SND33: Behind the scenes of Svenska Dagbladet’s Best in Show coverage

SvD editor-in-chief Lena K Samuelsson (stage left, in black) announces Svenska Dagbladet's Best in Show award in the newsroom to happy cheers and applause from colleagues.

UPDATE:See the full list of the SvD team that worked on this project below…


There was a loud cheer at the morning meeting when I read aloud the SND33 judges’ reasons for awarding Svenska Dagbladet a Gold Medal for our coverage of the tragic attacks in Norway:

“This is one of the best pieces of breaking news coverage we’ve ever seen. It could be held up as a template for how to handle a breaking news story.”

We appreciated the kind words. But since this is a newsroom used to templates, it was also quite close to the truth.

The development to have a consistent plan for how to present big news stories started back in 2005 and the first time we pursued it was for the terrorist attacks in London that July. It came up as an approach to tell big stories better, so that we did not have to reinvent the wheel every time we had a new story to tell.

The idea is simple: we have plan on how to present different kinds of news stories from a SMALL to, in this case, an XXL and each solution has a defined templated design. Editorial design doesn’t have to be reinvented everyday and it’s more important to create something with a look that everyone in the newsroom agrees with.

We also improved our way of presenting our visual journalism. The print is much better at getting the overview of the news story and that made us decide very big news stories can start with a full spread picture. Last year we did that for the Tsunami tragedy in Japan as well as the terror attack against Norway.

With a good plan for design you can focus on journalism and on how to tell the story.

The terror attack against Norway and the shootings on the island Utøya were an enormous tragedy. At the same time it put the news media under very high pressure. But the most important task for a newspaper is to focus and to have a plan when you present news.

SvD editor-in-chief Lena K Samuelsson (left, in black) takes the stage, interviewing the three staff members behind her that represent the team, from left: Jessika Olofsson, picture editor, Malin S Ånell, page designer and managing editor: Martin Jönsson. They explained the difficulties and challenges involved in delivering the award-winning breaking news coverage, and what choices they made.

Our managing editor Martin Jönsson, who was in charge this day will now explain the thoughts behind the pages:

A Friday evening in late July is not the best time for big news events. The newsroom is notoriously understaffed and the most experienced staff are away on holiday. When the news broke of an explosion in central Oslo, we were in a meeting, going through the mostly pre-produced pages of the newspaper for the following weekend.

It didn’t take us long to realize that this was serious. But what made this story difficult to cover was how it continually developed. A couple of hours after the bomb in Oslo, the rumors started to spread of shootings at Utøya. But it took hours before the police confirmed that there were dead people in the island. At 10 p.m., the police said the number of victims at Utøya was nine to 10. Five hours later, they changed it to 85. By then, it was a completely different story.

This explains why the second day of coverage (which is the one we are awarded for by SND) was the most important. The entire world was shocked by the brutality of the killings. The news channels were broadcasting around the clock, Twitter was bursting with rumors and the tabloids published testimonials of terror. Our task was to keep a cool head and try to explain to our readers what actually had occurred and provide analysis and overview.

Getting the resources in place was a struggle. After that, the main task was to identify the big blocks of coverage and how they should be presented, with variation and maximum impact, without losing the focus on facts and detail. We quickly identified the stories most fit for storytelling, infographics, analysis and worked hard on selecting the key pictures of the story.

To make it more difficult, we struggled with late and false information from the authorities. We tried to build up a presentation that was flexible: if new news occurred late, we could switch rapidly. But most of the pages were finished in less than five hours. Everybody knew what to do: they understood what was needed.

Two reporters were assigned the task to produce fact boxes alone: a crucial task.

I am very happy with the result. Actually, we did almost just-as-good newspapers the following days as well. And I slept about 5 hours out of 72. But this day’s newspaper was crucial — and we got a lot of thankful reactions from our readers.

SvD’s picture editor Jessika Olofsson, who made this choices of photography will explain the thoughts behind photo selection:

Our task as a newspaper is to show the reality to our readers, to show the truth even if it’s gruesome. But with respect for the deceased and their relatives and friends.

So for the front page we wanted to be personal and close to the grief and the pain with the photo of the young survivors. On the starting spread we needed to show the photo of the dead bodies at the waterside of the Utøya island, because it was very simple \ but very strong. A couple of pages later we showed the prime minister hugging a relative of a deceased, with his eyes closed and pain in his face. These photos, along with the photo from Oslo outside the cathedral with the flowers, are the ones that  are cornerstones of the story.

When you do a lot of pages you don’t want to have to repeat any scene and you want to give the reader all the perspectives available, and, at the same time, create a rhythm that works. You need to have all the pages in mind — not just the one you are working on at the moment.

July 23, 2011 is one of my hardest days ever at the paper. I had tears in my eyes several times during that long day at work and I don’t think I was the only one.

In closing

A final, humble, thank you to all judges at SND 33rd competition – for awarding Svenska Dagbladet “Best In Show” from all staff at Svenska Dagbladet, Stockholm, Sweden.

The team that worked on SvD’s coverage:

  • Martin Jönsson, Managing editor
  • Jessika Olofsson, Picture editor
  • Malin S Ånell, Page designer
  • Tor Johnson, Picture editor
  • Sophia Ahlner, Page designer
  • Claes Reimegård, Page designer
  • Mats Rosén, Night news editor
  • Alexander Rauscher, Info Graphics designer
  • Simon Paulin, Photographer
  • Anna Thurfjell, Design Editor
  • Helena Frank, Page designer
  • David Standar, Page designer
  • Magnus Nygren, Page designer
  • Fredrik Robertsson, Page designer
  • Max Wahlund, Page designer
  • Albin Grahn, Page designer
  • Åsa Åberg, Page designer
  • Carina Stensson, Opinion editor
  • Catarina Håkansson, Reporter
  • Jessica Balksjö, Reporter
  • Gustav Sjöholm, Reporter
  • Maggie Strömberg, Reporter
  • Björn Lindahl, Foreign Correspondent, Oslo
  • Mikaela Åkerman, Reporter
  • Kristoffer Törnmalm, Reporter
  • Jon Pelling, Reporter
  • PJ Anders Linder, Political Editor-in-Chief
  • Annika Hellsten, Marketing Project Co-ordinator
  • Mats Hagberg, Format Planner
  • Check out coverage of SND33 here

    Enter SND’s Best of Digital Design here

    Nominate a site or app to be World’s Best here

    Check out the list of previous Best in Show winners here

    Check out coverage of all the Gold medals:

    First Gold medal: Washington Post goes tablet shopping
    Second Gold medal: Times of Oman’s Ramadan tiled poster
    Third Gold medal: Times of Oman business page
    Fourth Gold medal: Svenska Dagbladet’s breaking news coverage of Norway attacks
    Fifth Gold medal: Illustration portfolio by Pablo Bernasconi of La Nacion
    Sixth Gold medal: A cover and spread about Steve Jobs from Bloomberg Business Week

    About Lee Steele

    is design editor of the Hearst Connecticut Newspapers and 2015 president of the Society for News Design.

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