Schibsted's plans to create a giant newspaper group that will see Schibsted-owned national Aftenposten 'merged' with regional newspapers Faedrelandsvennen, Stavanger Aftenblad and Bergens Tidende was approved against all odds on Tuesday.
Norway's media authority, Medietilsynet, ruled against the merger last summer, arguing that Schibsted's dominant online position, and the relative size and influence of the newspapers involved, would give the merged company, Media Norway, a much too dominant position in the Norwegian newspaper market, but on Tuesday this decision was overturned by a complaint's commission.
The new 'merged' newspaper group will further strengthen Schibsted's already dominant position in the country's newspaper market and will have all sorts of interesting implications. In a debate last March, the chair of the debate asked Birger Magnus, a Schibsted exec, if the new construction would not mean much greater reliance on syndication, and if that wouldn't mean reduced staffing and a situation where you had only one journalist to cover each subject across many titles. "You have to do that, but you have to do it in a clever way," said Magnus.
The four newspapers already have an agreement in place which allows them to recirculate each others staff-produced articles and are working to implement a similar agreement for the freelance-articles they commission.
It is however unclear if Media Norway will compensate the freelancers properly for the fact that they might see their articles used in all the Media Norway newspapers. One Schibsted editor told me that there was nothing in the freelance rates that said freelancers should be compensated on the basis of increased circulation. This prompted one of our readers at Journalisten.no to ask if this meant readers would now get all the Media Norway newspapers for the price of one.
So interesting times ahead. The country's culture minister has already pledged to work harder to get a new, broader media law, that would also take into account the ownership share of the online news market, in place.