News / 21.10.2013

Media finances and quality journalism receive prominence in Journalism Day

By Linus Atarah

Amidst the financial tsunami sweeping across the media sector, with dwindling advertising revenue and attendant loss of jobs, it was inevitable that the economic situation of the media was one of the central tropics at this year’s Journalism Day over the weekend.

The fully booked event organised by the Union of Journalists in Finland (UJF) last Friday gathered over 400 practising journalists, journalism teachers and media experts.

Arto Suninen an expert on media economy, who presented an overview of the economic situation of the Finnish media, did admit that the current situation is worrying but not as bleak as often portrayed.

“In the next five years things would get better after the current turmoil due to the transformation becomes more stabilised”, he said in an interview.

Since the current financial crisis engulfed the global economy in 2008, it has been estimated that over 1 000 Finnish journalists have lost their jobs and yet there seems no end in sight as many newsrooms continue to shrink in size.

Advertising revenue has fallen by 20 per cent this year and the fall in subscription is not likely to recover soon, according experts.

However, Suninen said the overall performance of the Finnish media is not entirely negative, and that their performance compares favourably with international standards. Those most affected are the ones who took a courageous but wrong growth strategy by expanding internationally but the ones which stayed behind in Finland are performing rather well.

Besides that, certain media categories such as television, magazines and regional newspapers are doing relatively well. Yet newsrooms are scaling back on personnel mainly fear for the of the future.

“The main problem right now for publishers is a fear of what would happen in the future”, Suninen said.

Publishers’ hands have been forced by the change in technology, he said, and they are worried about how to make new and expensive investment to cope with a shift from traditional printed newspapers to digitalised online publication.

But Suninen did make a point which was also raised in later discussions that the unique Finnish language has provided a temporary fire wall to Finnish media but that may not last very long as many global media corporations creep in with English language material.

Publishers have to contend with an educated youth and middleclass increasingly consuming foreign material as well the likes of Google gobbling up chunks of advertising revenue from the Finnish market.

Indirectly linked to the issue of media finances is the quality of journalism which was extensively discussed. The question was whether producing high quality, well researched newspapers articles would entice readers to want to spend more on newspapers and thereby beef up their finances.

A panel of discussants was almost unanimous in their view that there was little correlation between quality journalism and improving the financial situation of the media. But quality journalism was an ideal in itself worth pursuing.

“Quality journalism is democracy”, said Outi Salovaara, a journalist and one of the discussants. Simply put, it provides readers with a better understanding of the pertinent issues in the society at large.

Journalists were therefore urged to strive for quality for its own sake irrespective of its impact on finances.

“Please, don’t bloody produce boring stories because it would drive away readers!” yelled Niklas Herlin, owner of publishing company Uusi Suomi Oy

Part of the transformation in the Finnish media landscape is the emergence of immigrant journalists whose working situation was also a focus of attention in the seminar.

In spite of their growing number, immigrant journalists are still few and far between in the mainstream media. The common problem they face is the reluctance of publishers to hire them citing inadequate Finnish language proficiency.

 Yet even as they operate as freelancers immigrant journalists still face considerable difficulties selling stories.

Speaking in a panel discussion, Wali Hashi, a Somali-born journalist, said editors appear to want to confine immigrant journalists to a narrow subject area, largely to do with immigration and immigrants.

- If an immigrant journalist offers a story idea which bears on mainstream Finnish societal issue, editors often reject such stories out of hand claiming it is being handled by a Finnish expert.

So whichever way immigrant journalist turn, their path seemed to be strewn with obstacles, at least, hopefully for now.

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