What Are We Worth? - The Reykjavik Grapevine

What Are We Worth?

What Are We Worth?

Published September 1, 2010

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.

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