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My first meeting with tabloid media and the dog who saved my life

CAR-journalism: Tax day, Facebook-apps and Nosy Neighbours

It’s that day of the year: the tax lists are made public in Norway and the country’s hacks have been up since the wee hours, working hard to provide us with new ways to pry into our neighbours' earnings - and those of the rich, powerful and famous.

The term ”Big brother is watching you” springs to mind; though it is more like a whole army of David’s watching you. Norwegian news sites’ eager work to make the tax lists available means everyone and his dog can check up on how much you earned and taxed the previous year, and it proves an equally big ”click winner” each year.

This year a Facebook application which allows people to check what all their Norwegian Facebook friends earned and taxed last year is raising eyebrows. The application, provided by both the country’s main commercial TV channel, TV2, and the second most read tabloid, Dagbladet, is causing quite some outrage among my Twitter-friends, and a quick search on hashtags like #TV2fail and #skattelister shows they’re not the only ones.

It is possible to block these applications, which I must admit would be my natural inclination, but as a journalist I feel it would send the wrong signal even though I’ve never been a fan of how the tax lists are made available on tax day.

Ironically, it is perhaps the one example of computer assisted reporting (CAR) known to most Norwegians, but several of the CAR-specialists I know are sceptical to the kind of information the tax lists provide us with. They want more details of course, details that would have enabled them to make more useful comparisons that would tell us more about income divides related to geography, class, education etc, not only be a tool for nosy neighbours and envy as it mostly is today - and a rather imprecise tool at that.

Every year the tax lists contain a lot of mistakes, and the numbers can be very misleading because of the way they are presented. As someone who works both as a salaried journalist and as self-employed, I’ve certainly seen again and again that the tax lists tend to miss one of the two types of income. Sometimes the tax lists also contain genuine mistakes, and it’s peculiar how you can read about your tax status on news sites before you get the actual letter from the tax office informing you of it.

If nothing else, this phenomena means Norwegians should have a stronger incentive to keep active social media profiles than most: it’s the best way to control your online identity and make sure the top Google hits on your name are stuff like your blog, your Twitter-, LinkedIn, Facebook profiles etc - and not your tax profile...

I must also admit it does feel good to be on my way to Bergen to host a meeting with Nick Diakopoulos on very different forms of CAR-journalism on a day like this (the talk is an open one, feel free to join us if you are in the vicinity).

Update: many thanks to Andreas for informing me that it is not the first year Facebook-apps such as the one described in this post have been available (in Norwegian).

Screengrabs below from last year's "Tax-day-journalism":

1) Tv2 on Norway's best earning editors, 2) Norway's public broadcaster (NRK) on princess Martha Louise's "heavenly income" from her angel school:




Norwegians are able to *easily* find out what their neighbors earn? Here in the States we have to dig through their garbage for pay stubs.

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