Hallvard Moe and Hilde Sakariassen
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 show high willingness to pay for online news. Meanwhile, #MeToo resulted in political scandals as well as debates on media ethics and trust.
Norway remains the country with the highest number of consumers (34%) willing to pay for online news, up 4 percentage points since last year, with growth skewed towards those with high income. Norwegians have had a strong tradition for reading print newspapers and the transition to digital subscriptions has been facilitated through hybrid solutions that typically bundle paper and digital content. This, and the absence of freesheets, explains why Norway remains on top when it comes to paying for online news.
These trends are reflected in the balance sheets of traditional publishers. The foundation-owned local newspaper company Amedia, for instance, reported a €40m (EBITDA: 13.1%) operating profit in 2018, with a solid increase in local digital advertising revenue partly replacing falls in print. Schibsted, which owns the largest quality newspaper Aftenposten as well as the popular tabloid VG, and numerous regional newspapers and publishers abroad, reported record operating profits (EBITDA: 19%). In 2019, Schibsted will divide its businesses into two parts; a consumer media division focused on the Nordics region and an internationally focused online classifieds business. The split may give Schibsted more cash to invest in strategic acquisitions.
In March 2019, a much-anticipated white paper on media policy was published by the Conservative-led coalition government. The white paper restated the need for an arm’s length distance between government and the media – an important principle, not to be taken for granted. It also proposed changing the funding model for public service broadcaster NRK from licence fee to tax, and to redistribute some existing press subsidies to local news and innovation.
Almost a third of Norwegians (31%) have used podcasts during the last month, and several of the major newspapers have launched a range of podcasts, especially focused on news commentary. Public service radio broadcaster NRK has responded by adding podcasts to its already rich menu of programming, for example by relaunching older shows or developing niche podcasts for popular hosts. Podcasts especially reach younger age-groups, where over half (52%) of those under 35 years have used podcasts, compared to only 22% of those over the age of 35. The growth of podcasts has sparked a debate on regulation in comparison with other news media. Comedians’ podcasts that cover politics, for example, are accused of repeatedly breaching ethical guidelines widely observed in Norwegian journalism.
Meanwhile the toxic nature of online comments has led a number of major news brands to pull back from offering these services. Digital-born tabloid Nettavisen followed suit in early 2019, despite earlier having launched an elaborate system to counter anonymous trolling and hate speech. Meanwhile, relations between Norwegian news providers and the global platforms remained strained. Non-profit fact-checker Faktisk.no, entered into a collaboration with Facebook, but this led to questions and a debate about its editorial independence, given that it now takes money directly from the platform.
Politics and social media have become increasingly interlinked in Norway. As in many other countries, the #MeToo movement has sparked heated debates. The prime case has been the fall of Labour party Deputy Leader Trond Giske, following a number of sexual harassment allegations against him – with accompanying condemnation on social media. When Giske attempted a political comeback in early 2019, the tabloid VG reported a further incident in an Oslo bar, but was forced to apologise when it turned out that the woman involved had been misquoted.1 All this triggered widespread discussion and a major documentary on public television about sexual harassment, the ethics of reporting such cases, and the treatment of sources.
Like many other countries, Norway has seen the rise of ‘partisan’ news sites in the last few years. Resett.no, document.no, and rights.no, are among the most used, all with a tough stance on issues of immigration and Islam, and all causing public debates that extend beyond their relatively small audiences, thus influencing the wider news agenda. These sites are, however, much less trusted than mainstream media, with the public broadcaster NRK still topping the list in our survey. There is an ongoing debate about partisan media and whether they should be part of Norway’s self-regulatory regime. In 2018, the Association of Norwegian Editors granted membership to the editor of Document.no, but denied an application from the editor of Resett, based on repeated violations of ethical guidelines.
The vast majority of Norwegians (84%) use online news weekly, one of the highest figures in our survey, while traditional news sources – print and television – are in decline. Online patterns are shifting from computers to smartphones, which are now by far the number one device for news in Norway.
Trust in news is fairly low (13th of 38 countries surveyed), despite little social and political polarisation in media use patterns, and financial support for media. Research has shown that trust in journalists’ professionalism and biases depends on political preference, with far-right voters and those with strong views on immigration expressing most mistrust.