A Finnish Friend

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
17 October, 2017
Editorial: 141
Fecha de publicación original: 10 noviembre, 1998

Listening, seeing and keeping quiet – three difficult things to attain

Heikki Hakala, editor of the Finnish newspaper Etelä-Suomen Sanomat, was unable to conceal his amazement at the number and variety of electronic publications that populate Spanish cyberspace. Heikki and I were taking part in a round table on the future of the printed press held in Maastricht a month ago, and comparing our situation with that of Finland he could not explain the apparent differences. Finland has the highest density of people connected to the Internet in the world (according to NUA, Spain lags a long way behind). Nevertheless, there has not been a proliferation of digital newspapers and magazines to the point where they constitute a booming sector on the Internet such as has been the case in Spain. To Hakala, logically, it seemed that things should be the other way round. The more internauts there are, the more services there should be on the Net. That’s why he was very surprised when I told him that what they were missing was more life on the street and more scepticism as regards information, factors which explain to a certain extent what is happening here.

The traditional Finnish newspapers are actively present on the Net. What they offer includes from the simple transfer of their content onto the Net to a synthesis of the most important events with some changes during the course of the day. This source of information complements the structure of the newspapers themselves. Etela-Suomen Sanomat, for example, is the seventh largest paper in Finland. It is a regional newspaper with a circulation of over 200,000 copies a day. Its circulation figures are similar to those of El Periódico de Catalunya, which ranks second or third amongst Spanish papers on a national scale despite being a regional paper. One of the big differences is that Etela-Suomen Sanomat is only distributed in the south of the country, where the population is considerably less than that of Catalonia, the other is that 95% of the copies sold are delivered directly to readers’ homes. A mere 5% are sold at news stands.

By 6.30 hrs. in the morning, the newspaper has already been distributed. This means that by 11 at night the printing process is complete. And that means that the information lay-out has to be ready about two hours before that. The supply of local events, which is the principal aim of Etela-Suoimen Sanomat, is supplemented during the day by radio and television. In other words, getting information to the public is not done in a highly socialised context, as happens amongst us. Here, if one wants to buy a newspaper, one has to leave home, go into the street, see people, go to a newsagents –or a bar–, exchange a glance, however fleeting, with the newsagent turning the reading of the newspaper into a public act, sometimes even shared with acquaintances or strangers. These social activities make us more open to exchange, to accepting new experiences, to innovation and, to sum up, to experimentation, all of which are fundamental when it comes to trying out initiatives in different contexts.

The other factor, of course, is the credibility of the information process itself. The atavistic scepticism of Mediterranean people towards information of an “official nature” combines with the fact that the street is a constant source of alternative information. If these are minimally structured in some place, and also satisfy our cosmopolitan nature — multifaceted or polyhedral, or whatever you like to call it–, the recipe is highly likely to be successful. This is, to a certain extent, what is happening on the Internet. It is hard to imagine people in the south of Europe reading their newspapers as they have breakfast at 6.30 in the morning, (in fact, it is quite hard to imagine that many people simply having breakfast at that hour of the morning) and subsisting on its content for the rest of the day. We need to know what our neighbours have to say about things, in case someone has told them something different! And the Internet has turned into a great multitudinous neighbour, more complex, sophisticated, varied, immediate, cheap and interminable than any of those we might meet in the street or at work.

This neighbour has taken on the shape of digital newspapers and magazines, media which reach a vast audience through the tools that the Net affords. Both populations are on the increase, electronic publications and the people who read them. And substantial parts of both of them are constantly diversifying the universe of their interests and ways of expressing them in more concrete terms. Perhaps, it is because of this that it seems totally normal to us that initiatives such as the Grup de Periodistes Digitals arise (Digital Journalists Group) and that we organise congresses on electronic publications which paint a surprising picture of a rapidly expanding sector behind the discreet veil of cyberspace. Nor are we amazed by the fact that, despite what the figures from the OJD say (based only on visits to web pages), our daily reality is that we are beginning to receive more information via the digital media we subscribe to, than the traditional media. A situation which is still quite unheard of in many European countries. What we have here is a rich source of information from which a new vision and way of operating in the Information Society will emerge and one with a distinctly Mediterranean flavour and – hopefully nobody is offended by such a clichéd stereotype– a Latin one. That is as long as we don’t lose our identity and embark on a wild race to have breakfast at 6.30 every morning.

Translation: Bridget King.