Hilde Sakariassen and Hallvard Moe
University of Bergen
The Norwegian media landscape mixes strong national publishers and public service media with a reputation for innovation in content and business models.
Norwegians’ main news sources are a combination of the publicly funded broadcaster (NRK), the nationwide commercial TV channel TV2, leading quality newspaper Aftenposten, and tabloids VG and Dagbladet. However, local and regional newspapers remain important for many Norwegians – in print as well as online.
NRK remains the most used provider offline, in a market where both TV news and print newspapers are falling significantly. In terms of online media, tabloid news brands dominate, with VG reaching over half (55%) of Norwegians each week, although digital-born actors also feature in the top ten (Nettavisen and ABCNyheter).
Almost nine in ten (87%) Norwegians use online news weekly, one of the highest figures in our survey, with user patterns shifting rapidly from computers to smartphones. Social media are used as a source of news for many, with Facebook still ahead in an increasingly saturated market. Meanwhile Snapchat has significantly gained popularity with under 35s in Norway for messaging, but also for news. Due to the high penetration of Snapchatters in Norway, the company launched one of the first non-English-speaking Discover news channels with tabloid VG in January 2017. NRK has also experimented with youth-orientated content on Snapchat, e.g. during the US election.
Meanwhile Facebook’s decision to remove a journalist’s posting of an iconic war photo (Napalm Girl) because it breached its rules on nudity led to accusations of censorship and a global outcry. Aftenposten dedicated its front page to an open letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, which was supported by the Norwegian Prime Minister, and eventually led Facebook to back down. This debate about the perceived arrogance of US tech giants as well as the power held by Facebook (and Google) in the advertising market, has re-energised attempts by the Norwegian media industry to create an alliance for ad sales as an independent alternative. However, in early 2017, local news owner Amedia opted to stick with Google’s ad solutions for the moment at least.
Trust has been high on the agenda, especially following the political changes in the UK and US, with commentators and politicians also in Norway using the term ‘fake news’ in vague references to adversaries, or in criticism of journalistic reporting. In March 2017, NRK joined forces with Dagbladet’s owner and the Tinius Trust to launch a non-commercial initiative to combat fake news across media and online outlets, staffed by journalists. This signals a new climate of collaboration in the Norwegian media landscape.
Norwegians remain world leaders in persuading people to pay for online news. The strong tradition for print newspaper reading has facilitated a transition to digital subscriptions through hybrid solutions (access to both paper and digital content). An example is Amedia’s local newspapers that now have the majority of their subscribers using the hybrid version, as well as a 6.2% growth in digital subscriptions over the last year. But this increase has not sufficiently compensated for the loss of advertising revenue, so cost and staff cuts have continued across newspapers, as well as in TV2, this year. One new initiative that has gained attention is Broen.xyz, headed by a former Schibsted regional newspaper editor. The site is envisioned as a Nordic provider of news and commentary, based on a membership model with free as well as pay options.
In media policy, a major report on media diversity by a commission which included major stakeholders, was submitted in March 2017. It laid out ambitious proposals to revamp existing support schemes and add new ones to help fund journalism through the digital transition. Proposed measures include a new, temporary exemption from the employers’ social security contribution for news companies, as well as tweaks to the VAT exemption to accommodate new business models (such as single-article sales and niche news publications).
While the publicly funded NRK does see some pressure concerning the scope of the remit as well as the funding model, compared to European counterparts, the Norwegian institution enjoys high legitimacy and broad political support.
FM radio will be switched off and replaced by DAB+ and online distribution. The switch-off between the two started in the northern part of Norway in January and is expected to be complete nationwide by fall 2017.
In Norway trust in the news overall is slightly up on last year. Our survey backs up other research that indicates distrust is unevenly distributed, with those having a political affiliation to the right as well as a critical stand towards immigration showing the lowest levels of trust. Under 35s are also significantly less likely to trust the news media.