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Evil blood in Groruddalen

The Norwegian free newspaper war is underway. It is hottest in the Groruddalen in Oslo.


[media] – There is no conflict in this.

Hjalmar Kielland is the editor of Akers Avis Groruddalen in Oslo, which has been the valley's undisputed local newspaper since taking over the helm in 1958. But on January 13 last year, a competitor registered on the course: Lokalavisen Groruddalen, owned by the then Orkla Media and distributed free in 58.500 copies a day a week.

Since then, the mood has been at the freezing point. Kielland immediately went to court to prevent the competitor from using "Groruddalen" in the title, but lost. And this fall, figures from TNS Gallup showed that the newcomer had the most readers for the first time, 45.000 against Aker Avis Groruddalen's 37.000.

- No, there is no conflict substance in this, and I would take it badly if Ny Tid tried to construct something like this, Kielland continues.

I called the editor because I wonder when the events on Veitvetdag begin. There, the football player of the year will be honored, the Veitvet girl will be named, and it amazes me that both the competing newspapers will be present.

Not welcome

During the conversation, I am told that Ny Tid is as unwelcome as the competing newspaper is, as Akers Avis Groruddalen is the organizer of Veitvetdagen. Nevertheless, we show up at Veitvet, like Lokalavisen, and despite Kielland's assurances: There will be conflict. Kielland walks over to Magne Mellem Enoksen, editor-in-chief of the local newspaper Groruddalen, and asks him to stop taking pictures.

- This is as if you had stepped into a private garden company, says Kielland, while Enoksen points out that this is a public event.

The Enox takes his pictures of the Veitvet girls, while Kielland hangs on to him like an ill-fated hitter. This is not the first time there has been newspaper quarrels in the valley. On March 30 this year, a journalist in Lokalavisen was ejected from a meeting in the Groruddalen Environmental Forum. Editor Kielland and one of his journalists remained, citing Kielland as a member of the forum.

- This feud is not just about a free newspaper against a paid newspaper, but just as much about Akers Avis Groruddalen as an established newspaper and Lokalavisen Groruddalen as a challenger, Enoksen tells Ny Tid.

Akers Avis Groruddalen also publishes Avisa Østbyen as a free newspaper in Old Oslo district, where it competes with Edda Media's Østkantavisa.

Space for two?

- We still react to how the term "free newspaper" is used in a negative sense by Akers Avis. The "advertising newspaper with ties to the business community" stamp appears as small stings, says Enoksen.

He thinks Groruddalen with its 125.000 inhabitants should have space for two newspapers.

- Some boycott us, while others come to us because they do not get column space in the old newspaper, Enoksen says.

This display in Oslo's eastern districts is an expression of the growing competition between free newspapers and payment newspapers in Norway. It is a result of Edda (formerly Orkla) Media's attempt to challenge Aftenpostens Aften as the Oslo newspaper's local newspaper.

Super Local

For while the biggest Norwegian newspapers this year have worried about the free newspaper circus in Stockholm, Copenhagen and London, the front lines are already drawn in Oslo. In addition to Lokalavisen Groruddalen, the Edda Media initiative consists of Lokalavisen Frogner and St. Hanshaugen, Nordre Aker Budstikke, Ullern Avis / Akersposten and Østkantavisa. Nordstrand Blad is the only payment newspaper. All are weekly newspapers.

- We are growing a lot, says Jan Tore Kristiansen, CEO of Edda's investment in local newspapers in Oslo and Follo, who has already begun to consider the possibilities of publishing more newspapers a week and increasing the number of pages.

- Our concept is to be super local. Aften is not really a direct competitor: it is more a regional newspaper than a local newspaper, Kristiansen believes.

Edda's newspapers are carefully profiled by the residents of the various districts.

- Østkantavisa addresses a young audience and writes about cafes, parks and culture, while readers of Nordre Aker are more interested in school and sports. That's how it must be, because it is difficult to be a local newspaper for the whole of Oslo at once. We have learned from the mistakes Osloposten made in its time, says Kristiansen.

This is not the first time there has been a free newspaper war in Oslo. In 1997, the free newspaper Osloposten was launched by Norsk Avisdrift. Aftenposten and Schibsted were challenged at home.

- It was like colliding head-on with a tank. No one had challenged Schibsted in that way before, says Paul Jostein Aune, former editor of Osloposten.

Schibsted responded by launching newspaper1 in 1999, and it was then editors Sverre Amundsen and Per A. Borglund who were commissioned to defend Schibsted's territories.

- It was fantastic fun. We were given great resources and told to win the war. Basically, it was shocking when Osloposten went into 2002, says Borglund, who today works for Aftenposten Nye Produkter.

Avis1 had a lifetime far beyond its mandate: It was not until the turn of the year 2005/2006 that it was discontinued. The question is: How smart was it? Shouldn't Schibsted keep it as a protection against new competitors?

- Schibsted can restart avis1 on a week's notice if necessary, says Borglund.

- How do you view Edda Media's investment in local newspapers in Oslo?

- They have taken a huge step. The newspapers are good, they have a proper content and are the best local newspapers the districts in Oslo have ever had. I read the one I get. At the same time, I feel confident that Schibsted has the right strategy. Aften is still strong, and has absorbed some of the ideas we developed in avis1, says Borglund.

City newspaper thrives in Trondheim

For Schibsted has changed the evening after Orkla / Edda came on the field. Every Thursday the newspaper has local pages adapted to the center, south, east and west. On Wednesdays it is distributed free of charge to all households in Oslo, Asker, Bærum and Follo, with ads tailored to each zone.

Paul Jostein Aune is the editor of another, weekly free newspaper: Byavisa in Trondheim. It is the only survivor after Norsk Avisdrift published the three newspapers Bærumsposten, Folloposten and Osloposten. The company, which also publishes Byavisa Stjørdal and Byens Næringsliv, has started to make a profit, after losing NOK 100 million on free newspapers in the Oslo area.

- The Norwegian free newspapers are in an upward spiral at the moment. They get better finances, and this is invested in better content, says Aune.

He thinks there are fewer of the regular free newspapers, the so-called "hand to mouth" newspapers, which were too closely linked to the advertisers.

- It is symptomatic that Annonse Avisen has changed its name to Bergen Byavis. Now they are developing the content. You have Nytt i Uka in Ålesund, and Byavisa in Tønsberg looks good. They are all newspapers that work to even out the quality difference between free newspapers and paid newspapers, says Aune.

Something is going on

He believes Trondheim would have been a "banana republic" in terms of media, had it not been for them. Byavisa was founded in its time by journalists from A-pressen's bankruptcy estate after Avisa Trondheim, and today plays the role of number two newspaper and competitor for Adresseavisen.

Stig Arild Erlid is the general manager of Norwegian newspaper operations. He confirms that they are satisfied with the situation in Central Norway, where the three newspapers reach 112.000 households, a third of all the population.

- Are you going to get the other two thirds as well?

- He-he, I would rather not say anything about that.

- Do you plan to return to Oslo?

- I will not answer that either. One should never say never. But in general we see that free newspapers are making great progress, while paid newspapers are losing shares. It is slower in Norway because we have so many newspapers with long traditions, but it will probably not be unnatural if we develop in the same way as the rest of Europe, says Erlid.

Per Borglund agrees with Erlid on this point.

- Something's going on. As an old VG journalist, I find it interesting times. VG used to drip milk and honey: now they are losing readers. If we look at Denmark, people hardly read anything other than free newspapers, and together with the internet, I think they will dominate in the long run. Spending ten kroner on a newspaper seems more and more unnecessary. You get news online, and you can read about your special interests in a magazine. Newspapers will not be birds or fish, and at some point it will explode – at least for the single-issue newspapers, says Borglund.

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