It is no secret that the role of newspapers today is in a state of flux. The widespread dissemination of free information on the internet, television, and radio has broadened the scope of information available to the public, while at the same time permitting individuals to isolate themselves in cocoons of like-minded souls scattered across the planet.
The dilemma facing journalists (and, indeed, all information providers) is how to make money presenting information to a public that now expects to receive it gratis. There appear to be only two viable models. One model is to use provocative stories to attract readers to what is, in essence, a marketing flier. Under this model, the newspaper is distributed at no charge to residences or is placed in widely accessible locations, such as shopping malls and busy pedestrian streets. Whereas a marketing piece containing nothing but an advertisement will generally be tossed without a glance, a newspaper containing information of interest to the intended market will be retained and perused at the reader’s leisure.
A second model is to charge a fairly high price for the timely delivery of specialized information that is essential to professionals, such as attorneys or financial analysts. If a lawyer does not have access to the most recent laws, if a stockbroker does not have instant access to market information, they are at a distinct disadvantage, and will gladly pay a premium.
Both of these models appear to be fairly successful, but between these two extremes is a wasteland. In Iceland, Fréttablaðið is the best example of the first model. It is distributed to all households in Iceland free of charge, and is full of advertisements, as well as news of the day, editorials, sports, etc. Fréttablaðið is owned by 365 media, which also owns the television station Stöð 2 and other media. 365 media is 90% owned by famous “outvasion viking“, Ingibjörg Pálmadóttir, wife of Jón Ásgeir Jóhannsson, one of the country‘s most controversial figures surrounding the financial collapse. (How people under investigation for their part in Europe‘s biggest financial swindle of the last century and indebted to the tune of billions can still be “owners” – and board members; Pálmadóttir is also chairman of the board of 365 media – of the country‘s largest media business is in itself a subject worthy of study and concern.) Fréttablaðið likes to boast in full page ads of its popularity, but of course, it‘s easy to be “popular“ when you‘re in a position (thanks to the owners’ ready access to the nation’s savings) to give your product away. Unfortunately, the Fréttablaðið model is not available for us peons who don’t own half of the country, and consequently don’t have a slew of businesses readily available to purchase ad blocks at (tax-deductible) premium costs.
Morgunblaðið does not appear to fit this model since it is subscription-based, but I’d argue that it is as much a rag as Fréttablaðið. It is, in essence, owned by the Independence Party and its sponsors. Once the nation‘s most widely read paper, Morgunblaðið is now a shadow of its former self. Its market is the voting populace, which is why the appointment of Davið Oddsson as editor-in-chief (throwing out his very able predecessor, Ólafur Stephensen) despite his lack of experience in the field, is perfectly logical. (To put it in context, hiring the former prime minister and Central Bank chairman as the paper’s editor would have been similar to the Washington Post having, following Watergate, hired Nixon as its editor). The presence of apparently objective stories, rather than hack political pieces, is useful in sucking in the unsuspecting. The selection of stories, rather than their content, presents an alternative reality in which the past can be rewritten and/or forgotten, and the attempts of the government to clean up the mess created by Oddsson and friends scorned and ridiculed.
I had hoped that the free websites like Eyjan and Pressan were going to give the plutocrat and the ideologue a run for their money. It was the explosion of opinions critical of all political parties that made them unique, and underlined the cartoonish nature of the simplistic, ideologically-driven drivel with which the traditional newspapers insulted our intelligence. But, alas, it seems they do not have a viable business plan or a clear vision of what they want to be. Unfortunately, the sites’ directors have been unable come up with a plan to pay the majority of contributors. There are some ads on the sites, but not many, not enough to compensate the most dedicated and talented bloggers even a token amount for their time and effort. It is a mantra of the modern age that the internet has changed everything, but the reality is that you can’t get something of value for nothing. Now that the fires are dying down and our cynicism is on the ascendancy, it’s hard to justify sacrificing so much of our lives to fight the beast without some recompense.