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On the death of a highly regarded media owner

He was a 'guarantor of editorial freedom, of publicistic principles', 'a life-long supporter of independent journalism', 'a genuine media man with a great love of newspapers, 'a towering figure in international media industry'.

If I was to pick the most intriguing media story in my part of the world the past month, it would have to be the death of Tinius Nagell-Erichsen (15.02-1934 – 12.11- 2007), the largest shareholder and chairman of the board of Norwegian media group Schibsted.

Tinius, a descendant of Schibsted's founder Christian Michael Schibsted, effectively held the controlling stake in the company, and through The Tinius Trust he created an elaborate construct meant to ensure editorial freedom for Schibsted's media outlets also after his death. A construct it is widely hoped will guarantee, that even though the majority of Schibsted's shareholders are foreigners, control of the group will never fall into foreign hands.

I've wondered at times if journalists will ever come to love their proprietors, or if the nature of a journalist's relationship to his or her proprietor by nature is antagonistic. If you apply the 'cartoon-like' script of black and white, of clear heros and villains, the media so often is accused of reducing the world to to the media industry itself, it often seems the former is always keen to spend, the latter always to save; the former perpetually driven by love an public spirit, the latter by nasty motives of profit, often regardless of whether or not the editorial product suffers.

But then again, perhaps the relationship is more complex; I've also heard a former Mirror hack describe the late Robert Maxwell as a good proprietor - a crook, but still a good proprietor who effectively saved the paper.

In either case, Tinius was treated like royalty. In Norway, one would have been forgiven for thinking the whole nation was mourning the death of 'Norway's last media mogul', and it was surprising to read all the praise lavished on him, both here and throughout the countries Schibsted operates it.


Perhaps I've spent too much time writing about the grief and complaints resulting from media cutbacks, efficiency measures and the challenges of media convergence, but I was taken aback by how leading politicians, employee representatives and editors seemed united in their praise for this 'life-long newspaper man' who also was true to esteemed Norwegian virtues such as 'never being self-important'.


Yes, there were some whispers of less than favourable stories attached to his name, like how, according to this book, he and his family would freely help themselves to company money and goods back when Schibsted was a family-owned company in the eighties, but that, apparently, was common practice among media owners in the 'old days'. "Tinius represented the old time and was the last survivor of a long tradition," media professor, Rolf Höyer told Journalisten. In the words of media professor Hans Fredik Dahl: "He was a dinosaur, a type of media owner we won't see more of."

Tinius, who always had a love affair with printed papers, was highly sceptical to the online expansion Kjell Aamot, Schibsted's CEO, and his lieutenants masterminded. He inherited his money and was a typical representative of the traditional family-owner, "the complete opposite to dynamic media proprietors such as David Montgomery," said Höyer.

And yet this 'dinosaur' has been widely commended by Schibsted-employees and other media insiders for leaving his executives free to experiment, most notably online and with freesheets. It is this freedom, editorial and otherwise, that will be Tinius' lasting legacy, or, in the powerful words of Jose Antonio Martinez Solers, founder of the Spanish free paper 20 Minutos:

We staked our decision [to sell to Schibsted] on the Tinius Trust’s guarantee of freedom of the press. This freedom is such a marvellous plant; a plant though fragile and delicate. As you probably realize, for centuries it was an exotic foreign plant that could not thrive in Spain. And now, Schibsted is defending and cultivating this marvellous plant in 20 counties with many different languages (read the rest of his eulogy here)

The statue of Tinius Nagell-Erichsen outside Schibsted's headquarters in Oslo. In the days following his death it was adorned with flowers and candles (my picture)


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