(For a few bright, early summer days at the end of June, media researchers from the whole of Scandinavia gathered for a conference at Voksenåsen in Oslo.)
So begins Svennik Høyer’s foreword to the report entitled
In his foreword, Höyer acknowledges the self-appointed organizing committee, comprised of Stig Hadenius and Dan Lundberg from Sweden, Kaarle Nordenstreng from Finland, Niels Thomsen from Denmark and Anita Werner from Norway. Together with Høyer, these contributors stood for the conference programme. Höyer also reminds the reader that the idea for this conference had been born two years earlier at a regular meeting in Oslo of journalism teachers in the Nordic countries, also attended by several researchers (including myself). Accordingly, the roots of our 40-year conference tradition lead to journalism education.
The conference had 82 participants – less than a fourth of us here today. From Denmark there were 15 participants, including names such as Robin Cheesman, Frands Mortensen and Karen Siune; from Finland 11, including Pertti Hemánus, Veikko Pietilä and Tapio Varis; from Sweden 33, including Lars Furhoff, Olga Linné and Lennart Weibull; from Norway 23, including Maarit Bakke, Jon Dørsjø and Helge Østbye. Anybody other than Svennik, Helge and me here today who was there 40 years ago? On the following day Hans Fredrik Dahl came to the conference – the fourth veteran attending the 40th conference.
On the following day Hans Fredrik Dahl came to the conference – the fourth veteran attending the 40th conference.
But let us move from that first conference to the big story behind it. Modern mass communication research began spreading in the Nordic countries in the sixties. For example, the Institute for Mass Communication Research at the University of Oslo was established in 1963 – with a part-time position held by a young political scientist, Per Torsvik, who later moved to Bergen and became one of Nordicom’s founding fathers. So the roots of the field are in the legendary decade of the sixties, but the real growth was in the fantastic decade of the seventies – along with the tradition of our Nordic conferences and their international umbrella the IAMCR, which most of us attended every second year. And the field has grown rapidly, both here in the Nordic countries and elsewhere in the world – so rapidly that it has now surpassed sociology, as measured by publications documented by See e.g. my article “Lost in Abundance? Reflections on Disciplinarity”, in Barbie Zelizer (ed.),
See e.g. my article “Lost in Abundance? Reflections on Disciplinarity”, in Barbie Zelizer (ed.),
Lesson one is that Nordmedia conferences are a reflection and indication of how the field has grown, in the number of researchers, students and publications. Surely the growth has taken on different paces and routes in different countries – for example, I used to classify Nordic countries in the seventies into two categories: series A being Denmark and Finland with their dynamic and intellectually innovative approaches, while Sweden and Norway were in series B, with Sweden having an enormous volume but normal science and Norway remaining very small in numbers. By now this division is long extinct, and there is a good deal of everything in each Nordic country, including the smallest one, Iceland.
Lesson two is Nordicom – itself a manifestation of the field’s growth. Nordicom served as an infrastructure for maintaining the conference tradition as well as many other functions. We did not need to establish a Nordic association like most other academic fields have done for maintaining and promoting networks, conferences and publications. Nordicom did this for us, in good cooperation with the national research associations, which were established in each country along with the field’s growth.
Nordicom also provided documentation service for the Nordic region, and served as a model case for a worldwide network of regional documentation centres which UNESCO began to build in the seventies, covering all regions from Latin America to Asia. This COMNET has unfortunately not materialized, with UNESCO in the eighties having turned its back on communication research and becoming an instrument of corporate-driven policies. The otherwise sad story of COMNET makes Nordicom rise in the historical arena as a shining success story – an exemplary case of supporting research in a regional context.
Nordicom does not need further elaboration and praise for this audience – we all know it, and a good deal of it is packed in the Festschrift
Finally, lesson three is the fact that both Nordicom and the Nordic conferences were born pretty much on their own through a bottom-up process, without much guidance or management from above. They both took shape in the course of the field’s growth across the Nordic region, and their emergence was remarkably spontaneous and free from the political conflict that so often surrounds the establishment of international institutions. It has been a spectacular history, to which we pay tribute today.
In the 2012 annual Nordicom yearbook (
The management’s considerations in this publication surely concern the handover of specific competences and knowledge by those running the organization and its services on a daily basis; and they certainly reflect substantial issues relating to our national governments’ varying contributions to the financing of the organization. Nevertheless, I will argue that a generational and national perspective on the organization is both unavoidable and eye-opening when addressing its significance, as seen from an individual researcher’s ‘user perspective’.
My personal perspective on Nordicom and NordMedia is in many ways biased by the fact that, on the one hand, I belong to what might be termed the ‘third generation’ of Nordic media researchers. This means that I belong to those who have
On the other hand, I have to stress that my perspective is also biased by the fact that I’m rooted in a Danish research environment, where many of us have our origins in the Humanities (literature, Nordic literature and language). I’m also rooted in a national context where the financial and institutional engagement in Nordicom, for several reasons, has been more modest than in the other Nordic countries.
Altogether, this brings in a whole series of both biases and blind spots that influence my opinion on the significance of Nordicom and NordMedia.
I still remember when I was introduced to – at that time quite strange and abstract – terms like: “circulation”, “penetration”, “subscription”, “distribution” and “admission”.
For me, these were names that belonged to a remote province in Sweden; a province where the valid currency seemed to be numbers, charts and tables that were not easily exchanged with narratives, metaphors and genres, which were the dominant currency where I came from.
What I did not know at that time – but have later come to acknowledge and appreciate – is that these strange terms are the names of gems in what must today be considered important elements among the crown jewels in the work of Nordicom.
Since the establishment of Nordicom in 1972, one of the cornerstones in its activities has been the documentation of both the developments of media and the research that takes place in the Nordic countries. In this way, early on Nordicom assumed an important role in the formation of media studies as a field of research.
On the one hand, the documentation supports researchers in building up knowledge within our field – and on the other hand it provides our politicians with knowledge about media. Thus, this part of Nordicom’s work has supported the general awareness of media and communication studies as an autonomous field of research. And the ideal of providing independent and reliable data on aspects such as subscription, penetration, etc., for the use and benefit of not only our media businesses but also politicians and researchers is part of the legacy from the founding fathers and mothers of our Nordic network – but is nevertheless still viable.
In many ways one can say that simply providing comparative statistical descriptive data on media developments in the form of data on ownership, distribution, consumption and economy across nations is a demonstration in itself of great artistic merit, as Nordicom sometimes collates and compares data that are not always directly comparable – for good or for bad. This exercise also has wider historical and symbolic value. One could say that by providing this type of knowledge, Nordicom has acted as a conveyor of central ideas about both the role and the content of research.
This part of Nordicom’s activities has been and still is among the most vital –particularly from a Danish perspective, as we here have benefitted from a strong tradition of using quantitative approaches to media within the Swedish research community.
Crown jewels are accumulations of treasures collected over many years of tradition. As such, a collection of crown jewels also reveals shifting trends and developments. Seen in this light, the work of documentation also reveals historical qualitative changes in the role of Nordicom – perhaps towards a more prominent and active role?
First, in the mid-1990s Nordicom started servicing the research community with a new type of data. It was at this time they started to collate data from different national sources, thus creating the very useful comparative statistics on media developments in the Nordic region. The journal
In the same period Nordicom undertook a significant and active role in the securement of providing both more and better knowledge on media and children on a global scale. This happened through the organization’s active involvement in the establishment of
The second type of change can be traced to the launch of the regular newsletters
Both in my research and as a teacher I’ve found statistics provided by Nordicom and the exchanges at our Nordic conferences to be extremely useful. The comparative statistics are good tools for establishing a more sensitive approach to our field. They expose a set of shared characteristics with regard to both media structure and media use, but they also reveal a whole set of internal differences among our countries. Thus, they provide an interesting double perspective on media that brings about a more nuanced and contextualized understanding of media developments in our region.
Meanwhile, the data on Nordic developments do not stand alone but are often placed in an international context. For me, personally, this has been extremely useful as it has given me a better understanding of how our Nordic region in many respects comprises a specific case on the global scene. In this way, I do believe that the work of Nordicom contributes to strengthening our presence and contribution in our international research community.
My first participation in a Nordic conference was in 1991. This was a true eye-opener. Firstly, because it was my first meeting with what was actually a joint academic community with both important professional and social dimensions; but it was also the first time I faced the diversity of research traditions in our Nordic research community.
It is my impression that at that time the differences were more marked than what we see today. So, as a third generation, I’m convinced that the Nordic conferences have influenced my generation’s approach to research. Today, I recognize the value of approaches in research that are different from my own key competencies, and this insight has undoubtedly been shaped in our Nordic context.
In 1991, most of the key notes and paper presentations at the conference were in Scandinavian languages. Meanwhile, our field has been subject to a strong internationalization that could lead one to conclude that our Nordic conferences are no longer necessary for us. But for me they have become more useful than ever, as they provide me with different and in some respects more sensitive feedback on my work than what is mostly offered by colleagues from the rest of the globe. Having both a Nordic and a wider international perspective in our research is more necessary now than ever.
I wish to express my thanks for the opportunity to address this panel. It is a great honor for our institution to host this Nordmedia conference. As the oldest journalism program in Norway, preparing for our 50th anniversary in 2015, Nordic cooperation has been a cornerstone in our activity from the very beginning.
There is a great deal of talk about internationalization these days, and today our department has a global and international profile. But in the early period of our educational history, “internationalization” in all practical terms meant Nordic cooperation. The first rector of our school, Jon Dørsjø, was a huge fan of the grand old man of Swedish journalism education, Lars Furhoff. I remember from my own days as a student in the journalism program from 1971–73 how Dørsjø referred to Furhoff’s methods for journalism training and his research (Furhoff 1986). I also remember how we visited the journalism school in Århus for inspiration. It made a lasting impression on us visiting Norwegians when one of the lecturers in the class we attended had a bottle of Tuborg beer on his table. The cultural differences were apparent, and we were fascinated about exploring these differences as they appeared in media culture and social life.
Another sign of an early Nordic spirit from my student days was the quota the program had of one student from Iceland each year, because Iceland didn’t have a journalism education of its own at the time. In my class, Sigrun Steffansdottir was the Icelandic representative; she later became a key figure in Iceland’s radio and television news as well as the Director of the Nordic Journalist Centre in Århus. There you have another successful Nordic arena. Throughout the years, hundreds of journalists from all of the Nordic countries have attended courses at the Nordic Journalist Centre, exchanging experiences and ideas in the true Nordic spirit. Unfortunately, the Nordic Council has threatened to stop the funding the Centre after 2013.
The early days of journalism education in Oslo were oriented toward practical work. When we needed input on research methods, we visited the Institute for Press research at University of Oslo (one of the predecessors of the Department of Media and Communication (IMK)), where Svennik Høyer gave us a basic introduction to using statistical methods in press research. Svennik is participating at this conference, and he was one of the key persons both in creating Nordicom as a body and as one of the organizers of the first Nordic conference we are celebrating today. It should, of course, also be mentioned that Kaarle Nordenstreng, on this panel, was one of the founding fathers of the conference. These veterans are still going strong and they and the other participants at Voksenåsen in 1973 deserve a big thanks for starting the wonderful journey of Nordic cooperation in media research.
The Nordic conferences have always been a great inspiration for me, ever since I began attending them regularly in the 1980s. Another great resource for Nordic inspiration has been the biannual meeting for Nordic teachers in the journalism programs.
Nordicom is the glue of Nordic cooperation. Nordicom is both a knowledge center with an impressive database, and a collector of Nordic media statistics that are available for the research community and a broader public. To understand Nordicom and the Nordic cooperation, you also have to understand Nordicom as a link to the global media researcher community. Here, Ulla Carlsson has been a key person in her role as head of Nordicom. Ulla has been essential as a publisher, academic and a globalist in the true sense of the word. Among many of the activities she has been responsible for creating and coordinating is the “The International Clearinghouse on Children, Youth and Media”. When Ulla turned 60, a book was published to honor her and her achievements. I had the privilege, together with Stig A. Nohrstedt, of writing about her contributions to the research field of international news flow and the north-south gap, including the struggle within UNESCO for a new information order (Nohrstedt & Ottosen 2012). Working on behalf of Nordicom, Ulla Carlsson has been active in other UNESCO efforts related to freedom of expression, both through conferences and publications.
Not only Ulla but the entire competent staff at Nordicom continuously produce quality publications. The
I have been challenged to use examples from my own work and Nordicom publications and to address critically the question of whether a Nordic perspective is really of value. My most obvious example is my cooperation with Stig A. Nohrstedt on the issue of war and the media. Through three books and a fourth that is forthcoming, we have compared the coverage in wars like the Gulf War, the war in former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya using cooperative research perspectives from the Nordic countries as well as other countries around the globe (Nohrstedt & Ottosen 2001, 2004, 2005, 2014 (forthcoming)). The findings from these studies suggest a close correlation between the security policy orientations of the different Nordic countries and the war reporting in the mainstream media. To take one example: During the Gulf War in 1991, the media in the formally neutral Sweden had a more distanced and critical coverage of the US-led warfare than did the NATO-allied Norway. Since then, Sweden has tied close bonds to the US and NATO in the so-called global war on terror, with troops in Afghanistan and support functions in the bombing of Libya in 2011. We see a tendency in which these changes are resulting in a more common framing in the Swedish and Norwegian media, although some national differences still remain (Nohrstedt & Ottosen 2012).
I will also mention the Nordic surveys among journalism students, organized by Jan Fredrik Hovden at the University of Bergen through a project launched at the Nordic conference for journalism teachers in Hovdabrekka on Iceland in 2004. The original survey was among journalism students in Oslo and Volda, organized by Hovden, Gunn Bjørnsen and myself (Bjørnsen, Hovden and Ottosen 2007). Later this was expanded to surveys of students in the major Nordic journalism programs in 2005, 2008 and 2012 – the 2012 surbey also including Iceland, which did not take part in the first two series (Hovden et al. 2009). The surveys offer a huge amount of data that reveal common Nordic values among journalism students, but also significant national differences, documented in several articles in
I finally wish to draw attention to the Nordic cooperation on the issue of press history. In this field, we also find a rich history in Nordic cooperation. As president of the Norwegian Association of Press History, I had the pleasure of organizing a Nordic conference on the rise and fall of the party press in a Nordic comparative perspective, together with my Swedish counterpart Lars-Åke Engblom and the director of the Danish Press Museum, Ervin Nielsen, in Odense in November 2012. Again, we find an interesting pattern with a common basic development in the relation between the political parties and the press, but with many fascinating national variations. The summary of the conference is presented in an excellent essay in
Nordic media research, with Nordicom as its common ground, has existed for 40 years. It is still thriving, and this great audience is a living example of it.
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