News / 12.06.2009

Finnish Media Use The Global Crisis To Cut Down Costs

By Linus Atarah and Juha Rekola

During the last two months, a hundred journalists have been given the boot, even if the media Companies are doing extremely well. According to the finances expert Arto Suninen, the value of media companies has been rising faster and faster during the last years.

Finnish newspapers rely more heavily on advertising revenue compared to their European counterparts and that explains why they are so much affected. The risk is that when advertising space won’t sell, the expences will be cut througn reducing staff, while the high profits of the owners won’t be touched.

Small regional and local newspapers are the ones who have taken most of the brunt, with over a dozen small local newspapers laying off workers.

For the small local newspapers it means many of them may not be able resume publishing even after the recession, says Kimmo Pietinen, Deputy Editor of the largest circulating Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat. The disappearance of newspaper titles carries with it the implication of narrowing down diversity of opinion, a central element in a democracy.

Even though none of the 150 staff writers of Aamulehti has been laid off staff but, Apunen says that the next five months would be the determining period on whether that can still be maintained. Costs-cutting measures at Aamulehti have seen slimming down of the paper by 10 to 15 per cent. The paper is cutting freelancer budget, and travelling by staff has been greatly curtailed.

Similarly Helsingin Sanomat has maintained its 300 staff writers but the overall effect of cost cutting measures at the paper would be a reduction in staff. For instance Helsingin Sanomat has introduced a pension scheme which provides incentives for people of age 59 or more years who have worked with the company for up to 30 years to go on early retirement. It is not yet known how many journalists have signed up for the incentive until the end of May, but according to Pietinen, the paper will not be hiring to replace those who go on early retirement.

The broadcast media are not faring much better. The Finnish TV Channel Four (Nelonen), owned by the same Sanoma Group as Helsingin Sanomat, recently faced a walk-out of the staff to protest a radical reduction of news broadcast time, and cut of 21 journalists, or 30% of the journalist staff.

Finnish MTV3 recently pulled out of an agreement with Kauppalehti, a financial daily to supply it with financial news. MTV3 says it would from now use its own journalists for that task but in reality the cash-strapped television channel would be unable to afford it.

”The employers have had their plans to cut costs, and they are using the financial crisis as a pretext”, said Tapio Räihä, the Chairman of the Radio and TV journalists Union. ”They now have a chance to do things they did not dare to do before”, confirms Arto Nieminen, President of the Union of Journalists in Finland.

Five newspapers join efforts in foreign news coverage

Due to the economic down, five regional newspapers are cutting back on their staff, and pooling resources in foreign news coverage. Etelä-Suomen Sanomat, Kaleva, Turun Sanomat, Keskisuomalainen and Savon Sanomat plan to have a single correspondent, or identify a group of stringers whose stories would be published in the five newspapers. The newspaper would offer a one-time purchase of such stories instead of each of them paying separately.

Refresher courses for journalists becomes a luxury

The rush of Finnish media houses to cut costs due to loss in advertising revenue means that training of journalists has taken a back seat.

The Tampere Institute for Extension Studies, (TYT) at the University of Tampere which provides refresher training courses for journalists has drastically reduced the number of courses on offer this year due to lack of students to fill up the vacancies. Half of eight short courses slated for this spring have been cancelled and others face an uncertain future.

“The economic situation has undoubtedly had impact on the reaction of workers but does it mean, especially the print media companies, that the end in the belief of our future”, asks Arto Nieminen, President of the Union of Journalists in Finland.

The ideal of number of students required for short courses is 15 journalists but newspapers and broadcasting houses have been reluctant to send workers for training due to scale back in expenditures. If the trend continues it would threaten the long-term operations of the TYT. In order t to remain in business TYT may be forced to raise the fees but that would also affect the ability of freelance journalists to avail themselves of further training, complains Pia Sivunen, a planner at TYT.

Arto Nieminen views the lack of interest in further training as alarming. It is the future of journalism which is at stake. “If the need for professional development is abandoned, we are severely eating our own future”, he said.

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