Aligned with the media crisis, more national newspapers in Norway left the districts. In the end, there were none left.
Was it a loss?
Consider the case of Dagbladet: In August, Norway’s national newspaper, Dagbladet, opened two new local offices with local editions in Bergen and Trondheim, after 17 years of absence in these important cities.
This is because we believe in more journalism being produced outside Oslo, the capital city. We believe more stories and voices from across the country provide more unique content to our daily readers. Dagbladet is read by close to 30% of the population every day; our readers are from all over the country.
I started as a journalist at Adresseavisen, a regional newspaper in Trondheim, in the latter half of the 1990s. At the time, there was no local newspaper competitor in the city of any importance. Though Adresseavisen tried, to the best of its ability, to compensate for the absence of competition, the effect was still noticeable. Nobody gets better from being in a monopolistic situation.
The only thing that was aggravating was the presence of the national newspapers in the city. Dagbladet and several other media had local offices with their own local journalists in the city centre. Being beaten on a local issue by a journalist from Dagbladet, when Adresseavisen itself had a large editorial staff at its disposal, always stung a little extra. This meant we had to cover more issues and interview more people to avoid being beaten on home turf.
In the 2000s, more national newspapers began to abandon their local offices around the country. One by one, the local journalists disappeared. They moved to Oslo and started working for editorial offices there.
It wasn’t just the local and regional newspapers that noticed the change. There was less competition, and the national newspapers also became poorer. The unique stories that used to enrich the newspapers — strong voices from north to south — decreased. An increased number of flight routes naturally made it easier for national newspapers to respond to major incidents, but part of the content diversity disappeared with this.
Local office closures didn’t happen because national newspapers did not value a local presence. They happened because in the 2000s, national newspapers began having significant financial problems. The use of online newspapers grew every year, but it was not possible to make enough money to finance the journalism. At the same time, newspaper circulation fell steeply.
There was downsizing, constant reorganisation, and restructuring. It wasn’t just the local offices that closed down. Foreign offices were closed too. Positions such as proofreaders, fact-checkers, typographers, graphics staff, and image processors dwindled until most of them disappeared completely. More of these tasks ended up with journalists, or they were solved with the help of automated digital tools.
According to the Freedom of Expression Commission’s investigation in Norway, released this autumn, the number of journalists has been greatly reduced. The Norwegian Association of Journalists’ membership was at its highest in 2008 with slightly more than 9,700 members. Last year, the number was down to 7,900.
In recent years, the trend reversed somewhat. Digital user payments has taken off for many companies in Norway.
In addition, the advertising market has been very good. Dagbladet has also had strong readership growth. In the last year, Dagbladet gained almost 100,000 more daily readers — the largest increase in Norway.
Of course, the media industry, like all other industries at home and abroad, is aware of what is happening around us in the world and what kind of impact it may have in the future.
Back to the opening question: Was it so dangerous that national newspapers disappeared from the districts?
Well, Dagbladet has noticed a big difference already after a few weeks with a fixed base in Bergen and Trondheim. We have had a number of stories from other parts of the country, with other voices and other perspectives. The number of pageviews has also far exceeded expectations. Our readers want more stories from other parts of the country. We have published stories we likely wouldn’t have received without a local presence. We hope to provide more diversity to readers with this venture.
Increased competition among the media beyond Oslo is intensifying. It makes us all better, and the readers benefit from it.