University of Tampere, Finland
The news media environment in Finland is characterised by a strong regional press, a strong public broadcaster (Yle), one widely read national daily (Helsingin Sanomat), and two popular evening tabloids, both reaching over half of the adult population. Finnish news media remain the most trusted in our survey.
A small number of publishers dominate the news market as both the Finnish language and small market seem to shield national news brands somewhat against international competition. Finnish news brands also do well in terms of reach because there is still plenty of free online content available (especially the evening tabloids and Yle), and a strong Finnish reading tradition. Despite this, news reach in most sources is slowly declining as entertainment media such as Netflix and Spotify compete for people’s time.
Newspaper circulations have continued to decline, which is a serious problem because most of their revenue still comes from print. Finnish newspaper publishers have smoothed their print-readers’ way into digital by offering bundled subscriptions at a similar price – or just a little higher – as print-only subscriptions. This strategy has made bundled subscriptions quite popular in Finland. At the same time, they have tightened their online paywalls and tried to sell digital subscriptions. While a few publishers have had some success with this strategy1 – Helsingin Sanomat now has around 100,000 digital-only subscribers and more than 300,000 overall – less than one-fifth of the adult population (16% last year) overall has paid for online news.
The current trend in paywalls is a mixed model in which people can read a few stories free while some premium content is only available to subscribers. When people come up against a paywall, they are often offered a free trial or low-cost subscription. There are also some experiments with micropayments. For example, Karjalainen, a regional newspaper, sells 24-hour access to its site to those sending a 95 eurocent SMS.
The government’s decision to decrease VAT for digital media from 24% to 10% (the same as for subscribed print media) will probably accelerate the change from print to digital and make investing in online services more attractive for publishers.
Finland has always tracked as the country with the most trusted news media in the Digital News Report (59% this year). This is probably due to the Finns’ general trust in social institutions and the fact that the mainstream news media are not politically divided. It seems, though, that even in Finland things are slowly changing. Overall trust in the news is now down 9 percentage points from 2015, though trust in ‘news I consume’ dropped only 2 percentage points.
The widening gap between trust in news overall and ‘news I consume’ might indicate some kind of polarising trend. Social topics from immigration to wolf-hunting have recently led to heated public debates and accusations of bias against established media. In a 2016 survey, 71% of those supporting the nationalist True Finns party said they had ‘lost their trust in traditional media’, while among all Finns only 38% agreed with that statement.2 Another explanation is that the public discussion about fake news has made people more aware of the potential unreliability of news – while they still broadly trust the mainstream news media.
There is a small nationalist and anti-immigration alternative media scene in Finland, which actively engenders distrust in legacy media. The most well-known of these is MV-lehti (4% weekly reach), whose founder was recently sentenced to jail for publishing material which was found to be both libellous and racist. There is an appeal pending. MV-lehti operates now with a new leadership.
Podcasts seem to have gained ground in Finland over the last year, and many newspaper companies have started podcasts of their own. Sometimes the initiative has come from individual journalists. Regional newspapers Aamulehti and Satakunnan Kansa started podcasts about sports in autumn 2018 while Helsingin Sanomat continued its political commentary podcast Uutisraportti (News Report) that already has a quite established position.
The national news agency STT strengthened its position after a period of economic difficulty. The government granted it a €1.5 million subsidy and Sanoma increased its ownership of STT to 75% by buying Alma Media’s and TS-Group’s shares. Sanoma also announced that Helsingin Sanomat will start using STT’s services again.
The weekly reach of all sources of news is either declining or flat, which may be because other media are increasingly competing for people’s time. Meanwhile the smartphone is rapidly increasing its importance. 62% of Finns now use the smartphone for news weekly, with 43% of Finns saying it is their main device, compared with 39% in 2018.
Even in Finland, trust in news is slowly declining. This may be because of polarising tendencies in this traditionally consensual and trustful society, or because the debate about so called ‘fake news’ has undermined trust in news overall. The national broadcasting company Yle retains its position as the most trusted media in Finland.