Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) lost one of its most respected, some might say legendary, foreign correspondents this week when veteran Hans-Wilhelm Steinfeld opted to quit at the age of 63 and carry on his career in a private communications firm. The surprise move came after NRK failed to offer Steinfeld a new post that he felt was in line with his competence.
Steinfeld was already poised to return home to Oslo after his fourth and latest stint as NRK’s high-profile correspondent based in Moscow. “When they couldn’t find any new job for me that was relevant, and at the same time I got an offer from the communications branch, it was actually an easy decision,” Steinfeld told newspaper Dagbladet on Tuesday. NRK reported Steinfeld’s resignation in a relatively terse announcement on its national nightly newscast on Monday, and mosts Norwegian papers carried items on his resignation Tuesday.
According to Steinfeld, who started working for NRK in 1977, he and management at the state broadcaster had been discussing his future for the past year. Steinfeld has been closely covering the dramatic developments between Russia and Ukraine among other major stories breaking out of Russia, and had asked to prolong his assignment in Moscow by another year. NRK turned that down, however, and appointed another veteran correspondent, Morten Jentoft, to succeed him.
Steinfeld said he then applied to be the new host of NRK’s foreign affairs program URIX, succeeding Christian Borch who recently retired, or to work as a foreign affairs commentator, but NRK also turned that down, along with his request that he be based in Kiev for the next year, “because Ukraine doesn’t want a Moscow-based correspondent to be covering their society.”
Time for a change
That’s when he decided to accept an offer to be a partner at Corporate Communications, a private firm where he’ll work with another NRK veteran, Tom Berntzen, and several other former top journalists and communications officials including Siv Meisingseth, another former NRK reporter who went on to be spokesperson for both Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and Norway’s central bank.
“I want to hold speeches and lead debates, but Corporate Communications also has clients who need advice on strategic planning, not just in Russia but also, for example, in the Baltic states,” Steinfeld told Dagbladet. He avoided answering whether his new salary will be considerably higher than what he earned at NRK, claiming money had nothing to do with his decision.
He’ll be the latest journalist to defect to the paid communications business but Steinfeld told Dagbladet he sees nothing wrong with that. “I come from an old Bergen family of merchants, where this isn’t any shame in being connected to the private sector,” Steinfeld said.
Bergenese to the bone
His strong Bergen dialect was a hallmark of his reporting, along with his khaki vests, fluency in Russian and ability to get Russian interview subjects to open up to him on air. Steinfeld has covered the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union, interviewed many Russian leaders over the years, traveled extensively on assignment and been on the front lines of conflicts. He’s also covered many of Norway’s biggest stories, including the capsizing of the oil platform Alexander Kielland in 1980 that cost the lives of more than 100 offshore workers.
NRK’s director for news and programming, Per Arne Kalbakk, called Steinfeld’s departure “extremely sad,” adding that “we’re sorry we’re losing Hans-Wilhelm.” NRK reportedly tried to arrange a new weekly talk show for him, that might even have been called Steinfeld, but the project didn’t get off the ground. Steinfeld’s resignation takes effect September 1, 37 years after he began a job in which he claimed he never had a single boring day. “Not all workers are so lucky that they can say that,” he wrote in his letter of resignation dated July 7.