It's ever so popular in journalism today to grade this or that, be it candidates for Pop Idol, restaurants or diets - all in the spirit of good consumer journalism. However, one might argue that a subsidiary of Danish media company JP/Politiken, the publisher of Extra Bladet, Jyllands-Posten and Politiken, took this trend a step or two too far. Apparently they provided a somewhat unusual service for their readers: employees at JP/Politiken company Seksuel Kulturformidling bought sex from prostitutes and published their impressions of the women on the company's website. "The idea was that the test should be enlightening, entertaining and naughty. However, many people found it unnecessarily offensive," Hans Engell, Extra Bladet's editor-in-chief, said in a press a release announcing that they would stop practicing this particular brand of 'consumer journalism' on the website in question. Link (in Swedish) via Svenska Dagbladet.
Simon Dumenco offers some good advice to Murdoch about what NOT to do with his newest acquisition: "Attempt pseudo-subliminal advertising. A recent New York Times piece described plans by Ross Levinsohn, president of Fox Interactive Media, to turn "advertisers into members of the MySpace community, with their own profiles, like the teenagers' -- so that the young people ... can become 'friends' with movies, cellphones and even deodorants." Yeah, great idea! My name is Bobby Thompson, and my best friend is deodorant!" Read more here. Link via Mediabistro.
Not unexpectedly, Orkla's decision to sell it's newspaper division to Mecom has been condemned from north to south throughout this long and narrow country by journalists and politicians alike. Norway's cultural minister, Trond Giske, has expressed his 'disappointment' and emphasised how he would have been open for a dialogue regarding Dagbladet and A-pressen's bids for Orkla, despite the obvious obstacles represented by Norway's strict laws on cross-ownership. The leader of Norway's Conservative Party condemned those very same laws. Former leader of the Conservative party Kaare Willoch told NTB that " One should have refrained from giving foreigners a say over opinion formation in Norway" and said this was far more important than profits. Editors of Orkla's local newspapers across the country have expressed their anger, frustration and sadness. Orkla Media's employees are worried about Montgomery's tabloid past and his reputation for radical cost-cutting and restructurings: they are threatening industrial action and will meet with Giske today to discuss the situation.
However, Stein Erik Hagen, Orkla's chairman told Kampanje (my translation): "The transaction is a 'reversed takeover' where Mecom buys something which is a lot bigger than itself. If you are concerned about Norwegian media ownership, you can buy stocks in Mecom"
Montgomery will effectively own 1-2 percent of the Mecom shares, Orkla 10-20 percent. Berlingske Tidende (BT), the first newspaper I saw quoting sources who claimed to know the sum Mecom has agreed to pay for Orkla Media, indicated that the price was 6,5bn Dkk (about £556m), significantly less than the initial asking price. BT also points out that Mecom has not yet secured the actual funding to go through with the sale. Orkla shares fell after the decision to sell to Mecom was announced and closed down 2pc at the end of trading yesterday.
It's official: the new owner of Orkla Media is Mecom and David Montgomery. "This is a day of grief Orkla's employees, media plurality and Orkla's credibility," says Carine Johansen, a journalist union representative and board member of Orkla Media to Journalisten. More coverage in Norwegian: DN, Aftenposten, Kampanje.
A final decision to the drawn out saga of who will get to buy Orkla's newspaper arm is expected today: both DN and Aftenposten speculate that Orkla' Media's new owner will indeed be British Mecom and David Montgomery. Employees of Orkla Media have mounted a loud PR-campaign against a 'British solution' and will demonstrate against such a solution in front of Orkla's head office at noon. "The end result is completely up in the air. This may become the darkest day in Norwegian media history, but it may also become something else entirely," Kjetil Haanes, the employee's representative on Orkla's board, is quoted saying to Journalisten (note: newspaper links in Norwegian)
How difficult can it be to terminate an internet account? Good thing this guy had the sense to TAPE the phone conversation. I found this almost too painful to listen to as it brought some very unwelcome flashbacks from my AOL nightmare – which ended with my then new laptop becoming terminally ill ( I can't prove the connection of course, but all my trouble started when I installed AOL on it...), and me being forced to pay AOL for the remaining six months of the contract despite not having a PC anymore. Link via Brand Autopsy (posted in Meaningless Marketing).
Monday: Got up at 6am. Damn. Should have been up at 5, but still not too bad. Spend an inordinate time catching up on the news (piles of newspapers waiting for me after a week of travelling, and better take a closer look at the news and websites I've only had time to scan quickly while on the road) and drinking coffee. Rush off to catch my 9am meeting on the other side of town, tropical weather so all my makeup gone before I arrive. Spend the morning in a meeting going through my translation of a drug report. Did you know that the average success rate in residential drug rehabilitation programs is 20%, regardless of type of treatment regime? I didn't, even though I've covered this beat for 11 years and written a thesis on it. It's 1pm and I'm dizzy from all the coffee and lack of breakfast. After lunching over the day's newspaper I sit down to find some hardcore ghosts and haunted mansions, but my head is still spinning on the difference between significance and importance, variations, correlations and all those terms I tried so hard to forget from when I did methods and statistics in Uni. I call a friend who wrote her MA thesis on the sex life of male bona bons (monkeys) to brush up on my statistical terminology, after which I decide that it's simply not the right day to hunt ghosts. So I go home and attempt to proofread and edit the report I've translated, but half way thru I find Gudleiv Forr's opinion piece in Dagbladet which I just have to blog about...
Tuesday: Got up at 7am, still aiming for 5, but obviously not keeping it up as the week progresses (better stop this development while I can). To my delight I find an email from a friend of a dear friend now departed when I open my mailbox. Edit, edit, edit – no chasing ghosts today either – but I do catch a spinning session, and finish the editing – 11pm
Wednesday: Scan the news and blog in the morning, have a quick but tough workout. Once I get into my office I talk to one of Britain's top experts on haunted houses, find some really spooky ghosts and a mansion with some really cool ghostbusting equipment (the manager of this place has never actually encountered a ghost himself though). I learn that 'my book' (an anthology I'm represented in) is indeed 'out' and will be the first in a series of books on communication ethics, each book featuring one of my interviews. As a nice surprise I get an email from a former lecturer of mine who blogs here. Finalise drug report. Meet the big boss of one of my clients for lunch. Log the logs of the log. Been working from 6am to 6pm and attempt to attend a political debate, but need some dinner first. I've been planning for a while to write a story on what I used to think was the best winebar in Europe, so I head there for some food. However, the service turns out to be so bad that I end up leaving under a dark cloud – no review and no political debate – rather, I head home and do some writing.
Thursday? By now I've forgotten all about Thursday: I know it involved a long meeting, a quick but intense workout and lots of following up on loose ends and research requests.
Friday: Get up at 7:30. Do some writing in the morning before I go down town. I pick up a 545 page manuscript I optimistically plan to copy edit over the weekend. Back in the office I talk to some nice people at a haunted house, which unfortunately turns out to be closed during the summer (the winter is their 'high season' for paranormal activities). Besides, all their eight ghosts are friendly ones, nothing scary like in this place on the other side of the mountain. Neither can you see these ghosts; but you can smell and hear them and the three children ghosts like to 'play tricks' on visitors...
Weekend: not much copy editing going on, but some good workouts; I have some fun with my writing and steal a few hours with a good book (too good, I'm reading it for the third time but still I'm struggling to put it down). I try to mow the lawn but I still can't seem to figure out how to start the damn thing which is supposed to do the mowing (it runs on oil, I'm supposed to pull some thingy, but it doesn't have any effect so I give up) – the grass has grown so high that it's becoming rather embarrassing to compare 'our' part of the garden to the impeccable gardens of all our neighbours (better think of another solution but unfortunately I can't really imagine that any of my friends could lend me a better grass cutter, or have one at all). As always the weekend was much too short...
The upcoming week? It'll be a new adventure, though I do know it will involve models, locating a London double-decker for hire, James Bond, zorbing, surfing and some serious copy editing...
I found this test rather gratifying. And here I was, pondering all my shortcomings... Take the "How evil are you?" test yourself here
Orkla Media's employees have been mobilising heavily against a possible sale of the company to British Mecom this week. They have expressed great concern about Mecom's behaviour in Germany, but equally about the prospect of getting a British proprietor – in fact they have stated that they would prefer any Norwegian, or even Nordic, solution to one involving unreliable foreigners.
The City is betting that Mecom will emerge as the winner from this convoluted and drawn out sales process, but I think it's becoming increasingly doubtful if Stein Erik Hagen, Orkla's chairman, can withstand all the negative press and exposure. He has previously worked hard to position himself as a 'benevolent capitalist', e.g. by contributing financially to his local community, and being cast as someone who is willing to 'throw the Norwegian Enlightenment project' over board for personal profits might not sit very well with him.
Orkla Media's employees have mounted a very effective PR-campaign: if they have it their way, and Orkla goes through with the sale, Orkla's board will go down in history as the capitalist crooks who sold out to foreigners. Who sold, not just a Norwegian factory – which would have been bad enough as it would have been condemned as 'gambling with Norwegian industrial jobs' – but a vital part of Norway's democratic heritage to foreigners who ruthlessly will turn these vehicles of democratic enlightenment into short-term cash machines for the benefit of their own pockets.
Today Norway's biggest financial daily, speculates that Hagen may oppose the sale to Mecom and champion a solution which would see the Danish and Polish newspapers sold but not the Norwegian. N24 on the other hand, writes that Orkla has decided to get out of the media industry all together and is considering a solution where the Danish and Polish operations will be sold, and the Norwegian media group listed on the stock exchange
As if Norway's largest company, Statoil, didn't run into enough problems in Iran, Norway's second largest company, Norwegian Hydro, has just land a big contract there. Let's for their sake hope it's not yet another of those elaborate buy-back schemes which has inflicted so big losses on other Western companies operating in Iran, or that Hydro has negotiated a miraculously better buy-back scheme than what other companies have secured.
Last month I wrote about my friend H's close encounter with death and how she miraculously survived a dramatic crash with a mountain wall which left her car completely wrecked. Well, wonders of all wonders, not only did my friend H and the contents of the car all survive in one piece, yesterday Casanova the cat - who ran away after the accident - turned up alive! We've had our power struggles Casanova and I, most notably the first few times I was cat sitting for him and he tried to manipulate me into feeding him all day and get me up in the mornings by banging on my door an meuing from 5am on - it's not for nothing that he's nick-named 'the centre of the world'. However, once we got past the stage of testing each others boundaries we've come to an understanding and I am very glad to see him back. Casanova's return reminded me of my friend Charles' little tune 'The Cat Came Back':
Actually "the most socialistic force you've ever seen" according to Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP. "They have decided - 'if I don't eat my children somebody else will'," he is quoted saying in the FT . My friend Adriana, a professional blogger and internet expert who grew up in communist Czechoslovakia, provides a well put critique of Sorrell’s statements here. Jeff Jarvis adds yet another excellent perspective on Sorrell's conclusions in 'The adman and the ice age'.
While we are discussing evil foreign media owners and all the virtues of national media ownership here in our small corner of the world, British newspapers improve their strategies for reaching a bigger, worldwide audience. Both The Times and The Guardian are eyeing the US market, but the implications of Guardian's announcement that they will publish articles online before print are staggering (if not exactly new, many newspapers already do this).
A former lecturer of mine from City university takes a closer look at the practical implications for newsrooms here. It's yet another example of how the internet is changing things and has a million important implications: for one, to quote a close aide to Rumsfeld: "there are no time zones anymore". In 2003 he told a seminar I was attending in DC about the propaganda problems in Iraq and how the Internet "made it very difficult to segregate messages for different groups" – alluding to how the minute something is said in Washington, London or Baghdad it is online for everyone to read wherever you are in the world. A brave new world indeed.
"Cultureless" is the striking title of Gudleiv Forr's opinion piece in Dagbladet about how Orkla is willing to throw what he dubs 'the Norwegian Enlightenment project' over board by selling its newspaper arm to cultureless foreign owners such as the Brits (represented by Mecom).
Who is Gudleiv Forr? Hmm... the name rings a bell from my childhood. He must be someone famous but I must admit that now, fast approaching the magic 30 and having spent the best part of my twenties in England, I seem to have forgotten..........ah, something is starting to come back to me: I think he's a radical Norwegian commentator who's always championed the cause of New-Norwegian*
He writes (my translation): "The smoke signals from Karenslyst Allé in Oslo are anything but soothing... From Orkla's boardroom reports are issued indicating that the objective of the sale is to achieve the biggest possible gain – not for Norwegian press, not for Norwegian culture but for Orkla's owners. Should the consequence of the sale be that the newspapers end up with a British media proprietor, who represents a totally different media culture than the Norwegian, it seems to be of no consequence to those responsible for the sale."
What is this 'Norwegian Enlightenment project' he's talking about? To paraphrase Mr Forr it's something that has made the Norwegians 'more educated than they used to be, more knowledgeable and more democratic than most other (nationalities?)'. Now forgive me if I'm mistaken, but I always thought that the Enlightenment, and the ideas that brought it about, was something the Norwegians copied from the French and the English a few centuries ago (though ideas have always reached these distant shores a bit later than most other places). In fact, I distinctly seem to remember reading that this was the case while attending the University of Oslo – though they do teach many funny things in Uni these days. Perhaps I should have read Rune Slagstad's "De Nasjonale Strateger" more thoroughly for the original ideas of Norwegian enlightenment rather than all those continental philosophers they had us read in Intellectual History. Mr Forr's conclusion certainly seems to be that the Brits lack both culture and enlightenment – in contrast to the Norwegians.
Further, Mr Forr implies that selling Orkla's newspaper arm to uncultured foreigners is symptomatic of the rampant capitalistic forces at play in today's Norwegian society. Media are vital democratic institutions and should be about love and public spirit rather than profits, right? Well why don't we just nationalise all newspapers, assign proprietorship to the state and introduce a new license fee to finance the whole shebang? There is this small issue of having a free and impartial press, a press which is not just acting as a mouthpiece for the Government, but judging from the current debate calling for more active State ownership in Norway, this is not an argument which would be too hard to swallow: after all the State is so much more of a responsible owner than any nasty corporation...
Come to think of it, it's actually rather ironic how Norwegian press, who like to present themselves as scions of objectivity - which in the past has meant that they have only ended up reinforcing status quo, and issues that didn't abide by the dictates of political correctness fell off the agenda - traditionally has been politically owned and heavily subsidised by political parties, political interest groups and the State.
*Funny Norwegian language that nobody actually speaks in its pure form. Constructed as a synopsis of many Norwegian dialects by an ardent national romantic Norwegian (in a pang of longing for his etymological roots?) after the Danes had ruled Norway for a good many years and corrupted the 'civilised classes' with Danish. The only subject I was taught in school which to this very day I deem a complete waste of time.
I left London just after the break of dawn, a wonderful time of the day to travel as the city is just starting to wake up and you get the streets and underground almost to yourself - give or take a few clubbers stumbling home and a few workers shuffling off to an early start. I did feel a bit dazed and confused by the early hour however, as the picture shows, but the journey back to Oslo left me ample time to wake up (which was good seeing how Oslo airport was completely clogged up with holiday-makers). Work's been mad for the last two weeks so many appologies to those I owe emails and/or replies - will get down to it once I've unpacked and unwinded a bit.
Yesterday I found myself half-watching the France-Switzerland game in a hotel bar over a few drinks. On the menu of this rather up-market place I found "Devon farmed snails on toast with young vegetables and herb butter". Now aside form the fact that I was there with a friend who gets sick every time he attempts to eat butter, and never has eaten a snail in his entire life, what really bugged me was how Devon farmed snails are different from e.g. French snails, Hertfordshire snails or Scally snails? Is the texture different? The slime? I did taste a snail once in a French restaurant, which sort of makes you assume it was a French snail: it tasted rather like rubber. With the difference in climate it would make sense for French snails to be a bit drier, and British snails a bit more moist - or shall we say succulent? After all, if French philosopher Montesquieu thought the difference in climate made the Northern Europeans brave and energetic and the Southern Europeans lazy and sensual, it would only be logical if climate didn't also impact on the physique of a snail. Could anyone enlighten me here? I don't think it likely that I'll be tempted to taste any more snails in this lifetime, so won't undertake any empirical surveys, but I would really like to know....
That is, the Norwegian state, according to an intriguing article in Aftenposten about how regional effectivisation has made life hard for the politicians. My favourite headline of the week, with the charming subtitle "Politicians want the control back". It sounds like the state has taken on a life of it's own and the politicians are scrambling to rein in the monster they have unleashed upon the world. However, the actual article centres on a NIBR report commissioned by the Modernisation and Administration departement.
The bottom line of the article is that the current centre-left coalition government, in line with its centralist instincts, feels uncomfortable with the decentralisation and "limited company-fication" (freely translated) of the former coalition government of the Conservatives, Liberals and Christian Democrats.