The heart and soul in the media business

Twitter and Facebook are Carina Bergfeldt’s two best friends when she’s on assignment for Aftonbladet. Not only do her connections in social media help when seeking information and sources – when she visited the Syrian boarder the readers also gave proof of their true engagement by raising money to help.

Another boardroom, another brainstorming session, another long trip. Together with photographer Magnus Wennman I am about to travel along the Syrian border, through Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey It’s February 2015 and the world has not yet comprehended the extent of the refugee disaster.

“It is hard to make people care”, the woman from UNHCR says. “Maybe that’s what we should call the campaign? ‘Who cares?’… since no one does”, she continues. A few weeks later, we are there. Among the most forgotten victims of a humanitarian disaster.

Meeting the children of war

An eight-year-old boy, Shiar, has a body that looks like patchwork, put together by whatever skin was left after the mine. Five-year-old Ahmed lives in a plastic tent situated on top of a garbage dump, so close to Syria so that I can see his homeland as I talk to him. I can see it. He cannot. His blind eyes are as white as the world around them is black. Day in and day out we meet them. The children of war. On this specific day, my colleague Magnus has walked away to take a photo of some boys playing – when she catches my eye. She is seven years old and her name is Rima. She starts to follow me as I walk around the refugee camp. At first she walks behind me, smiling every time I turn around to look at her. Then she starts walking a bit faster, catching up with me. Finally, she is walking by my side.

A wooden treasure

All the time while she is walking she is holding something, her hands tightly clasped. Whatever is in there, she’s protecting it like a priceless dinosaur egg. It takes a lot of smiling and pointing from my part before she finally agrees to show me her treasure. It’s a little wooden heart, no bigger than a thumbnail, painted blue. The kind of little wooden heart you can buy for less than a dollar at the crafts store. With the interpreter’s help, Rima tells me that the little heart is the prettiest thing she’s ever seen. She asks me if I feel the same way.

As I smile and nod I feel my own heart breaking into pieces. Over this girl. Over the life she’s endured. Over the hundreds of other children we’ve met. And over the fact that UNHCR believes that nobody in Sweden cares about her. I refuse to believe that’s true. As I often do when my frustration level goes up during an assignment, I turn to Twitter and Facebook. My two best friends when I travel. I post a photo, share a brief version of her story with the thousands I interact with there. I tell the readers that I can’t wait to tell them more when I come home.

They put my heart back together

When we finally publish the story about Rima, we raise almost half a million SEK in that very first day. Four days later, Aftonbladet’s readers have given the children of Syria over two million SEK. And while doing that, they have put my heart back together, with the emails they send me. With the interactions we have on Twitter. With every share and comment they’ve given me on my Aftonbladet-Facebook page. And with the money they spent.

Important journalism

Our readers care – when we give them journalism worth caring about. When we tell them about people worth portraying. Within Schibsted we can truly impact people in their every day lives. We can give them journalism that they feel is not only worth their time – but also their money. In this case above, the aim was to raise money for the children. In other cases, I go on assignments with the purpose of writing journalism that readers want to buy from us, The two trips I’ve gone on so far for Aftonbladet Plus, to Texas and Canada, have provided a profit of more than one million SEK – after both trips were completely paid for.

Some people find it offensive to talk about money and journalism. I have never really understood that. Ever since Lars-Johan Hierta published the first edition of Aftonbladet in 1830 the purpose has been just that: to provide people with important news worth paying for. We just do it in a slightly different way today. My job is to go out into the world and bring back quality journalism that is powerful enough to make people want to open their hearts – and their wallets. As I do that, I get the most wonderful gift in return. With every new Plus account when I write about indigenous women in Canada, or every SEK when I write about girls like Rima, I learn that the UNHCR lady was dead wrong.

Our readers care.