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Scandinavian living: my online provider is a liability, any of the 2 other providers worth signing up with?

Okay, enough is enough. I really need to get a new online provider before my current provider gives me a nervous breakdown, any ideas for a better solution? (My currrent connection is unstable and slow as hell, pardon my language)

As far as I gather there are only three solutions to choose from in Norway: Netcom (my current provider), Telenor (the part state-owned former state monopolist), all other providers in Norway run on the networks of one of these with the exception of Ice (which is the process of building its own network).

Something like BT Open Zone would work well for me if the national coverage was good, but as far as I know no such option is available here.

Since mobility is key to me, a landline-based broadband tied to my address with a 12month or more fixed contract is pretty useless. I need something that works on the road: ideally all over Norway and beyond (and in my experience the UMTs network in this country only really works well in the main cities and along the main highways).

As for Netcom: I'm aware that my mobile broadband card is not the best, and I've heard from friends that Netcom has another mobile service which works well, at least in Oslo, but I can't forgive them for the customer disservices I suffered from their side since signing up with them.

This was only the beginning ...the fact that I've twice spent close to an hour on the phone with them trying to fix my non-existent online connection - with Netcom going on about me having to reinstall everything from the Netcom software to my operating system, only to be told at the end of the conversation that, actually, Netcom's network is down, that's what's been causing my problem - is enough to never go near them again. My time is valuable for one, but they also charge money for these customer disservices.

Now, Telenor tells me they will be the better option because they've been in the game for so long (like in: hey kid, you know we used to be a state monopolist, so our starting point is .. well...kinda superior you know – wink, wink), but evidence and my, perhaps ill-informed, instincts tell me that this starting point doesn't bode well for their customer service, which leaves ICE: do you think it's worth the gamble?

Funnily enough, they say Norway is one of the most connected countries in the world, but right now the chore of finding a decent online provider reminds me of my first visit to a Californian supermarket in 1996: the sheer multitude of different brands for every products was perplexing to say the least, just for Mayo there was something like 20(!) different brands to choose from! Back home we only had one... Now, these days we have at least two, but what if both are equally shit?

Having said all this, I could have missed something in my crazy deadline race, in which case I'm more than happy to be enlightened...

On Causality (and covariance)

Here I was planning to write all these Very Important Posts I had postponed for too long, when I stumbled upon this fabulous cartoon on causality (via Espen Andersen) – very apt for Saturday Morning.

Now, to stay with the deeper questions for a second or two: you may of course ask what the detour from those blog posts I planned to write signifies about my personal epistemology, or in plain talk: am I a scatterbrain, or is the web turning me into one? That's one of the serious things I was planning to blog about, but first this cartoon (translation below):


For those who can't read the text: During a convivial gathering there is talk of the unhygienic aspect of using galoshes. One of those present chips in: "Yes, I've also noticed this. Every time I've woken up with my galoshes on, I've had a headache."

Now, Espen's more serious point is that there's a lot of bogus stuff which passes for causality these days, to which he adds (and I'm paraphrasing him here): 'I mean, we all know that the supposed global temperature increase we're currently experiencing is due to the baby-boom-generation hitting the climacteric age with corresponding hot flushes, right?'

Since I've studied both philosophy and statistics, the latter as part of my politics degree, I found Espen's post particularly funny: always great to see issues academics argue about, with a huge arsenal of technical terms, brought down to a level where it's clear how it impacts on daily life. When I studied game theory I kept promising myself to write one short story for each or the different games to make them more comprehensible (and fun: it was very dull reading), e.g. a love story called "Priscilla's dillema", but alas, never got around to that.

Work experience, freelance rates and The Law of Negotiated Misery

There is one law all journalism students, freelancers, well, all people who've turned their passion or hobby into an occupation, should know about.

It's The Law of Negotiated Misery.

Its inventor humbly told me, that if it's one thing he thought people would remember him for, it's for formulating this law, which in essence states that the "self-managed" classes have a tendency to negotiate themselves into lives of permanent misery (I have a hunch this law arouse from all the observations Brian made during his career consulting work, do correct me if I'm wrong). It works like this (full text here):

There are four kinds of work you think about maybe doing.
1. There's work you love and are good at.
2. There's work you hate and are good at.
3. There's work you love and are bad at.
4. There's work you hate and are bad at.

The world pretty soon decides that you must stop doing (3) and (4) and of course, you are delighted to stop doing (4). If you insist on doing (3) you are going to have to do it as a hobby. Which leaves (1) and (2), the stuff you are good at, and either (1) love or (2) hate.

How much do you get paid to do (1), work you love and are good at? If you are a good negotiator, then plenty, because you are good at it, and demand lots of money. But what if you are a bad negotiator? You jump at the job and accept bad money.

How much do you get paid to do (2)? Chances are you get paid good money. Why? Because you will only consent to do work you hate if you are paid good money. So, with no great effort, you hold out for good money (even if all you thought you were doing was Just Saying No), and, because you are good at the work, you get paid good money. Eventually, someone makes you an offer you can't refuse, and you take it.

So, if you are a bad negotiator, unable to repress your natural desire to do what you love and to avoid what you hate, you get paid bad money to do work you love, and good money to do work you hate.

Bad negotiators can have semi-good lives if they can afford to oscillate between work they love and work they hate. For a while, they do that. But, by the end of that period the only way they know to make good money is to do work they hate.

Then factor in the following circumstance. They switch to a life in which they then have to make continuously good money. Wife, kids, mortgage. Maybe an addiction to an expensive type-(3) hobby. Or maybe the life they lead just happens to get much more expensive. Clang. The gates of the prison slam shut. From then on they must do work they hate, continuously...

I was reminded of this law when I read Roy Greenslade's piece on young journalists working for nothing. As many things in life, the issue of work-experience is not black and white (at its best I think it can be more valuable than journalism school, but I know there's also lots of exploitation going on) which is perhaps why I put it aside and forgot to blog about it, but I was reminded again when I read this piece on freelance rates in Press Gazette.

Work-experience: well, I'll return to that in a separate posts.

As for freelance rates: I've never had a problem getting standard freelance rates or more (varies from country to country and beat to beat: for instance, the rates tend to be higher in Norway than the UK, but so does the taxes; travel writing tend to be badly paid, business journalism pays a lot better, and niche expertise can attract premium rates if you're in the right niche (if you're competing with thousands of other 'niche experts', as is often the case with travel writing, you're not).

A much bigger problem is that the workflow of a freelancer can be erratic, and media organisations are often late and unpredictable payers. Hence supplementing your income with other streams of revenue, e.g. from translation or copy-writing is useful. But should you find yourself spending most of your time pursuing 'short-term' income to be able to afford a few hours of doing what you love, it's perhaps time to remind yourself of Micklethwait's Law of Negotiated Misery...

SVT hopes live online broadcasts will force PC-owners to pay license fee

Sweden's public broadcaster (SVT) is about to start making all its programmes available in real-time online, a project it is hoped will result in a massive increase in license fee payers.

Eva Hamilton, the head of Sweden's public broadcaster (SVT), told Sweden's Radio (SR) the logical consequence of SVT making all its content available online should be that the license fee no longer would be tied up to whether or not a household had a TV, but be extended to all PC-owners. Danish politicians have recently discussed similar measures to ease the financial woes of the country's public broadcaster.

Frozen Pizza with Champagne and the World's laziest Anarchy

How do you attract the biggest possible audience online?

Schibsted-owned VG's recipe is to give people the diet they had no idea they craved. Norway's public broadcaster, NRK, wants to make it easier for lazy users to take shortcuts.

I forgot to link up this piece I wrote a while back on these two different strategies for gaining the biggest possible online audience. I think comparing these strategies is interesting for two reasons:

1) is Norway's most read news site while was one of, if not the, fastest riser(s) on TNS Gallup's list of the country's top ten most used websites last year (five of which currently are news sites).

2) To my mind, these strategies represent two very different takes on serendipity, and it will be interesting to see which of these will be more successful in the long run - as more and more people spend more and more time on the web.

The article is based on this debate, and this blog post's headline is the headline none of my editors, perhaps for obvious reasons, would allow me to use (admittedly, I ditched it myself for the piece I'm linking up here).

NB: I'm using PublicBroadcasting as a tag for the first time on this post. It's far from the first time I've written on public broadcasting, but I've got a huge job to do in terms of re-tagging my posts to make the tags more accurate and consistent (never inteded to write about media when I started this blog in 2005 you see, so need to tidy up those tags on a day I've got aons of time to spend)

Separate online and print staff necessary for online innovation

Is print and online integration really the way forward?

When sifting through my feeds yesterday, I was struck by this line by Poynter's Steve Klein: "until the online and print copy-desk operations are fully merged on a 24/7 basis, they cannot consider themselves truly integrated. It's the future. But it should be the present."

This is interesting because it's quite the opposite of what most of my industry contacts tell me. Take, for instance, without comparison the most read and the most profitable online newspaper in Norway. Its editor-in-chief, Torry Pedersen, attributes the news sites' success to segregation: to having the equivalent of 'a room of owns one' and being able to develop its own culture.

In fact, he thinks online and print are entirely different disciplines, and, to his mind, being number one in both print and online requires different organisations - he likes to compare this to how feasible it is for one and the same runner to (persistently) win the 100 meter sprint and the marathon during the Olympics (read more about his perspectives on this over at

But this is not a unique sentiment, a lot of my contacts tell me the same, which begs the question: does a newspapers or broadcaster's online edition, like the kept partner in an unequal marriage, need a room of its own to flourish?

If given such a room, does there come a time when the two partners, now on a more equal footing, can live in happy matrimony ever after, or is a union of equally ambitious partners bound to be an unhappy one?

At this point, I should probably admit that this topic reminded me of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own before I had that chat with Pedersen (definitely not his metaphor, but I found it rather amusing) for the piece (I'd heard him voice a similar sentiment in less explicit terms before), which means, to continue along those lines, I should probably start talking about Mars and Venus. That however, feels just about as tired as I feel now (terrible line, I know, which is why I think it's about time to call it a day:-) ).

I'd love to hear your opinion though.

Managing change in the newsroom - and in the marketing department

To my mind, News is a conversation, for the most part written by Steve Smith, the editor of Spokesman Review, is one of the most interesting newspaper blogs around because it gives you a marvellous insight into how a regional newspaper is grappling with change: trying to involve its readers more, be of better service to them and working to become more transparent.

I started following this blog after I met Steve at a seminar he gave in Oslo last autumn (I covered his talk for Journalisten, in Norwegian). Among the things he mentioned back then was how he'd sent his local editor, Carla Savalli, who at that stage was one of his most change-resistant staff members, on a five week trip across the US to investigate the future of journalism.

"She is now the most radical agent for change in the newsroom," said Smith, so it was very interesting to read Carla's account of a conference she had attended on "Managing Change" recently.

Here's an excerpt, check out the full post for the bit about the marketing department (the main point being that newspapers were concerned their commercial arms hadn't figured out how to promote "the new journalism"):

1. How can you change workflow and content unless you go back to the readers? Too many newsrooms still insist they know what readers want, which is why they are endlessly experimenting and not 'landing on' a formula.

2. Strategy has to drive structure, not the other way around.

3. Journalists are appallingly dysfunctional.

4. Citizen journalism is less gimmick than it is changing the frame of reference. It's asking a different set of questions, assuming a different set of assumptions. It's not going to save us. It WILL make us more relevant. The sooner newsrooms get over themselves and bring these readers into our tents, the better off we'll be.

The only other item that sticks with me came from a business consultant (figures). He goes into workplaces of all kinds to teach adaptive change. You can institute top-down change, he says. And he supposes sometimes that is necessary when times are urgent and there's no room for democracy. But collaborative change has the potential for the greatest lasting impact. The first time an organizations goes through it is the hardest. Lay the foundation and each successive change is easier and eventually expected.

But this is what struck me: For rank and file, how you institute change is ultimately all about "justice." Who you talk to, who you include in task forces, who gets the opportunities, who gets an assignment change, is about power for the powerless. Managers have to be aware of that, and if it matters to them, try to talk to a cross-section of people - both horizontally and vertically - before imploding a structure.

Other than that, we're doomed. Hierarchies die hard in newsrooms. The best we can hope for is that the business side will catch the same entrepreneurial spirit of newsrooms and that we innovate something before the next Craigslist puts us out of business.

Journalism explained

I was contemplating this post on newsroom change when I happened on this intriguing introduction to journalism, which I guess you could say is an interesting starting point for looking at how journalism has changed (via DigiDave):

For my own part, well... where do I start? Could someone please tell my editor that beat reporters are meant to spend as little time as possible in the office:-) ? I'd love to spend more time on the road, and these days we don't exactly have to phone in those stories...

Other than that, I'm very glad that certain things have changed: I'd never gotten into journalism if I'd had to work up an interest for gossip or gardening (as it so happens, I started my media career as an editorial columnist back when I was 18, which is actually quite funny in view of this video).

Are job cuts death knell for journalism?

Interesting response to an article by Mediawatch on whether job cuts are signalling the end of American newspapers:

Greg Delzer links it up, Steve Smith says the article is interesting but doesn't deal with the real issue (Smith, the editor of Spokesman Review, which claims to be the most transparent newspaper in the US, visited Oslo a few months back. My article on the talk he gave about the newspaper's policy on transparency is here, in Norwegian). Steve says:

And why should we be surprised? Newspapers are, fundamentally, 18th and 19th century technological answers to the need for news and information for the mass audiences developed during and after the industrial revolution.

Why should any of us expect that newspapers, as they existed in the 20th Century, can survive well into the 21st as the rest of the information universe expands at Einsteinian rates?

The journalist who devotes himself to saving newspapers, as a medium, may well be doomed to a career of disappointment and failure.

Our challenge isn't to save newspapers, it is to save newspaper journalism and the values that are at its foundation.

Despite the semi-hysterical ravings of those who see the blogosphere as the second (third and fourth coming), the fact is newspaper journalism (when it works) provides what no other news source can provide -- factual information, context, depth, skepticism, the vital information that oils the gears of democracy, the fourth estate watchdog function that keeps government honest. Consumers actually value those qualities, probably more than they value newspapers.

In my view, we ought to be striving to make sure the values of our craft are embodied in the new media. If that happens, it will matter less, and certainly bother us less, if newspapers become yesterday's news.

In the comment section, Ken Paulman answers Steve's response to Greg thus (invoking a sentimet that surely runs parallell to Nick Davies' argument in "Flat Earth News) :

If the basic 'shoe leather' investigative reporters are consigned to the scrap heap - who'll get the by-line?

Most likely government and corporate PR flacks.

There have already been cases of TV stations (none here that I'm aware of) running prepackaged Video News Releases put together by businesses. They look, sound a feel like a news report, but are designed to push a product.

But I don't think it's going to come to that, because there is still a significant segment of the population that won't let it happen. That is, as long as we're able to do a better job explaining what it is that we do here and how it differs from the information machines financed by corporations and political think tanks.....

8 things you may not know about me

I was tagged on this meme by Neil Perkin. I've actually done the five-things-you-didn't-know-about-me meme before, so I was kinda contemplating to just add three more to that, but then I thought better of it and decided to do it properly. And since I've seen quite a few new readers come to this blog recently, I'll add a few things that those of you who know me well will be familiar with:

1) I owe my life to a dog. To this date, it's probably the best story of my life: too bad I was on the wrong side of the media's spotlight, but it was certainly an event that came to define me in many ways in – for better and worse.

2) Yes, even for the better. I wouldn't particularly recommend being run over by a car and left to die, but, grim as the story is, it taught me a few valuable life lessons. One of them being that fear is overrated. Well, actually, having read Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear, I have to moderate that: fear can be useful, but the fact that I completely lost all fear for two years after my accident helped me accomplish a great many things, particularly in regards to my career.

3) In one of my inspired moments, when, for once, I had money to spare, I amassed an art collection, too bad most of it is in storage. One of my favourites is here, I've uploaded another picture here:


(Dreameress, by Jöran Flo)

4) I'm crap at selling myself and persistently keep downplaying my achievements. Fortunately, this is to some degree compensated for by the fact that I can be very persuasive when it comes to selling an idea or story I believe in, and that I'm quite adept at stumbling across great stories, people, situations etc...

5) If I ever was a Goth, it was subconscious

6) I once aspired to become an Olympic rider, but gave up on the equestrian scene in my late teens as it wasn't very intellectually stimulating; I didn't have the money to really give it a go and I had a rather brutal meeting with a car which put me out of the game for a while

7) My great grand dad on my mother's side was an opera singer who sang with the likes of Kirsten Flagstad but refused to sing outside the town he grew up in. He died before I was born, but I keep thinking that, while there is still time, I should find time to record a few interviews with those who knew him.

8) I was once a member of the Verdi commission, which was going to spend the same amount of millions to investigate the life and works of Giuseppe Verdi as the Government at the time was going to spend on its Verdi-kommisjon (verdi happens to be the Norwegian word for value, so our "Verdi-commission" was a pun on the Government's "Verdi-commission": the latter was set up to determine what the most important values society were at the time. As it so happens, I also love the music of Giuseppe Verdi).

I tag: Vampus, Hjothen, Cathy, Adam, Feeling Listless, Becky, John Kelly, and the last one I simply can't decide right now - will try to make up my mind soon

Time to come off stone

Interesting post from Shane Richmond on how the term "off stone" epitomises a mentality made redundant by the "digital revolution":

No time limit means publishing faster. Less time, not more.

And the other pressure, on resources, is changing the model too. One school of thought, embraced by journalism unions, is that resource cuts mean dispensing with vital talent so as to boost profits for greedy owners. Yet plenty of newspapers are struggling to make ends meet, not maximise profits, and the pressure comes from outside, not from above.

Our new competitors come from the internet start-up world. Doing more with less is encoded in their DNA. They're taking our readers who, it turns out, don't value us quite as much as we value ourselves.
Our readers are wrong about this, by the way. I firmly believe that journalists are vital to a free society.

Still, it's up to us to make a place for ourselves. We don't get one by right.

I'd like to tell you that you should think about change but it really doesn't matter. The changes are happening anyway, whatever you think of them. It's time to embrace the concept of change and decide how best to implement it...

...But I do know this: nothing is set in stone anymore.

Check out the full post here.

On The Knee-Jerk Journalistic View of Bloggers

Adam over at One Man and his Blog alerted me to this brilliant post by Howard Owens, "Journalists who learn to blog help their online sites grow beyond shovelware".

Adam is particularly taken by these lines:

Most of the bad bloggers tend to gravitate toward current affairs blogging.

Unfortunately, political blogs are also the kind of blogs most journalists tend to read. So a lot of journalists have a very low opinion of blogging.

Those of us more immersed in blogging, or who have grown beyond merely the current affairs bloggers, know that there is more to blogging than rants and raves.

For me, who don't teach journos how to blog, it was these lines that really stood out (foremostly because I had something positive to say about them):

Naive as it might be, I haven’t given up hope. I believe journalists can become good bloggers.
Learning to blog really takes turning one simple switch in your head: This isn’t print journalism.

It isn’t the journalism of your cranky old city editor or your sainted j-school prof. Neither of those old farts would approve of blogging in any form, even though blogging is now part of the legitimate media mix.

Well, never say never: my former tutor at City University, Professor Richard 'Probably-knows-every-journalist-in-the-world' Keeble as my co-presenter so aptly called him, recently invited me to give a talk on blogging at Lincoln University, and the journalist who mentored me when I was at the Daily Express' City section, whom I've never known to be cranky, recently invited me to say a few words about blogging to his staff at CityAM.

I've actually seen the attitudes towards blogging in the media industry change massively for the better in the last year or two, at least in England (not as much as I'd like in Norway yet, but certainly in neighbouring Denmark and Sweden where mainstream media have started to use blogs proactively). And, to give the last word to Howard Owens:

In case it’s not obvious: There are lots of different kinds of blogging. This post might be an example essay blogging (if I were to be that pompous about it). There’s also link blogging, and commentary blogging, and news blogging. The kind of blogging a journalist might do depends on the situation, the purpose and the goals. The purpose of this post is merely to say — get over your objections to blogging and start exploring how you can use it in your newsroom to grow readership...

Good stuff, provided Mecom avoids "labour unrest"...

Looking over the various coverage of Mecom's annual results in international media this morning, I was struck by this line from Financial Times (I must admit I've always found it a bit peculiar how FT often adds comments below their articles):

"If Mecom avoids labour unrest, especially in Germany, over merging old and new-media journalistic practices, it should build from here."

Now, anyone who've followed this story will know that most of Mecom is seething with "labour unrest" if we use the term loosely. No, there are currently no strikes that I'm aware of, but there is certainly massive "unrest" over new working practices and an exodus of talent in Denmark, over political issues at Rzeczpospolita in Poland, over cost cuts in Germany and, as Rob noted in the comments, major opposition to merging Mecom's existing Dutch operation, Media Groep Limburg (MGL) with its most recent acquisition, Wegener, the Dutch regional newspaper group. However, there is also, certainly in Norway, enthusiasm for online innovations.

As for merging old and new journalistic practices, a Wegner-journalist once told me that "our journalists have no problem with cross-platform work, but they do have a problem with getting more work to do than fits into 24 hours".

This points to the lingering uncertainty, or even fear, among Mecom journalists about what they can expect, in terms of new working routines and staffing, from their now not-so-new owner. Talking to various sources yesterday, it seemed like the results failed to quell this fear.

The results were pretty much in line with expectations, but the notes on future strategy were too general to provide concrete answers, though an employee representative told me that Montgomery's personal visit to Berlin to deal with staff protests was much appreciated. At least it made this person's sources feel he took them seriously - perhaps in contrast to the CEO of Mecom Germany, Joseph Depenbrock, who've been quoted saying that "he doesn't need the trust of his employees".

In terms of concrete results from the meeting, Montgomery did not agree to the key demands of the journalists at Berliner Zeitung in respect to Depenbrock and cost cuts, but both The Guardian and Netzeitung reports that he will invest in a new editorial system for the paper (which journalists
at the paper had asked for).

On a general note, sifting through all the international Mecom stories I didn't have time to read properly yesterday, I think it's fair to say that UK media coverage of this story is (and has been) characterised by proximity to the City and investor concerns, with the exception of a few tidbits from Germany, while continental coverage of Mecom is very much characterised by proximity to the journalists and their unions. Neither of which, seen separately, will give your the full story of course ...

Note: I've anonymised my sources when the information is based on informal conversations

Berlingske should be grateful for Mecom-ownership

Although it is the worst performing 'Mecom-country', the changes wrought in 2007, has put Berlingske Officin, Mecom's Danish arm, ahead of competition in the Danish market.

At least according to Henrik Schultz, a media analyst at Kaupthing, who follows Scandinavian media companies closely. "Montgomery has performed much better than previous owners, and implemented sensible and necessary restructuring. If the market should deteriorate, Berlingske is in a much better position to deal with it now, and that's thanks to Montgomery," he told after Mecom presented its preliminary results for 2007 yesterday.

It's worth keeping in mind that Berlingske also was Orkla's Achilles heel when they owned the company. In an informal conversation, a Norwegian union representative once described the situation in Berlingske when Orkla bought it in terms that made it sound very similar to The Mirror in the seventies (in contrast to Norway, this person said, where staffing already "had been cut to the bone"). That said, there is a lot of unease within Berlingske Officin about the current restructuring.

But back to those results. When I talked to Schultz early yesterday, he said Mecom's overall results were "a good step towards something better: decent, but not impressive when we know the results come at the top of a period of good trade". He supported his argument by how the share didn't exactly "go through the roof", but had improved modestly when we talked (at which point it was up 1.25 pence. At the end of the day, it closed up 4.25 pence at 29.75 pence). He said investor disappointment is a huge risk for the company, which he previously has said will struggle to deliver the profits they've promised short term, although he is quite positive about the long term prospects.

Mecom's preliminary annual results for 2007 were slightly ahead of expectations. "Mecom said its adjusted pretax profit before exceptional items and amortisation in the year to end-December was 53 million pounds. The company was forecast to make pretax profit before amortisation and exceptional charges of 49.50 million pounds, inside a 46.7-52.4 million range, according to poll of four analysts polled by Reuters Estimates" (follow the link for the key figures, full results here)

Are Schibsted's corporate bylaws dragging down its share price?

Now, here's an interesting contrarian take on what's bringing down Schibsted's share price.

To say that these are not the jolliest of times for media shares would be an understatement. Schibsted, the Norwegian based media group, much praised internationally for its successful online transition, has seen its share price halved since October - from roughly 300 NOK to roughly 150 NOK.

The market consensus seems to be that, like other media companies, it is being punished for its heavy reliance on the mood swings in the advertisement market, and the market is growing doubtful of the viability of its international expansion - in particular its freesheet business. In short: the share is considered high risk as well as cyclical.

But here's another take on this scenario, investor Michael Roessler over at Key Event suggests that "the reason for the persistent market discount to intrinsic value" is that Schibsted's corporate bylaws are written such that majority ownership is not at the 50.01pc level, but at 75.01pc.

In other words, he is saying that The Tinius Trust, created to safeguard the editorial freedom of Schibsted's newspapers, is dragging down the share price.

Admittedly, this suggestion is based on a research report he did in 2005, and by now many of his findings are outdated – Schibsted has largely moved out of TV, while consolidating online, in classifieds and newspapers and expanding in the free newspaper segment – but the corporate bylaws remain. Though Tinius himself passed away in November, it was his hope that these bylaws would be his lasting legacy - and as long as clever inheritance lawyers do not manage tamper with them, it will be, so this still makes for interesting reading (for the full report, follow the link in Mr Roessler's post):

History, Dear Watson
Schibsted in Norway, like Bonnier in Sweden, is a modern implementation of a very old, family-run business. The Schibsted’s have owned the Aftenposten newspaper for 145 years, since 1860.

Mr. Tinius Nagell-Erichson, a member of a branch of the original family, used the cash flow from Aftenposten to buy other papers like Verdens Gang in the 1960’s and was instrumental in introducing the tabloid version.

Mr. Tinius Nagell-Erichson was further instrumental in transforming the private, family-owned business into a holding corporation. Other family members sold their shares in an IPO, but Tinius Nagell-Erichson did not sell.

In what I think he would term an act of duty, he cemented his dominance in the Norwegian national media flag-ship with a 26.1pc ownership and cleverly written bylaws.
At Schibsted, a shareholder majority is not everything above 50pc, but rather everything above 75pc. This corresponds nicely to Nagell-Erichson’s 26.1pc ownership. There is no majority without his shares.

Sell side analysts attribute Schibsted’s lower valuation relative to comparables to “higher perceived risk.” Specifically, analysts cite Schibsted’s “bold acquisitions” as “risky and aggressive.” Danske Securities, for example, argues that a major reason for the,

“persistently low valuation” of Schibsted is the, “higher risk perceived by investors. Schibsted’s relatively high earnings volatility and the stock’s much higher trading volatility are just two examples of this. Schibsted probably confidently expects its valuation to improve markedly and move closer in line with peers’.” – Henrik Schultz, Danske, December 22, 2004.

I believe that this argument is a complete mischaracterization of Schibsted and utterly misses the role of history in Schibsted’s corporate structure today.

First, there is nothing bold or aggressive in the character of Schibsted’s management. Acquisitions at Schibsted are not primarily a proactive, innovative strategic vision for developing the company into the future, but rather a reactive strategy in defense of the threatened markets and their revenues. Schibsted seems to back into its acquisitions when it is motivated by fear...

Even the latest attempt to acquire Alma Media is reaction to threatened ad revenue... Schibsted’s acquisition strategy is not aggressive. It is defensive...

Reinfeldt's Facebook gaffe

The Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, speaking to students at the The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on "The New Swedish Model: A Reform Agenda for Growth and the Environment":

It is a pleasure to be here at LSE. Anybody who wants to study globalisation should start at this institution. I believe you have the highest proportion of international students in the world.

And you are smart.

I am told that you borrow four times as many books as the average UK student. Obviously you do not spend too much time on


Ouch. Better not encourage anyone to spend time getting their heads around the future (global) means of distribution, or what those may look like... (via Media Culpa)

Depenbrock keeps dual role amid other Mecom changes

Not much came of the Berliner Zeitung journalists' demands that their proprietor, Mecom-boss David Montgomery, divest the newspaper if he was not planning to invest in it and get rid of his henchman in Germany, Joseph Depenbrock.

According to, Montgomery, who had travelled to Berlin to convey his answer personally, said Depenbrock would stay where he was and Mecom's commitment to Berliner Zeitung might last forever (more on Montgomery's Berlin visit here).

Neither answer would have gone down well. Even though the argument of Montgomery only being in it for the short-term, that, no matter what he says, he will milk the companies dry and then hit the road, is frequently used against him, it seems many Mecom-journalists fear the prospect of being milked dry for all eternity much more, and, like so many other newspapers folks these days, long for that knight in shining armour with bottomless pockets: no reckless gambler or profit-chaser, but an independently wealthy, reliable and benign philantropist unaffected by the ups and downs of the marketplace.

The Group Employee council
As for Depenbrock, the fact that he holds the dual role of editor-in-chief and managing director, may be unheard if in Germany, but is not uncommon in other Mecom-countries such as Norway and Holland. Therefore, Mecom's group employee council did not offer an opinion on Depenbrock's role, other than acknowledging that he didn't have the trust of his employees, but did express their sympathy with the general concerns of the staff at Beliner Zeitung.

"The Group Employee Council in Mecom expresses our support to the Works Council in Berliner Verlag in their protests against severe cuts in staff in the company. We do fully understand their frustration when met with cost cutting programs together with demands of profit margin up to 18 - 20 %. In our opinion it is very unwise for management to set unrealistic goals for net profit, when the consequences will be very negative both for the people losing their jobs, the quality of the newspapers and the general goodwill of the company," they said in a statement issued 19 February.

Strictly speaking, the employee representation system in Mecom has been a bit unclear since Mecom Europe ceased to exist and Mecom's headquarter was relocated to London. In short, without going into too much technical details, laws on employee representation differs in the UK and in Europe, but a new structure for employee representation is currently being negotiated and expected to be in place later this spring.

The Reshuffle
In contrast to Depenbrock, Keith Allen, whom several Mecom sharholders lost their faith in after a botched profit warning in January, did not get to keep his job. Last Wednesday, when I found myself running from CityAM to Metro International and then on to Google's London headquarters, Mecom announced that John Allwood would replace Keith Allen as finance director, while Allen was appointed chief operating officer. In a statement, Mecom stressed how Allwood's "financial track record and experience of European business will be invaluable to Mecom."

The Remakes
Meanwhile, away from all the management keruffle, several of Mecom's newspapers have recently undergone, or are in the process of undergoing, a facelift. In Germany, Netzeitung was recently relaunched in a new, green design. In Denmark, Urban, the youth-oriented freesheet of Berlingske Officin, Mecom's Danish arm, was recently relaunched with a new 'human-oriented' profile (all the stories and pictures have to have humans in them, no landscapes, buildings, financial results only - although I'm not sure if they uphold the distinction American journalists like to make between RPs, Real Persons, and BBs, Babbling Bureaucrats, or if BBs are considered human as well). In Norway, the local and regional newspapers of Mecom's Norwegian arm, Edda Media, is getting a new design framework later this spring.

Montgomery to address German Mecom-conflict

Mecom-boss David Montgomery is expected to attend to the increasingly tense situation at the Berliner Zeitung in a visit to Berlin this week, according to Financial Times Deutschland, who claims nothing less than a war is raging in Berlin (in German).

Now, several concerned readers from various Mecom-countries contacted me last week to hear if I had seen the latest stories by international media on the trouble in Berlin. The answer is twofold: on the one hand, I've covered parts of this story in Norwegian for Journalisten but been too busy to blog; on the other hand, international media have been slow to pick up and then mostly just skimming the surface, so, to make up for the recent lack of Mecom-blogging here, here's a recap of the main Mecom headlines in February with some tidbits you might not have picked up elsewhere:

The Letter

Dear Mr Proprietor,

If you intend to be such a money-pincher, we demand a new owner. If you fail to comply, we'll make your life miserable.

Sincerely Yours,
staff at Berliner Zeitung

This might not have been the exact wording of the famous letter that explains Montgomery's vist to Berlin, but it's pretty much the essence of it.

In the evening of 14 February, while the management at Berliner Verlag, Mecom's German arm, were busy preparing an annual party with 'stakeholders' such as local celebrities and politicians, the employees crafted an open letter in which they demanded that Joseph Depenbrock, the joint editor-in-chief and commercial director of Mecom's German operations, was replaced and drastic cost cutting measures abandoned. If these demands were not met, they urged Montgomery to sell Berliner Zeitung to another owner, threatening industrial action if he failed to comply.

The confrontation

In the letter, the employees made it clear that neither Depenbrock nor Montgomery commanded their trust, to which Depenbrock responded, according to SüdDeutsche Zeitung, that he did not need the trust of his employees.

Enter David Montgomery, the soft-spoken, mild-mannered Irishman who calmly and diplomatically faces all the abuse thrown at him. Yes, this is very much the public image we've seen of Montgomery in his new role as a European media mogul so far. He may have gone to Berlin as the peace-maker, to demand that management and employees sort out their differences, or to more or less diplomatically remind his employees of the brutal reality they face. In either case, we should know soon....

More on the outcome and other Mecom tidbits here

On doing things "The Drupal Way"

Drupal, a long time favourite free content management system of web hacker-geeks, is going mainstream.

In Denmark, national news sites such as, as well as media sites and are among those who have swapped their expensive and often complicated content management systems (CMS) for the free open-source software. But open software does have its unique challenges...

Read more over at


Nikolaj Opstrup, head of development at Mediawatch