In a bid to broaden its readership, Vesterålen Online has extended its news coverage by adding a page in Arabic. After only a week, the newspaper reports a lot of traffic on these articles.
"We have always been innovative, and we'll have a test run in April. The reason is that quite a few people live in Vesterålen who speak Arabic," editor Geir Bjørn Nilsen told national broadcaster NRK. By his own admission, the web page was rolled out quietly, without the web publisher "banging on the big drum".
The news stories are hand-picked and translated by Hasiba Alsayed, a Syrian-born woman who previously worked as a journalist and editor for a family magazine in Dubai. She has also been commissioned to write articles in Norwegian and Arabic that may be of particular interest among immigrants.
According to her, the news of the local newspaper publishing pieces in Arabic has begun to spread, and many people have contacted Vesterålen Online to voice their appreciation.
"This is a fantastic offer, especially for those who have not learned much Norwegian yet. This means that immigrants can become more involved in what is happening in the local community," Alsayed said.
According to Nilsen, the question of publishing news in languages other than Norwegian is part of the difficult integration debate.
"Many people believe that those who come to Norway as refugees must learn Norwegian, and I basically agree with that. But then, once again, the knowledge of Norwegian varies," he stressed.
According to him, the newspaper has received no negative feedback, which is why the media site may be compelled to offer coverage in other languages in the future.
"We want to offer news in Russian as well, which is the second major language in the region. We will test whether that there is a need for this," Geir Bjørn Nilsen explained.
The initiative has approved of by scientific circles as well.
"It is positive that the media think [in terms of] diversity and make things more accessible to people who do not speak and understand Norwegian so well", Erik Knudsen, a postdoctoral researcher in media studies at the University of Bergen, told NRK. According to Knudsen, other newspapers will follow suit if it turns out that there is a market for news in other languages. "I don't think Google-translated news has a future," he added.
National broadcaster NRK already offers news and reports in several languages, such as Arabic, Kurdish and Dari.
According to Halwan Ibrahim of the Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDi), the government's policy is to provide a good command of Norwegian for all the new arrivals. Although local news in other languages, such as Arabic, may help the newcomers stay informed, the priority is still to provide a good level of integration, he stressed.
Ordinary Norwegians, however, took the elation with a pinch of salt.
"How should they learn to read and write Norwegian, when they get it in Arabic?" a user questioned in NRK's comment section on Facebook.
"Yes, that's some high-level integration", another smirked.
"And I thought learning Norwegian was still a must for staying in Norway and becoming a Norwegian citizen," a person mused.
"Is it still 1 April?" yet another one asked incredulously.
Vesterålens Avis is a newspaper published in Stokmarknes and covering the district of Vesterålen. Founded in 1892, it is the oldest in Nordland County.
Despite a lack of official language statistics in Norway, it may be assumed the number of the speakers of Arabic has risen in the wake of the migrant crisis, with Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan providing the most asylum seekers. In total, 17.7 percent of Norway's population are immigrants.