From Iceland — If No One Dares to Try, We Would Never Get Anything New.

If No One Dares to Try, We Would Never Get Anything New.

Published March 8, 2007

If No One Dares to Try, We Would Never Get Anything New.

Sigríður Dögg Auðunsdóttir has a stellar reputation as a journalist. In 2006, she was awarded for investigative journalism by the Icelandic Journalists Association for her series of articles on the privatisation of formerly publicly owned Icelandic banks, Búnaðarbanki (now Kaupþing) and Landsbanki Íslands) which revealed suspicious dealings between government officials and private investors. She also caused quite a stir when she uncovered suspicious e-mail correspondence between several higher-ups in Icelandic society regarding the Baugur-case, the largest court trial in Iceland to date.

Her most recent foray in journalism was to found – along with her husband Valdimar Birgisson, former sales manager for 365 Media – and edit a new weekly news magazine in Iceland, named Krónikan. The idea was to put together a magazine that would focus on news related content and put it in context, filling readers in on not only what was on the news but also what it means.
Several experienced and well-regarded journalists accepted her offer to join the magazine, leaving hard-earned positions to try their hand at something new and fresh in the Icelandic media market. There was much anticipation regarding the publication. Last month, the magazine hit the streets to mixed reviews. Sigríður Dögg sat down with a Grapevine journalist to talk about her new magazine, and the challenges of being a female editor for a news magazine.

Tell me a little bit about how this magazine started.
My husband and I had always wanted to work together on our own business. We started to think about what we wanted to do in the future, and we asked ourselves: if there were no obstacles in our path, what would we want to do? We wanted to do something that was our own, to produce a magazine that we could be proud of being associated with, a magazine that we would want to read ourselves.

We began to think about this in September/October and started to work on it in December. We were lucky to get our art director, Bergdís Sigurðardóttir, on board very early. She has been in the business of designing magazines for 12 years, and our ideas on how the magazine should look came together well, so she deserves at least half the credit for the magazine. I think together we managed to make the kind of magazine we wanted to make: a quality product that is both entertaining and full of material with a minimalist and approachable design.

But my emphasis can be seen very clearly in this magazine. When you start a project like this, you have to rely on your own instincts, and not be too worried about what others are going to think. We decided from the start to follow our convictions, and I think that the readers will see that this is done with integrity and ambition.

This magazine had built up some hype by word of mouth before its actual publication, and when it hit the streets, it looked very different from what I had imagined. I had imagined a very hard-hitting news magazine.

It was never our intention to start a magazine that would only feature news related material. The Icelandic market is simply too small for that. But we did try to maintain that perception on purpose, for business reasons. Two new newspapers were being established at around the same time, and we were simply afraid that they would try to follow our lead if they knew what we were up to. This is a cutthroat business and the competition is hard, so we did our best to keep the concept behind the paper as a business secret. Instead, perhaps we managed to surprise a few people.

But there was something else as well. When we were starting off, with me as the Editor, Arna Schram as the Assisitant Editor, and another woman on the editorial staff, while there was only one man, right from the beginning we started to hear middle aged men in the media business describing us as a women’s magazine. So this was our way to put a stop to that.

This was never intended to be a women’s magazine, it is a weekly magazine for both men and women, and it would have been very damaging for us if it had been labelled as a women’s magazine from the start, so we decided to emphasise the news aspect and we managed to put a stop to that discussion.

It just seems as if there are a few individuals in this business, of a certain age and gender, who seem to be more eager to talk negatively about our paper. I cannot state for sure that it is because there are women at the helm, but it certainly looks like it to us.

I mentioned how a lot of hype had built up around the magazine before it was published, what do think contributed to that?

I think… no, I am certain that a part of the reason was because there are women responsible for the magazine. This has never happened before in Icelandic media, with the exception of Herdís Þorgeirsdóttir, who founded the magazine Heimsmynd. But since then, women have not been very prominent in executive positions in Icelandic media, especially among owners and founding partners.

Also, this was such an experienced group of women who left other papers to try to establish something new, which is a statement in itself. We feel that there are certain things that could be done better and we intend to do things the way we want them done. The attention I received personally in relation to the series of articles I have written about the privatization of the banks, and the whole e-mails issue (see intro). After that, I went on maternity leave, and founding this magazine was almost the first thing I did after returning. I think people were maybe expecting me to continue to uncover issues like that.

Was it easy, getting this experienced group together? Some people left good positions to follow you to found a new paper.
It was no problem. I think almost everyone I asked came onboard, with maybe one exception. I think that primarily shows what a good concept this is. All these people, with all this experience, believed this would work. People have pointed out that the magazine is a little on the serious side, and we take ourselves seriously, but we are writing for the public, and there is only a section of the public that is interested in news related material, and those are the people we are focusing on. We know that this concept has been successful in other countries. Look at the Economist, for example: While sales figures for most magazines in the world are on the decline, sales figures for the Economist have tripled in just a few years.

There is an enormous supply of information in our society, not least perhaps with the addition of blogs, and that is why I think we need a magazine that is selective. The idea is that this magazine should be the only thing you need to read to follow the weekly news and to know what is going on in society. But we also have everything else that matters. Cultural material, you should only have to read the Krónika to know what is going on in culture, sports, news, etc. We are betting on this formula, and I think it will prove to be successful, especially with the group of journalists we managed to put together. People who have years of experience in preparing information for the public and put it in context, and now they have an opportunity to do the news in their own way. What we want to do is to have journalists cover issues that they are experts on.

When we, as journalists, are covering issues that we know inside out, like Arna Schram, who has written about politics for (Iceland’s biggest daily newspaper) Morgunblaðið for ten years, she should not have to seek an expert’s opinion of what happens in case of this or that, she knows this herself. She knows as well as anyone how the political game is played, because she has been covering it for so long. Aðalheiður Inga, with her years of experience in covering foreign politics, can tell us as well as anyone what there is to know about the US presidential elections this spring. She does not have to seek an expert’s opinion to put things in context. This is what we want to do, and I hope the public will realise this.

What about the business model itself? What sort of ratio are you aiming for in regards to advertisements against editorial content, and subscription versus single sales copies?
Most of our revenue should come from subscriptions and single sales, only a small portion from advertisements. I think advertisement ratio should be around 20%. We are betting on people being prepared to buy our product. There are 5000 people who buy (Icelandic version of Se og Hör or Hello, if you will) Séð og Heyrt, so why should people not want to buy the Krónika? We actually need more readers than Séð og Heyrt, but I think we can get that, and I think others believe that as well, otherwise I could not have gotten all these qualified journalists onboard.

Of course this is a very competitive field, but I am sometimes reminded of a friend of my husband, who was asked if there would be room for the fourth bar in Reykjavík: after going through the calculations, he said there was no way a fourth bar in Reykjavík could carry itself. We all know how that turned out. If no one dares to try, we would never get anything new.

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