A new world knocked on the door of Norwegian media in the shape of former Mirror boss David Montgomery, when his investment vehicle Mecom acquired Orkla Media, last year. Other Nordic companies had previously been involved on the owner side of various Norwegian media, but Montgomery was perceived as a different kind of animal all together.
Fundamentally, this is a story of globalisation and the democratisation of finance: what happens when a venture capitalist or a big corporation from abroad comes to a small country and make big acquisitions with borrowed money? It often creates fear and uncertainty about distance to the decision-making, the extent of restructuring called for with dramatically higher demands to profitability, and fear that the new owner will challenge established practices and force the acquired businesses to abide by foreign ideas and foreign principles. Three months after the acquisition was finalised this uncertainty lingers, and at the start of this week Mecom journalists from all over Europe came to Oslo to form an international network. I talked to Olav Skjegstad, an employee representative and board member of Mecom Europe, to find out more about why the network was set up:
"We expect very turbulent times ahead; new situations may develop as a result of new acquisitions and similar, and we need to be prepared for that. The network is no guerilla group, we want a correct relationship to our new owner, but we also feel the need to keep up to date on what's happening throughout the media group: what happens in one country might happen in others."
After examining the situation in the different countries during Monday's meeting, it was obvious that there is still great uneasiness surrounding the expected job cuts and how extensive they will be. Another employee representative, Carine Johansen, has previously voiced concern that the restructuring will diminish editorial quality and threaten journalistic freedom, and that the walls between marketing and the editorial department will come down. Norway has a strong tradition for separating the commercial side of newspapers from the editorial side, and quotes like these fill the former Orkla Media journalists with fear and apprehension:
Mr Montgomery... wants to sell products such as wine and financial services, as The Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph do... He warns, however, that newspaper journalists must change. "[They] face the biggest upheaval in media. You can't do nothing and stand still." Journalists and editors will increasingly be involved in the commercial process... (The Financial Times).
The publishers control distribution and consequently they have the names and addresses, emails, and telephone numbers of all of their customers," says Montgomery, though they have done "nothing at all to exploit the database". (The Telegraph)
It is clear that such moves towards greater commercialisation will sit uneasily with Norwegian newspapers, but when I asked Skjegstad about what his greatest fear was he said: "We are most worried that Mecom's profitability demands will mean that we won't be able to develop the newspapers the way we have to in the face of today's competitive media landscape. Orkla was like Uncle Scrooge's money bin. Now we have been sold to a company financed by loans, which creates a much more unstable situation. Besides, many important decisions are made in Mecom Plc, a stock company in London where we are not represented, and we don't have first hand access to these decisions."