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Tsunami claims another political victim

The tsunami that devastated Thailand 26 December 2004 has claimed another victim. This time in faraway Sweden.

Where was Prime Minister Persson's closest aide, undersecretary Lars Danielsson, when the news of the tsunami broke? This has been one of the biggest political issues in Sweden for months. Before that, an equally contentious political topic was what occupied foreign minister Laila Freivalds the day the tsunami claimed hundreds of Swedish lives. Freivalds was forced to resign, with some justification since she was in charge of some of all the things that went wrong in the rescue operation. Yesterday Danielsson, the civil servant, left his office as well – everything to keep the crisis from reaching the main man.

Official Sweden's amateuristic and late response to the tsunami caused a media frenzy, and rightly so. Norway was in a similar situation, largely due to the fact that it was Christmas, and in these countries holidays, especially Christmas, are sacrosanct, even for politicians and civil servants. As Freivalds so feebly tried to explain when she was cross-examined after the event, she was with her family and had 'afforded herself' a day off-line with no papers, TV, radio or internet. That 'self indulgement' was the end of her political career.

It will be interesting to see how Danielsson's 'resignation' will play out in the upcoming Swedish election (17 days to go). Persson might have managed to maneuver all blame onto his deputies, but the voters may still hold him accountable.

Link via Svenska Dagbladet and Johan Norberg

Online and local newspapers outperform nationals

Norway's three most profitable media companies are all online. If we look at printed papers the top ten performers are mostly local, interspersed with the odd regional paper.

Undercurrent reports that "an overview of the finances of Norwegian media companies pieced together by Dagens Medier confirms the trend toward online media outperforming print: In the top 10 list of most profitable companies in 2005 online occupies the top three and the number six spot. VG, the largest news site, has a profit margin of 42 per cent." Read the full post here.

"We don't even know who the editors are anymore. In a sense we are all editors," Espen Hansen, managing editor of Schibsted-owned VG, said in a recent talk about the rise of integrating online journalism, user-generated content, online ad campaigns and mobile video. If you want to know more about the thinking behind VG's news site, Julian Matthews has the transcript.

Local newspaper Fosna-Folket and Nordlys, a regional paper, are Norway's eight and ninth most profitable media companies with profit margins of 22 and 21,7 per cent. The nationals are neither among the top ten performing media companies, nor among the ten most profitable printed papers.

Looking at Dagens Medier's overview, it makes sense that regional newspaper Drammens Tidende (DT) recently decided to divide its operations in two and establish a separate company, Drammens Tidende Nye Medier [New Media], for its online, radio and TV operations. VG Multimedia, who runs the newspaper's online operation, may have a profit margin of staggering 42 per cent, but VG the national printed tabloid has a much more modest profit margin of 14 per cent (and has recently suffered a wave of redundancies).

Similarly, separating DT's printed paper and its electronic operations in two different companies would clarify where the revenues come from (so far its TV channel, for instance, has been a loss-making operation). With a 12,5 per cent profit margin in 2005, DT is one of the better performing newspapers in the Orkla Media portfolio (where the average profit margin in 7,5), but Hans Arne Odde, DT's editor-in-chief, has denied that the move to separate its operations has anything to do with making DT more attractive for its owner-in-waiting, David Montgomery.

Blog out

I'm truly fascinated by all the new terms social media bring about. Once a celebrity's greatest fear was the paparazzi, now they also have to be on the lookout for blogarazzi. And bloggers have to beware not to 'blog out', which according to Wayne Hurblert is what happens when blogging is no fun anymore and becomes just another chore. Blog out is often caused by obsessing about visitor traffic stats says Hurlbert, and adds: "You might be interested to know that I rarely check my visitor logs any longer. I know people read my blog. I understand they don't visit on a daily basis. Obsessing over numbers is not good for the blogging soul."( Link via Blogger's Blog).

The Post-Holiday Dip

Spanish scientists have found that long holidays are bad for you. They can cause a post-holiday syndrome which sounds rather like a powerful post-lunch dip but doesn't only make you tired, it brings on depression and anxiety as well. The findings might shed new light on why Norwegians are so prone to depression.

The fact that we have one of the world's highest suicide rates has often been explained by our long and dark winters, but Norwegians also tend to have very long holidays – it's almost as if the whole country shuts down in July and the school holiday is eight weeks. Much too long if we are to take the advice of Professor Humbelina Robles Ortega:

"If our holidays last one month and our employer allows us to do so, we could take fifteen days first and another fifteen days later on. This will prevent anxiety and we will be under the impression of a longer holiday. Moreover, changes in habits won't be so radical and permanent and, therefore, re-starting to work won't be so traumatic.”

No wonder then that pupils tend to turn up at school around this time of the year feeling decidedly tired, depressed, de-motivated and unfocused – all symptoms of the post-holiday syndrome. Maybe it's not such a bad thing after all that I've only had the odd long weekend off this year.

(Link via Svenska Dagbladet and Medical News Today)

Missing links and old media in new formats

I was heartened to see the debate about media's missing links over at Wordblog. The lack of links in newspaper articles is something that annoys me constantly, especially in stories based on statistics, where I find myself wondering what the sample was or if they were measuring the right variables when I come across stories where I can't quite make the conclusions add up.

I love newssites that provide links in their stories. So much so that I can't really get my head around why any newspaper would want to provide Pdf versions of the paper, what's the use of that? That's just printable newspapers right, or am I missing something? For one it takes away the smell and feel of newspapers, and why would I take the time to print a Pdf paper when I read online papers for the speediness, to get a quick overview of what's happening in the world?

I'd much rather get my printed newspaper in a shop or on my doorstep, to be enjoyed over a cup of coffee when time allows, and skim constantly updated news online, preferably with links to sources and relevant sites. Vampus provides a good perspective on it here (in Norwegian). The dilemma of whether to link or not reminds me of the recent US media debate about the subject, where, to my mind, Washington Post landed on some good conclusions:

According to Jim Brady, the executive editor of, reporters or Web producers can insert links to another paper’s site when they see fit. “We think it’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Brady said. “It seems limiting to tell people about something another news organization has reported and not point them to it. It goes against the Web’s DNA.” (quote via this article in The New York Times). Not only does The Washington Post encourage links, from September/October on they will also provide links to stories on the same subject in competing newspapers next to their own articles (see the before mentioned NYT article).

Now you know who to call...

Ever fretted over typos and messy page layouts in newspapers? Readers of Norwegian regional newspaper Drammens Tidende (DT) now know who to blame. As of Monday this week, sub-editors and designers get their bylines at the bottom of the pages they have worked on.

DT’s production editor, Svein Helge Torgersen, told Journalisten: ”I won’t deny that this is also about making those who work with sub-editing and layout accountable. They should be credited for good work, but at the same time be made responsible for what is not so good. The use of bylines implies that they get a chance to show that they do a lot and work hard."

DT is part of Orkla Media, soon to become Mecome Europe. For the record I should also mention that I started my media career here: if I remember correctly, it was DT's former political editor who lured me into writing for mainstream media in the first place (which I guess is a roundabout way of saying thank you), some eleven years ago when I was very young and very opinionated.

A slow newspaper in a fast world

There's something reassuring about an editor who starts his tenure by identifying what the newspaper he is to edit needs to improve on. The biggest problem Dagens Nyheter (DN), Sweden's largest subscription based newspaper, has to face up to is that it is "too slow" according to its new editor-in-chief, Thorbjörn Larsson. Others, who know the paper better than me - I just skim through its headlines every now and then - might find other things to fault it on, but I still think his attitude is encouraging. DN's editorial staff are worried about what Larsson will change: will the former evening newspaper editor turn DN into just that, and evening newspaper? Will he downsize, replace old hacks with his own appointments, bring in a new regime? In other words DN's staff share the usual concerns of journalists in a fast-moving, ever changing industry.

Internet evolution

Doomsday prophecies about the death of this communication form or the other have been with us for such a long time that writing the previous post made me stop and think about what I was doing back in 1996, at the very start of the Internet revolution – or at least at the stage where it started to gain momentum among the wider population.

When the before mentioned Op-Ed writer wrote about how Internet was bound to fail and how nobody would want to communicate with each other via Internet, I was in California or Canada, which at the time felt to me as if it was somehow 'outside' the world, so I missed that particular Op-Ed and the debate that pursued it. While on the Westcoast I was working on a few stories, but as this was two months before I bought my first laptop, I probably wasn't able to file them until much later.

In fact, I remember how the year before, in 1995, I was working on a student newspaper and one of the other student journalists, who had just returned from a year at a US university, was incensed that we didn't automatically get personal emails at the University of Oslo: we had to apply for them. It might even have been that we were only able to get them because we worked for a faculty newspaper, but my memory fails me at that point.

When I finally got my first laptop, a Compaq pentium 75 or similar, which lasted for six years, I signed up with Compuserve and stayed with them for a good long time. Compuserve provided an exasperatingly slow and at times unreliable connection, but the manual dial-up was cheaper to use abroad than my current mobile broadband, and you didn't have to spend time looking for free Wifi for a wireless modem, or for a place where a mobile broadband can pick up decent signals - a phone socket was enough. In this respect, what today would be considered ancient technology was easier to deal with – and I can't say I'm impressed with neither the speed nor the reliability of my mobile broadband, its only advantage is that it's mobile.

Prophecy can be risky business

He could hardly have been further off target the guy who, in an elaborate Op-Ed in Dagens Naeringsliv in August 1996, claimed the Internet is "a fashion thing that will die in a few years." Ten years on, a survey by Journalisten reveals that Norway now has more online newspapers than printed ones. Journalisten counted 284, or 297 if they included the 13 different local sites of The Norwegian Broadcasting corporation (NRK), online papers compared to 266 printed papers. Still, as late as 1998, the Op-Ed writer in question, insisted that his prediction of the Internet's imminent demise would soon be proved. Journalist Paul Leveraas on the other hand, writes (in Norwegian) that in 1996, he and others, predicted the imminent death of the newspaper, but ten years on he concludes that whereas they expected a revolution what they got was a digital evolution – and predicting the future is not for the faint-hearted.

No charges against Benkow

It seems Björn Benkow might get away with fabricating interviews with the rich and the famous. Aftonbladet, Dagbladet and Tara have all decided not to press charges, but as far as I know his many 'victims', such as Bill Gates and Michael Schumacher, may still sue him.

Norwegian bloggers have had a heyday with the Benkow-story and produced fake Benkow-interviews with everyone from Bush to Bin Laden, aptly imitating his tabloid style which often touches on the hurts of his interviewee's childhood. Norwegian barrister Tor Erling Staff has said Benkow deserves praise rather than condemnation: " The man has exposed Akersgata [Norway's Fleet Street] and the benightedness of a media industry that is supposed to run an investigative operation! My God, the editors have to use their heads. They know him. The man can hardly move. How can he then travel the world? " he told Propaganda. In the same article Staff said he thought Benkow's tear wrenching press release, in which he said he did what he did out of desperation, was one of Benkow's biggest scams – and the most skilful.

Craftsmen or academics?

The management at Denmark's journalism school (DJH) are at odds over whether the school should become a part of Aarhus University or remain an independent institution. Headmaster Kim Minke argues that as research increasingly has become the domain of universities, DJH needs to work closer with Aarhus University to be a part of this, and adds that being a part of the University would simplify collaboration with foreign universities. Lisbeth Knudsen, DJH's chairman, argues that keeping DJH as an independent institution will maintain the education's strong industry connection, strengthen journalistic development and separate DJH from Denmark's two university based journalism schools (link via Journalisten).

I've seen journalism schools work well both as part of universities and as independent institutions, but whichever solution they go for DJH should be careful not to go down the same route as the journalism school at Stockholm's University, JMK: "Over a period of years, JMK has been made more and more academic, and practical vocational training has gradually been replaced by academic research and ‘studying mass media from a cultural perspective’", Stefan Koskinen of the Swedish Newspaper Publishers’ Association argued in Svenska Dagbladet in May. I write more about his editorial here, and the debate that pursued it here.

What we all wanted to know

Björn Benkow, the Norwegian journalist recently caught fabricating interviews, has understandably been hounded and besieged by journalists unsuccessfully trying to secure interviews and comments on his demise. So it must have been a welcome change when he received a call from DN's Per Bang, editor of "Paa nattbordet" (on the bedside table). Mr Bang politely told Benkow that he was not calling to ask him who he had interviewed or not interviewed lately, but rather what he had on his bedside table. The Answer? Bill Clinton's biography, a man Benkow describes as one who committed "human but stupid" errors - which he readily admits to having made himself. Link via Propaganda.

It's War

The expected Danish newspaper war has finally started. Berlingske Officin has just announced that they will launch a new freesheet tomorrow, as predicted by Journalisten last week. Rumoured to be the brain child of Berlingske's owner-in-waiting, David Montgomery, Dato will battle it out with a range of exisiting and soon to be launched freesheets, including Politiken and Jyllands-Posten's freesheet 24timer (24hours), to be launched on Thursday this week; Metro Expressen's new afternoon freehsheet, which will hit the streets on Monday, and Nyhedsavisen, to be launched by Iclandic group Dagsbrún later in the autumn.

Tomorrow Dato will just be handed out to bypassers, but from Thursday on it will be delivered to all households in greater Copenhagen and Aarhus, a strategy Dagsbrún has been very successful with on Iceland.

A disintermediated world


I couldn't help but laugh when I first saw Day of the Longtail (link vi Adriana), though it also made me very sad to reflect on the conspiracy theory it's built on. It's an avid attack on Big Media, but as Big everything, Big Media is made up by a bunch of individuals who mostly are just trying to do their best within the structures imposed by their profession and employers. For the media's part I think the movie shows how urgent it is to rebuild trust and find better ways of (re-)connecting with its audience, which using social media more effectively will give it every opportunity to do...

One sentence can make a big story

David Montgomery will buy The Mirror with financial backing from Orkla. That is, if we are to take today’s stories in Norwegian media to their logical conclusion and predict a future outcome. And it all started with a throwaway sentence by James Robinson in last week’s Observer

Norwegian media is rife with speculations today that Orkla may back Montgomery’s Mecom if the company were to make a bid for Trinity Mirror, or parts of it such as The Mirror. On Wednesday (you know, The Observer can be a big paper to plow through and it does take a while for it to reach our distant shores) DN ran a story on how The Observer had said it was likely that Monty would make a bid for Trinity Mirror, or parts of it, and said English commentators believe this is Monty’s long term goal (though the article DN referred to was entitled “Candover eyes Mirror” and only mentioned Montgomery in the last sentence).

The Mecom-Orkla-Mirror theory gained further momentum when Dag J. Opedal, Orkla’s CEO, told DN that Orkla would be a “supportive shareholder” in Mecom Europe, after Opedal had presented Orkla’s solid second quarter earnings yesterday. He said Orkla “has faith in Mecom’s growth and development plans”, but refused to comment on future investments.

Not too convincing yet this Mecom-Orkla-Mirror theory, is it? Let’s do a small reality check. Okay, Orkla does have easy access to ‘cheap money’ and that Montgomery covets The Mirror is well known. However, if Montgomery wants to develop Orkla Media the way he says Mecom plans to, there are more pressing, and costly, decisions to be made elsewhere – and Orkla has indicated strongly that they want to reduce their involvement in, or even get out of, the media industry in order to focus on products such as energy and raw materials.

Looking at the newspaper portfolio that Montgomery now has agreed to buy, there are several challenges that will need to be solved as soon as possible, and they all require financial investment:

In addition to the newspapers that Orkla Media own fully, they hold various stakes in other newspapers. Several of these have expressed a wish to buy Montgomery out, and others are working towards a merger that would reduce Montgomery's stakes and influence further – which contradicts Mecom's expressed desire to obtain majority control. To prevent its influence from dwindling, Mecom's only option would be to buy more shares. Besides, Orkla Media's newspapers face the same challenge as all other newspaper across the world: the expensive transition from paper to digital and how to incorporate social media such as blogs, podcasts, vodcast and what have you.

A logical next move for Mecom would be entering into some kind of joint venture with Dagbladet, which I guess is as close as you could get to a Norwegian version of The Mirror, as Dagbladet itself has speculated might happen. If Mecom could pull that off, it would complement Orkla Media fantastically, add expertise on new media which Mecom lacks - and it would be a move Orkla Media employees, who are still hostile to Mecom's takeover, would applaud. Norwegian and Danish Orkla Media employees have run a very loud PR-campaign against Mecom, and Norwegian and Polish employees have said they refuse to take the hit for the bad financial state of Orkla Media's Danish holdings – with an average 3 per cent profit margin and a looming newspaper war it's going to require a lot of investment, and perhaps bloodshed, to bring the Danish newspapers up to the 15 per cent profit margin Montgomery has said he aims for for all Mecom newspapers.

So there are lots of issues, and some of them rather costly, to address before Montgomery can even think about buying Trinity Mirror, or parts of it. With an expected price tag more than double of what Mecom have to pay for Orkla Media, is it realistic that Mecom, who had to borrow money from Orkla to complete the Orkla Media deal, can find money to buy Trinity Mirror as well as meet the challenges presented by its Orkla Media portfolio? The AIM market is a good place to raise money for developing a company such as Mecom, but an acquisition the size of Trinity Mirror for a company built on borrowed money? I'm very doubtful that even Montgomery could work such wonders. Neither is he helped by the current state of the world economy, reeling from threats of war and terrorism.

Benkow was no exception: cheating is commonplace

Norwegian journalists invent and alter quotes all the time; they make anonymous sources out to be more important than they really are and write up random meetings with celebrities, say in an elevator or on the street, as exclusive interviews. Benkow is just a convenient scapegoat for something that happens all the time. Powerful words from Norwegian journalist Frank Rossavik who recounts his experiences of how common cheating is in Norwegian media in an Op-Ed in today’s Bergens Tidende and in this interview with Journalisten.

Politician fined for playing journalist

Germany must be heaven for journalists. Apparently they get so many freebies and boons there that even politicians pretend to be hacks to get a share of all the benefits of the trade. According to German media magazine Journalist, former CDU politician Thorsten Thümler has just been fined 900 Euro for unrightfully obtaining a press card to exploit cheap hotel accommodation and other rebates available to the country’s journalists. I can’t say German was ever my favourite subject in school, but maybe it’s time for me to brush up on my German skills…. (link via Journalisten)

A newspaper for tomorrow's world

Some will probably argue that this is long overdue, but I was heartened to read about how The Bakersfield Californian has "transformed itself into a new media showcase" according to The Guardian's Roy Greenslade. The paper boasts an impressive range of social media features including staff blogs, podcasts, vodcasts and three citizen-journalism fed community papers with online counterparts.

"It's really about participation, and participatory media. Participation is at the heart of the Internet. The Internet is a social medium, primarily... It's not really a question of whether newspapers can figure out citizen journalism, it's more that newspapers have to learn how to participate, because people on the Internet already know how to do that," Mary Lou Fulton, the Californian's Vice President of Audience Development, told The Online Journalism Review.

Out of the closet

Yesterday I blogged about Robin Hamman's quotes on the value of blogging. But inspiring though they were, I think there is also a clear dicothomy between professional identity, i.e. the jargon and structures we've been trained to think in as professionals, and blogging, which is why blogging as 'career enhancement' is a bit counterintuitive – and sometimes it is quite the opposite.

"We have been trained throughout our business careers to suppress our individual voice and to sound like a 'professional', that is to sound like everyone else. This professional voice is distinctive. And weird. Taken out of context it is as mannered as the ritualistic dialogues of the 17-century French court, " David Weinberger writes in Cluetrain, whereas blogging, as Adriana says: "starts with identity", personal identity.

The blogs I enjoy the most are informative and/or funny, but they all, to a greater or lesser extent, have personal touch – you can see the personality and/or the professional passion between the lines. A polished impersonal sales pitch, or corporate spin, makes me loose interest instantly.

But a personality driven blog often clashes with a persons professional persona, which means many a blogger either live in constant fear for being 'outed' as a blogger in their professional arena, or their blogs are as personal as their CVs. This is one reason why, as Bloggers Anonymous humorously describes it, a lot of bloggers start writing anonymously and 'go public' only when they reach 'A-list-status'.

And 'going public' isn't always welcome in all quarters. Some will vividly remember how Vampus, voted Norway's best blogger by Dagbladet, discovered that high profile political commentary and campaigning was less than compatible with a 'straight' job. Her call for all bloggers to stand up for freedom of speech during the 'Cartoon War' can hardly be said to have enhanced her career in marketing, but then I have a suspicion she much prefers her current career path.

Oh, and since blogging can be quite addictive, I imagine many bloggers reach a stage where they simply do not care whether they're outed and disowned anymore. And for those who have reached that stage and gone beyond, maybe lost jobs, reputations and loved ones, there is always Bloggers Anonymous....

Blog or perish?

"I think that everyone who works in industry, journalism or academia needs to blog to stay relevant and informed these days.... There is enormous value in blogging - as a source of ideas, content, comment, criticism, and contacts. It can also - and I think this comes as a surprise to many journalists - be career enhancing."

I found these quotes by Robin Hamman, a senior broadcast journalist and community producer with BBC English regions, quite encouraging and guess I can subscribe to most of it (the quotes are from this interview) – though in one sense it's quite counterintuitive, at least if you have no personal experience with blogging.