At a time when the so-called “media crisis” is resulting in staff- and cost-cutting at newspapers all over Norway, one small local paper continues to do well and has handed out bonuses to all staff members. Hallingdølen, which serves readers in the mountain valley of Hallingdal, is bucking the trend and reaping the rewards of recognition last year.
That’s when the paper, with a circulation of 9,319 at the end of last year, won a string of prizes and its editor, Bjarne Tormodsgard, was much in demand as a speaker to share his secrets of success. Revenues rose and even though profits fell, he was able to hand out NOK 20,000 (USD 3,300) to every single employee of the paper last month. “Here we share the wealth equally, there’s no difference between directors, typographers or the cleaning help,” Tormodsgard told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN).
Tormodsgard is keen to share profits with the staff but the amount had never been so large. Paid circulation has slipped only slightly and he attributed the paper’s success to all the attention it received last year, along with the fact that Hallingdølen has no debt and a relatively firm capital base. At the top of its prize list was a European Newspaper Award for Europe’s best local newspaper, which Tormodsgard received at a ceremony in Vienna in May.
The paper’s situation is unique at a time when major media houses Schibsted (which owns large papers like Aftenposten and Bergens Tidende) and Amedia are in the process of more major cutsbacks. Hallingdølen is independent of the large newspaper chains and is owned by 40 local shareholders in Hallingdal.
“I think it’s terribly sad and dramatic,” Tormodsgard said of all the media cuts in Norway. “I call them ‘panic moves,’ and am afraid they’ll undermine the entire industry. Readers will lose interest in the product, because nobody can manage to maintain quality when they’re making cuts like these.”
Executives within Norway’s once-thriving newspaper industry blame the cuts on a sharp fall in advertising revenue and unwillingness among readers to pay for content online. They also blame huge international players like Google and Facebook for capturing the ad market and avoiding taxation.