COVID-19 swept the globe in spring 2020, and the Nordic culture and media sector was one of those that felt the full force of the pandemic. A year on, the report “COVID-19 and the Nordic news media” – the first of two analyses commissioned by the Nordic culture ministers – has been published to help understand and cope with the challenges faced by the sector from a Nordic perspective.
“It has been a year of big changes for the Nordic media. We are still in the middle of a pandemic, but the report provides a valuable analysis of the current situation and draws attention to important media-policy issues from a Nordic perspective,” says Paula Lehtomäki, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers.
The consequences of the pandemic for the media vary from country to country. Nordicom, which is based at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, was in charge of the mapping exercise covering the private news media during the pandemic but worked along with media researchers from all of the Nordic countries.
“The national markets for professional news media in the Nordic Region all have their own unique structure, with major variations in terms of size, range, funding models and financial strength. The countries also have different attitudes to subsidies for private media companies. A wide-ranging economic and social crisis – like the pandemic – brings many of these differences to the fore,” says one of the editors of the report, Professor Ida Willig of Roskilde University in Denmark.
Advertising revenue down, subscriptions up
The abrupt slowdown in the Nordic economies in spring 2020 led to a dramatic and immediate decline in willingness to invest in the Nordic advertising markets. The fall in advertising revenue was particularly large in the print media, with newspapers in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden recording drops of around 25% for the year, corresponding to a revenue loss of some €290 million. However, investment in online advertising increased in three out of the four countries studied.
“The restrictions imposed during the pandemic have changed behaviour on the advertising market in a very palpable way. The high streets have been struggling, but online shopping has grown rapidly, which has increased interest in online advertising. It is a trend that works well for global advertising platforms like Google and Facebook but not as well for national and local advertising media,” says Jonas Ohlsson, director of Nordicom.
The private news media may have found it more challenging to retain advertisers, but the opposite has been the case with their audiences. In 2020, a significant extension of the reach of various kinds of news media was reported in all of the Nordic countries – especially online.
Boost for journalism
Greater interest in news has also made people more willing to pay for digital news content. The report identifies a clear rise in the proportion of Nordic households willing to pay for online news.
“The professional news media have played an important role during the pandemic, both in terms of disseminating information and of scrutinising political decisions. Several studies also show that confidence in the Nordic news media’s coverage increased during 2020. The fact that more people in the Nordic Region have opted to pay for their news is a sign that professional journalism has improved its position in the eyes of audiences during the pandemic,” says Ida Willig.
Bigger audiences for public-service and private news media during the pandemic shows the value of the Nordic model.
The dramatic drop in advertising in spring 2020 was followed by intense debate on media subsidies. The outcome was direct state support for private news media in all of the Nordic countries to the record tune of €275 million, about a third of it in the form of special pandemic funding.
The differences between the countries were substantial, however, with state funding for private news media about ten times as high per capita in Sweden and Denmark as it was in Finland for the year.
“Historically, media policy in the Nordic Region has been active, with a large, subsidised public-service sector as well as special funding for private news media. Over the past decade, the models have become more and more politicised, and the countries have increasingly chosen different paths. Bigger audiences for public-service and private news media during the pandemic shows the value of the Nordic model. This makes media policy even more topical, including after the pandemic,” says Jonas Ohlsson.
Webinar 22 April
Are you interested in more information? Do you have questions for the authors of the report? On 22 April, you are welcome to explore the key conclusions of the new report “Covid-19 and the Nordic news media” during a livestreamed webinar with presentations and a debate. The audience will be able to ask questions. The presentation will be in the Scandinavian languages.
- Professor Mark Blach-Ørsten, Roskilde Universitet
- Jonas Ohlsson, Director, Nordicom, University of Gothenburg
- Assistant Professor Heini í Skorini, the University of the Faroe Islands
- Randi S. Øgrey, Managing Director, Norwegian Media Businesses' Association
- Heidi Avellan, Political Editor-in-Chief, Sydsvenskan (moderator)
- Presentation, results and conclusions
- Q&A with audience (via chat)
- Panel discussion