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Ole Jacob Sunde: the important thing is the media - not whether news is printed on paper

Ole Jacob Sunde: the important thing is the media - not whether news is printed on paper

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

“The most important thing is to have good platforms and sources of information where you find important and relevant news and stories presented with integrity. Which medium is being used is less important in the long run. We should make use of technology,” says Ole Jacob Sunde, chairman both at Schibsted and the Tinius Trust.

Schibsted owns media mainly in Norway and Sweden but is also a main player in other areas like classified ads in Europe as well as in countries further afield - like Brazil and Malaysia. The Tinius Trust was founded by the Norwegian daily Aftenposten’s late majority owner Tinius Nagell-Erichsen. The trust controls 26.1 percent of Schibsted shares. Its main task is to provide security for Schibsted’s newspapers and other media to allow them to “maintain their position as free and independent news providers”. The trust is also working for "a healthy long term economic development of the group".

We meet Ole Jacob Sunde in Schibsted’s main offices in Oslo’s Apotekergata. There’s a statue of Tinius outside, and the unassuming facades hide a modern interior - just like the newspapers‘ names are often written in ancient typeface.

The day after Obama

It is the day after President Barack Obama was re-elected in the USA and  Ole Jacob Sunde admits he heard the news first on breakfast TV. If you opened Aftenposten that day there were no final results, only a pointer to - the paper’s website - and its running overnight coverage of the election.

This illustrates one of the problems for printed newspapers - they come out several hours after their online or broadcast competitors. This becomes even more obvious with the spread of tablet computers and smartphones where you can get fresh news any time you like. 

So our first question to Ole Jacob Sunde is whether he in the role as chairman of the Tinius Trust feels a special responsibility for making sure the newspapers have a print edition?

Paper not the most important

“In a wider perspective paper is not the most important thing for the Tinius Trust, even if it is well known that Tinius himself grew up in the age of printed newspapers and loved them,” says Ole Jacob Sunde.

“But Tinius also said something else: copying the past is completely wrong, and it's impossible anyway. If you do, sooner or later someone else while come and take over.” 

We also want to know whether he believes today’s crisis in print media is not only due to the financial crisis but also part of comprehensive, structural changes which are at least as dramatic as when newspapers abandoned lead for typesetting.

“Our newspapers have developed over 150 years with relatively small changes. But we are facing a crucial change in technology. It takes time to absorb this and to change - to think: how would I have done things if I started from scratch today,” says Ole Jacob Lunde.

“There’s this graph I used while presenting Schibsted in Switzerland a few days ago. It shows how much time US citizens spend on different media and the medias’ share of advertising revenue.

Graph of American media consumtion

Source: KPCBs Mary Meeker on the D10-conference in May 2012

 “Americans spend just seven percent of their time reading printed newspapers, but these still take 25 percent of all the ad revenue. For TV the numbers are more equal; 43 percent of time spent watching and 42 percent of ad revenues. Already Americans spend ten percent of of their time reading news on their mobiles - but this sector takes only one percent of ad revenues.” 

In other words, printed newspapers’ decline is not due to the economic downturn. These are structural changes which so far are most visible in the USA. Europeans are more conservative in their media habits. But consumers‘ changing habits will lead to equally powerful change in Europe. 

Three of the world’s four countries with the highest number of newspapers per capita are Nordic: Norway, Finland and Sweden, in that order. Japan is up there, as well, in second place. Yet the fact that Nordic newspapers are being read by all social classes also make them vulnerable.

Focus on the elite

“In southern Europe printed newspapers are more targeted at the elite and have smaller circulations as a result. Media addressing wider sections of society are more influenced by social media,” says Ole Jacob Sunde.

"At the same time I believe printed newspapers will survive for many years still, especially regionally and in certain segments important to the readers and the advertisers."

Today Facebook and Twitter are competing for people’s attention. Something big is happening when you no longer turn to the local newspaper or radio station but perhaps Wikipedia, which with its 450 million users have become a news provider in itself - an encyclopedia which is updated non-stop. 

Newspapers are at risk of being overtaken by celebrities like Lady Gaga, who communicates directly with her 20 million Twitter followers; by companies which have become mass media in their own right and on their own terms, giving their version of events through videos and text on their websites. By bloggers who are driven by their own interests or who are hunting advertising revenues.

Not pessimistic for the journalist profession

Ole Jacob Sunde is still not pessimistic for the journalist profession or the general role played by the media:

“Because there are so many alternative channels of information with their own hidden agendas, it is even more important to have a few sources who present quality information. We need media which investigate society’s decision makers and write about what is important and relevant, allowing readers to get information which is as relevant and factual as possible.” 

You say “a few”. Will there be 200 newspapers in Norway in a few years time?

“I think there will be many newspapers, especially local ones, but fewer owners. The most important protection for plurality is not to limit the concentration of ownership, which so far has been the authorities’ aim, but to make sure the papers stay profitable,” says Ole Jacob Sunde.

“I think any society will continue to need people who are good observers, who can connect the dots and report it all back in a concise and interesting way.”


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