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"Several had not seen a battery-powered radio"

Monday, October 23, 2023

During Preparedness Week, Blekinge Läns Tidning and the Swedish Women's Voluntary Defence Organization (Lottakåren) set out to engage with high school students to discuss preparedness. This successful event was part of the research project "Enhanced Local Journalism in Crisis Situations." "Several of them had never seen a regular battery-powered radio before," says Mimmi Karlsson Bernfalk, Editor-in-Chief at BLT.

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Taulen Ahmad, Malva Appelros Hasanovic och Emilia Blomé på Vägga gymnasieskola kikar på beredskapsväskan som Lottakåren tagit med. Foto: LENA EHRING/BLT

"Enhanced Local Journalism in Crisis Situations" is a collaboration between Lottakåren and local news organizations in Blekinge and Värmland, with a particular focus on the municipalities of Karlshamn, Arvika, and Eda. The aim is to test in local test environments with limited editorial staffing whether, and if so, how collaboration between local news media and the Swedish Women's Voluntary Defence Organization can strengthen the flow of information and communication. This, in turn, creates better conditions for local media to quickly obtain verified information during crises.

"Meeting once a month" In Blekinge, Blekinge Läns Tidning (BLT) collaborates with Lottakåren in Karlshamn. In week 39, it was Preparedness Week, an annual national campaign coordinated by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap, MSB), designed to enhance people's resilience in the face of crises and war. During the week, BLT and Lottakåren organized a joint public activity.

"We meet the 'Lottas' (a common term for members of the Swedish Women's Voluntary Defence Organization) once a month as part of this project. We discuss journalism and our respective roles and how we can collaborate. We've identified that the media industry needs to build a relationship with our younger citizens. This is a generation that didn't grow up with a newspaper at home and doesn't have a connection to a local newspaper. We also realized that Lottakåren is relatively unknown to the general public and struggles to recruit younger members. Here, we found a common ground," says Mimmi Karlsson Bernfalk, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher at BLT.

The importance of being critical of sources This led to Mimmi Karlsson Bernfalk and two Lottakåren representatives visiting Vägga high school in Karlshamn during Preparedness Week. They discussed the importance of preparedness, showed a film depicting the effects of a major societal crisis, and had some students take on a challenge available on the MSB website called "Seven Days." It's based on a fictional scenario where individuals must make choices about how to respond in a crisis.

"The 'Lottas' also brought along a preparedness kit that piqued the students' interest. There were several students who had never seen a regular battery-powered radio before, so we had a discussion about that. My responsibility was to talk about the importance of being critical of sources, especially in a societal crisis," says Mimmi Karlsson Bernfalk.


How did the students respond?
"The response was good. They were very interested, and we received many questions. There was a sense of curiosity. Many didn't know why preparedness is important."


What are the plans for the project going forward?
"We'll continue to meet once a month to discuss our journalism, what they find relevant, and if we can identify other ways to collectively reach out to younger individuals based on what we've done so far. We also hope that, now that we've built a relationship between us and Lottakåren, we can use them as contacts we can reach out to in case of a storm or any other event that might limit access to different areas. I think that has significant value."


What lessons have you learned from the project so far?
"The importance of being close to the people who live in Blekinge. Every time we visit a high school or meet with the 'Lottas' and start talking, we understand how crucial it is for us journalists to get out there, meet people in real life, and move away from desk journalism as much as possible."


ABC of Enhanced Local Journalism in Crisis Situations
Project Partners: Blekinge Läns Tidning, University of Gothenburg, NWT Media, Swedish Women's Voluntary Defence Organization (Lottakåren), and Media & Democracy.
Project Period: September 1, 2022, through June 30, 2024.
External Co-Funder: Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndigheten för psykologiskt försvar).

Other Activities during Preparedness Week:
In Arvika, Arvika Nyheter published several news segments related to preparedness. A couple of them discussed an "Exitainer" – a container where residents could experience what life would be like if society were to shut down. Another discussed the upcoming autumn storms and how to prepare for power outages.

Två kvinnor går längs en klippa i solnedgången, hukade över sina mobiltelfoner. Det är något oroligt över bilden. Kanske försöker de kontakta någon som är försvunnen.

Strengthened local journalism in crises

The project aims to strengthen the conditions of local journalism in crises and wars; a democratic preparedness. In addition to Media & Democracy, the University of Gothenburg, Blekinge Läns Tidning...
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