In the latest part of the Online Journalism Atlas, Liz Bridgen looks at the online media scene in Iceland. Got any information about your own country’s online journalism? Add it here.
As the country with the world’s deepest penetration of internet use (86.3% of the population) and highest literacy rate (around 99%), it’s no surprise that Iceland should have a buoyant online media scene.
The print, broadcast and online environment
Iceland’s population of just over 300,000 have a choice of three national Icelandic-language newspapers – all with online editions – plus several domestic English-language titles aimed dually at tourists and the growing útlendingur (foreigner) population.
The broadsheet Morgunblaðið (The Morning Paper) is the country’s daily ‘paper of record.’ Its content-rich online edition http://www.mbl.is/ is a resource of the day’s international, national and local news with additional links to sections including Viðskipti (Business), Fólk (People) and Íþróttir (Sport), along with a link to Enski boltinn (English football) news (Icelanders follow English football and current affairs with considerable attention). The website also has a sizable and searchable Myndasafn (photo store).
The main paid-for competition comes in the form of tabloid DV (Dagblaðið Vísir). Its online edition http://www.dv.is/ is considerably more limited than its rival’s and focuses on the day’s main Fréttir (news) with just over a dozen international, national and local stories featured each day. The DV website also provides a window to its publisher’s magazines – such as the celebrity and readers’-true-story magazine Séð og Heyrt (Seen and Heard). These magazine sub-sites highlight the latest issue’s headline stories.
The young pretender in the Icelandic media scene is Fréttablaðið (The Free Paper) which has been distributed to most Icelandic homes since 2001 and is now the largest circulation newspaper in Iceland. Its online edition – as such – is hosted via its parent company’s website in the form of a PDF of the day’s newspaper. However media group 365, whose portfolio also includes national and local TV channels, radio stations and magazines, draws its outlets together online under the http://www.visir.is/ website to create a sizeable resource of international, national and local news and features.
RÚV, Iceland’s public service broadcaster, controls the Sjónvarpið TV channel and the Rás 1 and Rás 2 radio stations. Its website http://www.ruv.is/ provides headline news – listed by the time the story broke – and allows the user to stream live radio too.
Icelandic is claimed to be one of the world’s most difficult languages to learn, and with an increasing number of útlendingar (foreigners) working in the country, foreign-language online media is a particularly valuable resource for the non-Icelandic population (who principally speak English, Polish, Serbo-Croat and Thai). These websites serve a dual purpose – since the Icelandic economy relies heavily on tourism, such media also provides background information on the country and its culture for tourists.
The English-language Iceland Review is a chic travel and culture magazine for the affluent Icelandophile. However, its website at http://www.icelandreview.com/ is markedly different from the high quality gloss of its sister publication and instead focuses on giving the user a snapshot of the day’s Icelandic news stories. While the magazine is beautifully written, mostly by American and English journalists (whose work often appears in the side columns of the website), the style of the website’s daily news is closer to a direct translation of the Icelandic newspapers that it uses as its sources (featuring stories such as ‘Dead Dolphin Found in Reykjavík Suburb,’ ‘Police Investigate Book Larceny from Estate’ and ‘Faroese Securities Enter Iceland’s Stock Market’).
Finally the irreverent Reykjavik Grapevine, published 18 times each year, provides an English-language view of the city’s life and culture for the younger or more edgy reader. The online edition at http://www.grapevine.is/ features news, reviews and comment, written by both Icelanders and native English speakers
Blog, bloggers and blogging
Icelanders love to blog, and blogging has been absorbed into mainstream culture to such an extent that personal blogs are now incorporated into all the main newspaper websites. While there has always been a view that if you write in Icelandic you can write what you like (on the grounds that very few non-Icelanders speak Icelandic), the growing number of foreign speakers of the language and the realisation that private comment has a global reach in the blogosphere, means that some Icelanders are learning to temper what they write.
http://www.mbl.is/ has a Bloggið (The Blog) page which publishes the day’s Icelandic blog posts – on a typical day it can feature over 100 blog posts and comments. Meanwhile, in common with the newspaper’s theme of providing a sizeable online resource, the site publishes Icelandic blog entries listed by both creator and tag, along with RSS feed information. Here it’s possible to discover that over 300 blog posts have been written (in Icelandic) on Formula One and that over 5,000 have been written on Stjornmal_og_Samfelag (Politics and Society).
Likewise, http://www.visir.is/ also lists hundreds of Icelandic blog posts – again by tag – on its Blogg page. There is a link to 365’s own blog on this page – a very corporate affair – and it its journalists’ own blogs.
Meanwhile, http://www.dv.is/ uses its writers to create blog entries on its Blogg pages.
Interestingly, although there’s little attempt at founding social networks via any of these websites, its not because Facebook and MySpace are unpopular – both are widely used, with the Icelandic network on Facebook having over 17,000 members. There is an Icelandic social networking site, www.minnsirkus.is, but it doesn’t have the popularity of Facebook among Icelanders.
Iceland’s útlendingur (foreigner) population are also bloggers. Many come to Iceland to work on short and medium-term contracts and the blogs are often closer to long letters home. One of the first examples of these was Douglas Dankel’s http://www.the-saga.net/, which details the University of Florida professor’s Icelandic experiences while teaching at the University of Akureyri between 2003 and 2005.
There’s a list of foreign-language útlendingur and traveller blogs at www.icelandreview.com/links/
Add to or edit this article here. Liz Bridgen is Programme Leader and Senior Lecturer, Public Relations, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. She would like to thank Sigurbjörn J. Gunnarsson for his help with this article.
If I’ve got my facts straight, the owners of 365 are Dagsbrún, which is trying to make inroads here in the United States with a series of free papers. BostonNow is the first I’ve heard of being launched.
Indeed. Dagsbrún is the formal owner of 355 media, whose Scandinavian branch launched Nyhedsavisen, the Danish freesheet that forced the Danish freesheet war in August 2006, and whose US branch launched Boston Now in April 2007 + is rumoured to be planning Denver Now and various other free titles in the US.
Interestingly, the money behind Dagsbrun is Baugur – the Icelandic company that has scooped up a considerable portion of big UK high street brands. In the UK, Dagsbrun owns Wyndham Press (all of it if my memory is correct).
When they launched Nyhedsavisen Dagsbrun/Baugur told me, and others, that this was only their first attempt to export the concept they’ve been so successful with on Iceland (Frettabladid) to other countries. They said they were planning many more launches in Europe, but Nyhedsavisen got off to a late and difficult start, and other European markets, like Sweden – one of the most attractive in the eyes of Dagsbrun/Baugur – got saturated with new freesheet last year, and hence less attractive. Nyhedsavisen, or rather the freesheet war it provoked, has turned the Danish newspaper market upside down though, true to Baugur/Dagsbrun’s ambitions.