Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

7 November 2013

Could you imagine living in a country with half the population of London or New York? Imagine if those few million people, speaking just one language, built their own media landscape that only their fellow countrymen could understand.

If you are from Norway, Finland or Latvia, you know well what I am talking about. If you are from the US, Japan or Germany, you may struggle to understand what it’s like to look at the world from a small country speaking one of those “small” languages.

Small country with a small language equals a small media market. There are none of the dozens of magazines on business, fashion or culture that you see on newsstands in Frankfurt, London or Paris. And even if you find a few magazines on a certain topic, the quality may not be quite the same as you would find when reading similar titles in English. In my youth I used to find this frustrating and I was incredibly eager to learn other languages, curious about what was going on outside of the Finnish borders.

I think this narrow media landscape is also reflected in people’s thinking. In small countries you don’t get a wide range of diverse views in the public arena. The editorial of the biggest newspaper often defines what much of the whole nation is thinking.

A second issue about being small is that the domestic economic situation is prone to extreme reactions. My home country, Finland, has seen countless journalists lose their jobs during the past few years. Some one-time dailies are nowadays only published two or three times a week. Some papers have been completely shut down – now existing in name only to publish a handful of stories on the internet. I can’t name one single media organisation that has escaped extensive cuts and heavy job losses. Just last week one of the two commercial television channels announced it was going to give up on its television news.

There will always be work for the best journalists. But in the current climate, even for the chosen few, their workplaces may not be the happiest.

I bet quite a few journalists in Finland wish that they had the language skills to chase more opportunities and perhaps work abroad.

I’ve certainly never been happier that I followed the urge to go abroad and to learn English. But, just in case, I may have to go and enroll for Portuguese classes too.

Markus Hippi is a producer for Monocle 24.

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