This story was originally published on klickmonster.se on June 4, 2015 and re-published on Smashdig.com on Sept. 28, 2015.
It began with a broccoli sandwich. Or maybe not.
‘‘It wasn’t like a silver-bullet moment. I’ve described it as if it started in a sandwich bar in New York. But we worked together at Bonniers Tidskrifter for almost four years and I think the idea developed from those four years,’’ says Peder Bonnier, CEO and co-founder of the media startup KIT.
Bonnier founded KIT together with his two colleagues Robert Brännström and Fredrik Strömberg. KIT is owned by Bonnier Growth Media, a part of Bonnier AB. The site launched in April and aims to tell engaging stories about our time in a time when most media sites get a lot of their traffic from social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. This is something the startup is embracing. The philosophy at KIT is that the stories will find the reader and not the other way around.
The site’s home page doesn’t feature any KIT stories. Instead, it links to its Facebook and Twitter feeds as well as a newsletter sign-up. On Facebook, Twitter and in the newsletter, links to the individual stories are published.
‘‘We’ve treated the home page for what it’s worth. On a good day, it might drive 10 per cent of our traffic, so we prioritize it accordingly,’’ says editor-in-chief and co-founder Robert Brännström. ‘‘We might have a home page in 2000-something.’’
However, relying on Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic can pose problems for a news site, as it will have to compete not only against a user’s Facebook friends, but also against other media outlets pushing their content. In the beginning of June, KIT had 3619 ‘‘likes’’ on Facebook and 1866 followers on Twitter (not including the followers of the staff’s personal accounts).
‘‘There are no shortcuts. You have to walk the long and winding road,’’ says VP of product and co-founder Fredrik Strömberg. ‘‘That’s the only thing you can do because we are in the hands of algorithms, selection processes and companies we have no control over. And that’s quite nice, because we can only do the best we can.’’
Another key aspect is data. The KIT founders all worked with live data at Bonnier Tidskrifter, which meant they saw what was happening in the media industry and could get a better picture of what was needed in the future, Bonnier says.
The data will also provide KIT with information about their readers. However, at the new media startup, they think of it as getting to know what the reader wants and needs, Strömberg told Swedish Television in an April interview. This will shape the way KIT presents its stories, he added.
The trio has a history of building an audience for feature sites at Bonnier Tidskrifter, which never had a strong home page presence.
That meant adopting a mindset on how to drive traffic to sites where the home page isn’t a natural landing spot for the audience, Brännström says.
The editor-in-chief also sees the positives with social networking sites such as Facebook. This is a neutral distributor, free of charge, that rewards good content, he says.
KIT has already made somewhat of a splash on the Swedish media scene. In May, the site published a three-part series by newly hired and well-known gaming journalist Thomas Arnroth, which told the stories of several young males and females being treated, oftentimes against their will, for addiction to computer games.
The series, which also aimed to answer the question if this form of addiction really does exist, engaged a lot of readers. KIT therefore recorded a podcast where two of the experts quoted in the series got a chance to expand on the topic and address some of the readers’ questions.
Among other KIT stories are reports on the ongoing migrant disasters on the Mediterranean Sea, how liberal senator Bernie Sanders wants to make the United States a bit more like Scandinavia and several articles about robots and technology.
Sends startup vibes
Walking into KIT’s offices, just a stone’s throw from Hötorget in the central part of Stockholm, feels like walking into something new and fresh. The rooms in this converted apartment building are bright and somewhat spacious. Shiny Mac computers sit on almost every desk with cables running every which-way. One guy has taken off his shoes and is using a balance board while working. This is no shirt and tie environment.
KIT is not your average media company and nor do they try to be. But using social media as their de-facto home page is not the only way in which the site differs from other media outlets.
The site launched in the middle of the ongoing debate on how to make online journalism profitable, or at least sustainable. While some news outlets, such as The New York Times, successfully have implemented pay walls, others have tried and failed. KIT is publishing all its content free of charge. Bonnier, Strömberg and Brännström do not believe in pay walls.
‘‘That bird has left the cage,’’ Strömberg says. ‘‘If you look at the digital market and you don’t have to pay 300 print journalists, it looks like a blossoming field. But if you look at it from a print perspective, it looks like burned soil.’’
‘‘Content’’ behind a pay wall never gets a chance to reach those interested in it. Media companies must aim to reach the maximum number of readers for every article. This is not done well today and it gets even worse behind a pay wall, Strömberg says.
Already planning an expansion
In terms of personnel, KIT has already managed to build a strong newsroom. The startup has recruited people from some of Sweden’s biggest media companies. Among the newly hired are, besides Arnroth, feature editor Linda Öhrn Lernström, food editor Andreas Ivarsson and news editor Martin Schori who leaves a position as web editor at Aftonbladet, one of the largest dailies in Sweden, this summer. The site also has reporters in the Danish capital of Copenhagen and Argentina.
Today, the staff consists of around 20 people, as well as reporters and consults on contract or freelance assignments.
Peder Bonnier. Photo: Adam Jönsson
But KIT is already planning an expansion.
‘‘We will grow quickly. We are recruiting editorial staff aggressively right now,’’ Bonnier says. ‘‘In the future we will also build a marketing and sales department, which will require additional staff.’’
The editorial department consists of seven reporters. That’s too small in order for KIT to achieve its goals.
‘‘There’s a critical mass to be able to do a well-rounded media product and that’s larger than seven people,’’ says Bonnier.