At first hand

Swedish Media & the Balkans – One View

The simple stories are printed and sold in the contemporary mainstream media production. This simple stories are determined by managers who are affected by the belief that readers will not read an article if that article describes a complex story. Another reason for not publishing an article is  “not dealing with current discourse”. The lack of covering of Balkans is an illustrative example that is affected by these two factors: it is complex and not current.

Black and white. Good and bad. No complexity.  Simplification is the global tendency of contemporary journalism. There are numerous reasons for this tragic development. On one hand, the newspapers are being thinner and thinner every day. On the other, they have been becoming parts of corporations with a very different logic than the traditional journalistic one. The result in what is called in Swedish “urholkning,” destruction of the profession.

That become problematic because the texts, which are conveyed to the public, turn superficial, while the number of observed areas permanently decreases. Just few regions attract attention; other regions get less and some no attention at all.

This development is partly connected with with resources; there is no money set separately for deeper quality journalism and covering of  “not popular” regions become impossible. Another crucial factor is the manager’s belief that they know what readers want to read and how much a reader can understand. That is the cynical stance, and it is based on an presumption that readers do not understand or want to understand the complexities of societies.

This trend is global and can be seen in Sweden too, a country that traditionally had and still have a strong independent journalistic profession.

One concrete illustration is the coverage of the Balkans. When the conflict began in the 1990:s, it was usually a superficial image that was conveyed. The covering mostly cemented the roles in the conflict, which in turn affected the Balkan community leaving in Sweden also. Significant part of community, or communities, turned into nationalistic pattern.

In the 2000s, the number of articles covering Balkan dropped. It became harder to write, i.e. to publish something about the region. Those times when I was raising the issue, the response has been negative.

It was either “that not interesting enough to  cover” or  “there are other more relevant areas to write about.” The essence of “guidelines” given to me in the newspapers was “not to insist so much on covering Balkans”, expecially not to write too complex articles about it: “The readers would not understand that and besides, the readers are not interested.”

I can only speak of my experience, but I have been working with the major newspapers in Sweden and I have seen common features in their manner.

In the same time as mainstream media is (generally) moving towards uniformity,  a number of specialized sites emerged and evolved, which publish and provide space for the stories that  traditional media choose not to cover.

It is a development that has positive effects, it is positive in the sense that new insights emerge. Swedish readers are interested in politics, Swedes are mostly engaged in civil society and many Swedes are politicised. There is a genuine interest in politics, society, world issues and civil rights. That is why specialized news magazines emerge and attract readers. That is why there is an increasing number of readers of the specialized magazines.

In a broader sense, Swedish independent journalism is still strong compare to many countries. Sweden has a strong principle of public access and a high honest level of various journalistic discussions.

However, the global mainstream discourse affect Sweden as well, and it is up to us journalists not  to follow the stream, and not only to provide, but to guarantee independence and seriousness. We owe that to our readers.

Unlike some managers in the journalism industry, I believe that the Swedish readers’ can critically read a text and draw own conclusions about the cases. With the development of blogs and other sites and news magazines, we gain new insights.


Category: At first hand, Our writings
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