Roads”

Bergens Tidende is the major newspaper in Bergen, Norway’s second largest and most beautiful city. It’s web site has seen remarkable growth during the last year – and now has around 500.000 unique visitors every week. The number is amazing in a city of 260.000 inhabitants.

The western part of Norway is full of narrow and winding roads, and traffic accidents are common news items. However, the journalists at Bergens Tidende wanted to dig deeper into this issue, and asked themselves not only who got killed, but why. Would there be any data that could help them understand this issue?

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration was approached, and after persistent use of the Norwegian Freedom of Information Act, the journalists got access to a database of all road accidents in the country.

The database turned out to be a journalistic goldmine: It contained details about 11.400 traffic accidents all over the country, all neatly arranged in an Excel file. Not only did the database give the exact position of each accident, but it also included numerous details, such as how many were killed and injured, the seriousness of injuries, driving conditions, type of vehicle, type of street, speed limit, time of the day, etc.

Still, most journalists would at this point probably have been happy to take a look at the database, extract some of the relevant accidents and made a couple of news stories based on them. In Bergens Tidende, though, the journalists instead were teamed up with programmers. Within a few weeks all the traffic accidents in the country had been put on a big Google map with endless ways to search the database.

Here is the smaller version of the map:

[iframe_loader src='' width='468' height='470' frameborder='0' scrolling='no' src='http://images.bt.no/iframes/veiene/ekstern.html?lat=61.50996997104667&lon=8.00000000000001&zoom=5&null']

The data from The Norwegian Public Roads Administration did not give the names of any victims. But good journalism is always about people, and the journalists spent a lot of time over several weeks to identify victims. Relatives were asked for permission to use photos of the victims in the newspaper and on the web site. Many of them were interviewed at length about their experiences.

“Killing Roads” has been one of the biggest editorial projects at Bergens Tidende over the last few years, and resulted in a large number of newspaper articles, numerous stories on the web site as well as many video reports.

This video report (in Norwegian) tells the story of a couple who was killed in one of the traffic accidents.

[iframe_loader src="http://www.bt.no/tv/embed/?id=23929" frameborder="0" height="379" width="560" scrolling="no"]

The online part of this project is innovative and some of the best we have seen. It demonstrates how successful you can be with mixing the experience of programmers and journalists.

Here are some of the stories:

What is the most important things they have learned?

Lasse Lambrechts, a programmer who now works as multimedia journalist, says:

- It is always more work than you imagine. And it is extremely important to have a good structure, which I have learned in my years as programmer.

Lambrechts thinks they are the first team doing something like this in Norwegian journalism, and he believes the project is rather unique also globally.

Lasse Lambrechts is one one of many in a large team that has worked on “Killing Roads” at Bergens Tidende. Other team members include developer Håkon Ferstad, journalist Øivind L. Eidsvik,  video journalist Sonja Ystaas and journalist Erlend Langeland Haugen.

Bergens Tidende has decided to make the map of traffic accidents available to any other news media or blog in Norway that might be interested. All it takes is a couple of code lines – and a localized version of the accident map may be embeddedon any web site, as displayed above.

Personally I was very impressed with their work. I think it is an superb example of how different professions in the media, such as journalists, video journalists and programmers, by working together can a world-class editorial experience.

We need more of this type of journalism if the media companies shall survive in the future!

Bring it on, my fellow colleagues!

Bring it on!

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Disclaimer: I work as editor at Media Norway, which is the company owning Bergens Tidende. However, I have not been involved in this editorial project in any way.

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About the author: Experienced media manager and journalist. Enthusiastic about digital media – and eager amateur photographer. Currently Chief Communications Officer at Schibsted Tech Polska in Krakow, Poland.

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