The past few weeks have been an interesting time in the Nordic region. The Copenhagen climate conference has gathered world leaders to discuss the future of the planet. The latest polls have shown a decline in support for Sweden’s government, just as we head into an election year. Barack Obama stopped by in Oslo to pick up the Nobel peace prize. But ask any Swede what they remember as the dominating media event and they will say it was Tiger Woods cheating on his Swedish wife Elin Nordegren.
There has been no need to read an evening newspaper or a gossip magazine to get the juicy details about the pro golfer and his escapades. The minutiae of the story (from his late-night car crash to his private plane landing in Sweden without him or his wife) have been covered energetically by the serious news media, including the morning papers Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet, and Swedish television stations.
Naturally, some parts of the story are newsworthy for any media. The world’s biggest golf star taking an indefinite break from his career and losing important sponsors is front-page stuff for any sports section. But rumours of cheating, a minor car crash, a private call to the emergency services? While it could be interesting to investigate the escort girl industry that he has been accused of being involved with, or the dark side of professional sport, most newspapers seem content with just repeating the gossip on the grapevine.
It’s hard not to see the development towards an “intimisation of journalism”, as the Swedish media researcher Anja Hirdman calls it, as an antidote to declining revenue and circulation. It’s obvious that this kind of material is interesting to many readers and in the current, difficult economic situation, the twists and turns of the Tiger-affair have been too attractive to pass up.
As everywhere in the world, 2008 and 2009 have been extremely difficult for the printed media in Sweden, with declining advertising revenues. But the problem is bigger than just a temporary economic crisis: according to a recent study by Almega, an employer and trade organisation for the Swedish service sector. It suggests that the Swedish morning papers’ ad revenue was already dropping in 2007, and there seems to be no growth in sight in 2010. The same study claims that young people, born between 1980 and 1989 (probably the age group most interested in the Tiger story and most interesting for advertisers), are subscribing less and less to newspapers. Sweden doesn’t have a culture of buying a newspaper on the way to school or work; 93 per cent of the morning papers’ circulation is made up of subscriptions. So what the younger generation is doing is reading free newspapers or getting their stories for free online.
The serious media are living a double life, wanting to morally raise themselves above the evening press, but at the same time, reporting on their territory in order to get their readers. The question is whether that’s a good solution to their problems. The Swedish news media is, after all, known for its serious reporting from home and abroad, and it would be a shame if that reputation was lost. The Swedes have long been avid newspaper readers – circulation is 466 copies per 1,000 people, compared to the US, for instance, where the figure is 242 – resulting in a nation of generally well-informed and knowledgeable people. Hopefully the media companies will find a way to attract the young generation, too. And hopefully, it will be one more focused on information than infidelity.