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Finnish media jobs disappearing fast

Finnish media jobs disappearing fast

| Text: Carl-Gustav Lindén, photo Cata Portin

For the first time ever there is a considerable problem of open unemployment among journalists in Finland. There is also substantial hidden numbers since many are working less than they would like or take on extra non-journalistic work in order to make ends meet.

In the past five to six years more than 1,000 jobs have disappeared from the newspaper trade alone, and there are no signs the trend is turning. 

“Open unemployment is something new,” says Professor of journalism Tom Moring at the University of Helsinki. 

He says the labour market for journalists is undergoing a restructuring. Newspapers’ loss of readership and advertising income are reaching double figures. Commercial TV companies are cutting back and the public service broadcaster Yleisradio is having its funding slashed. 

“Everything points to fewer jobs for journalists, but we still don’t know how many.”

Sombre mood

Proof that the trend has definitely not turned yet can be found at Helsinki’s daily Hufvudstadsbladet. There is a sombre mood when the Nordic Labour Journal visits the editorial offices in Mannerheimvägen 18. The owner of Finland’s largest Swedish-language daily, KSF Media, have decided to cut one in five jobs across the group. Nearly 50 full-time jobs, including 30 journalist positions, will go. The group’s newspapers will buy more material from freelancers instead. 

“I have been worried for a long time that we have been waking up to this too slowly. For ten years now we’ve known what is going to happen, and you could ask yourself why not more is being invested in Finland,” says the union rep Sylvia Bjon, who has taken part in negotiations. 

It might come as news for many in the Nordic region that Finland has ten Swedish-language daily newspapers. The papers in the largest group, KSF Media, are owned by a wealthy foundation, Konstsamfundet, which for a long time covered  the losses. But the figures are beginning to be so pitch black that far too much of the foundation’s money is being spent on covering the deficit. The solution: everyone must reapply for their own jobs, and then the employer decides who no longer fits in with the new organisation which comes into being at the end of the year.

“Legally speaking it is a question of whether an application form for an existing job agreement is valid — so this is not actually applying for a new job,” explains Bjon.

She is worried about what readers will think when the printed newspaper’s resources are cut while more resources are put into the digital edition.

Language barrier disappears

Others are suffering from the downturn too. The big media group Sanoma which publishes the country’s largest morning paper Helsingin Sanomat has already been through several rounds of negotiations and is selling off assets in order to pay off debt.

Journalists have long tried not to think about the daily papers’ crisis. 

“Many still think it is obscene for journalists to care about how the owners make money,” says Sylvia Bjon.

The newspaper crisis is not only about money. It is also linked to the media and journalists’ position in society as whole. And it is about an inability to reinvent the media world. To add to the problem, Finnish media have been behind a language barrier which no longer protects them when it comes to young people’s media habits, where the English language no longer is a problem. Local papers seem to have managed best with their loyal readership and advertisers. Still, it is also worth noting that four out of five Finns read a daily paper.

Hidden unemployment

Unemployment among Finnish journalists is around 7.5 percent, according to statistics from the unemployment benefit fund Finka. The President of the Finnish Union of Journalists, Arto Nieminen, says there is probably hidden unemployment which statistics do not show. Not all journalists are members. Many freelance journalists are also forced to take on other jobs in order to make ends meet. Just over 10 percent of the union’s active members have registered as freelancers and that number has been constant for a couple of years. The number is somewhat lower than in for instance Sweden. Surveys show that freelancers earn just two-thirds of what people in full-time jobs performing the same tasks make. 

“Finland is still in a different situation compared to Sweden, where temporary work is common,” says Sylvia Bjon.

She is also the deputy leader for the Union of Journalists’ council and a member of the negotiating delegation which is now working out a new collective agreement. The Union is also discussing whether to do like the Danish and welcome people who work in the communications trade. 

“In recent years we have talked a lot about expanding the Union of Journalists. Should it only be a union for journalists who follow journalists’ ethical rules?”

Arto Nieminen thinks it is often impossible to spot the difference between editorial content which has been produced for company webpages or content produced for media - for instance food programmes.

Journalists are clearly worried about the future, and it is therefore apt that the Union of Journalists course for union reps this autumn focuses on how to handle job insecurity.

Leaving journalism

Some journalists choose to leave the trade for a communications career. Mathias Järnström, owner and CEO of the communications agency Miltton, says journalists’ expertise is sought after because companies more than ever before need to understand the ecosystem within which they operate.

“People with journalist backgrounds are interested in social issues.”

Järnström feels there has been a change in attitudes in recent years. While Swedish journalists for a while now have thought it is OK to work with PR and communications, their Finnish colleagues have been somewhat slower to change their attitudes. Many who have been working with politics and journalism are doing very well in the communications industry. He does not think this is problematic for the public debate.

“Not really. In general I think we work far too much in our own little boxes in Finland, it is good to broaden out.”

Between 4,000 and 4,500 people work with market communication in Finland, compared to just over 10,000 active journalists according to the Union of Journalists’ membership lists.

Surveys still show relatively few journalists move into the communications trade. It is an occupation where you need special skills and journalists are often too media fixated to fit in.

A few decades ago there was no communications education and the number of journalists used to be considerable, more than one third. According to Elina Melgin, Managing Director at The Finnish Association of Communication Professionals, Procom, the number of members with a background from journalism is now around seven percent. The association’s membership is growing fast, but except for some high profile media personalities, career change is not a strong trend, according to Melgin.

“It is still possible to make a career as a journalist if you have an interesting personal profile and a knowledge base to build on,” says Tom Moring.

Labour market mobility for journalists has increased, but no Finnish studies have been  looking at where journalists go. Tom Moring assumes there will be opportunities in the borderlands between digital and visual presentation. 

In Sweden a recent study by Professor Gunnar Nygren looked at why journalists leave the Swedish Union of Journalists. It turned out the majority continued working with journalism, but those who leave are first and foremost young people with short work experience and no steady job. Half of them are in some way involved in PR and communications in addition to their other work duties.


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