Fake news. Filter bubbles. Digitalization. Declining advertising volumes. Journalism is facing totally new challenges. Transparency, quality, and trust are on the agenda of every media house around the world.
That is why Schibsted Media Group is now launching the Power of Journalism, together with the Tinius Trust. Founded in Norway, Schibsted is today an international media group with 6,900 employees in 30 countries.
The Power of Journalism will be a yearly event, an open arena, where the future of journalism will be discussed and celebrated.
We are living in an age when the established business models for products that have financed journalism are under pressure.
The event aims to empower everyone who supports and works for the value of journalism. But for Schibsted this is also an opportunity to share, learn and showcase some of the innovative journalism of high quality that is being created today, according to the company.
In this interview, Torry Pedersen, Head of Schibsted’s Norwegian media houses, explains why Schibsted is organising this event, and how he sees native advertising in a world where not only the business model but also the trustworthiness of journalism seems to be more challenged than ever.
Before taking up his current position earlier this year, Torry held the combined role as Editor-in-Chief/CEO of VG since March 2011.
Norway is the most democratic country in the world, with an exceptionally free press. Why does a Norwegian media company like Schibsted feel the need for an event like The Power of Journalism?
The press can’t take all the credit for that success, but such a unique position makes it even more important to communicate that journalism is important. Good journalism is vital to the development of democracy, and freedom of the press is a result of the legislation and social climate in which we live. Journalists here face fewer threats than in other countries.
But a key reason why we are putting this on the agenda is that we are living in an age when the established business models for products that have financed journalism are under pressure – which means that journalism is under pressure, too. This is something we need to talk about, and given our climate, perhaps it is easier for us to do that.
The United States has traditionally been the standard-bearer for a free press, and the best media houses there are producing brilliant journalism every single day. But they have a president who is accusing them of being enemies of the people and for producing fake news.
Could it be perceived as a sign of weakness when you actually have to validate the power and importance of journalism in this way? Shouldn’t that be a given?
Well, you could say that, but I think recent developments have been a wake-up call, including the way journalism is viewed. The United States has traditionally been the standard-bearer for a free press, and the best media houses there are producing brilliant journalism every single day. But they have a president who is accusing them of being enemies of the people and for producing fake news.
What is clear here is that autocrats have a binary conception of reality: you’re either my friend or my enemy, there are no ‘shades of grey’ that are central to any democratic discourse.
We will also look at the connection between the ability to create good journalism and the financial basis that enables us to create good journalism.
How will The Power of Journalism contribute to ensuring quality journalism?
We will contribute to a debate on journalism and on the importance of creating good journalism. But we will also look at the connection between the ability to create good journalism and the financial basis that enables us to create good journalism. We’ve undergone some radical changes, a radical transformation. No one knows where it will all end, and that’s why it’s important that we meet and discuss it.
By staging an external event like The Power of Journalism, we are included in the discussion. The more viewpoints we can hear, the better equipped we will be to deal with the future. Besides, as Norway’s largest commercial media company it’s natural that we should take the initiative. That said, other Norwegian media actors are also coming up with good initiatives, so we’re not alone. Fortunately.
How far do you want to reach out with this message? What are your ambitions?
First and foremost we want to reach the places where our journalistic products have a presence, which means Norway and Sweden. But the whole world is watching us. That was confirmed at this year’s INMA Global Media Awards, where Aftenposten won the prestigious Best in Show award, an award which Schibsted’s media houses have won three times in the past four years. That said, if The Power of Journalism attracts more attention than our other activities, we’ll keep our feet on the ground. After all, this is the first time we’re staging it, so we’ll see…
It’s important to distinguish between commercial messages and free, independent journalism.
Native advertising is becoming an increasingly important source of revenue, and that applies to Schibsted’s media houses as much as anyone else. There are critics who see native advertising as challenging in terms of fake news because it allows commercial actors to publish their own content, which can be mistaken for journalistic news. How do you avoid that?
Native advertising follows that graphic style and narrative technique of the surrounding content; in other words, the journalistic content. It’s important to distinguish between commercial messages and free, independent journalism. Good labelling is important here. It’s still quite a new phenomenon, not least on mobile, where the native advertising format is dominant. Some caution is called for here, and it’s important to have a debate on this.
Media credibility is vital for the whole native advertising business model. But how can we avoid native advertising challenging the credibility of journalism?
It has to do with how native advertising is integrated into the news flow and how it is communicated. People are interested in reading commercial messages as long as they are communicated in an interesting way. But you must know that it is a commercial message.
If you want to raise awareness, you have to push the limits once in a while.
VG, with you at the helm, was a pioneer in taking native advertising to a new level, in digital format. What ethical aspects did you face at that time?
Our objective was to draw up some guidelines in this area. Sponsored journalism is not allowed in Norway, other than in sports and entertainment. We felt that it should be allowed to sponsor a section like Familieliv [Family Life] (a commercial content partnership with Rema 1000, Norway’s biggest supermarket chain). Not everyone agreed.*
* VG was reprimanded by the Norwegian Press Complaints Commission for violating sections 2.2 and 2.6 of the Ethical Code of Practice for the Press, which deal with the importance of editorial independence, integrity and credibility by distinguishing between advertising and editorial content.
Looking back, the debate on VG and the Familieliv project was highly marginal, but it was enlightening and interesting. Now we have some principles in place that are being increasingly refined. But if you want to raise awareness, you have to push the limits once in a while. That’s the nature of pioneering work. If you do nothing, you achieve nothing. You have to be able to withstand public scrutiny, but the result is that something better is put in place. Here we managed to draw up some good guidelines, and we’ve established a structure which we think works. But there’s still a lot of brands that are badly labelled.
Any final words of advice to ensure that native advertising continues to grow – and thereby finance good journalism?
If native advertising is to survive as a robust business model, it’s important to maintain a high quality of the commercial content. That means that those who work on it must be critical and sufficient resources must be allocated.
Photo: Anders Minge