Sweden was the world’s first country to adopt a press freedom law, in 1766. Its long history of journalistic independence, as well as the media’s carte blanche in terms of content, has resulted in a diverse media landscape. However, Sweden’s open and tolerant media climate has had the side effect of generating a number of platforms that can be categorised as extreme, supporting, for instance, explicit populist or anti-immigration views.
On a more positive note, Swedes appear exceptionally willing to pay for online news. Around 33% – or one third – of the population subscribes to a digital news service. This is related to the fact that internet penetration among Swedes is extremely high. Citizens’ willingness to spend money on journalism primarily benefits Swedish legacy media, but also, to a somewhat lesser degree, independent digital outlets.
in the Directory
Apart from freedom of expression, other leading principles safeguarded by Swedish law include the protection of journalistic sources and citizens’ access to public documents. Yet online threats and harassment are commonplace among Swedish reporters. According to Reporters Without Borders, nearly one in five journalists say they have been the victim of such attacks in the past few years, while four in 10 journalists who have received threats say that these have deterred them from covering certain themes and topics. And although the #MeToo movement has exposed gender-based discrimination and abuse in the media industry, “much remains to be done to stem this violence”, according to the organisation.
Market structure and dominance
The Swedish news market is characterised by a combination of public service media organisations alongside several national and many local commercial media brands. Media ownership is highly concentrated, with six conglomerates controlling at least 90% of the daily press.
Commercial (non-public) publishers nowadays primarily rely on reader revenue, Sweden being the second-highest country for its share of paid digital subscriptions, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s Digital News Report 2022.
In the national news market, three publishers dominate: Bonnier, Schibsted, and Stenbeck, Bonnier being the largest of the three. All national daily newspapers belong to one of the major owners, except for Göteborgs-Posten, which is owned by the Stampen Company, a conglomerate owning a variety of regional papers.
A common, though expected, thread in the development of the Swedish media landscape is digitalisation. The most popular news sites are online services produced by established news organisations, with Aftonbladet, SVT and Expressen having the most digital news consumers. The media landscape in Sweden is relatively stable, and the arrival of newcomers is rare, according to Nordicom.
How media is funded
Changes in the media sector sped up as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Print media outlets have been moving online and, with declining advertising revenues, their financial model has increasingly switched to subscriptions. A comparison between 2017 and 2020 shows that spending on digital news is growing in all age groups, whereas for print it steadily declines.
Following financial pressure from news organisations during the pandemic in 2020, the state increased its direct support, providing one-off Covid subsidies. In total, media funding amounted to SEK 1.4 billion, which was double the amount of the preceding year, according to Nordicom.
Although it is fairly easy to launch a new platform in Sweden, competition is strong due to the concentration of media ownership. Local news coverage often depends on the investment and interest of one of the large publishers. Public subsidies are comparatively easy to obtain – even, as touched upon earlier, for newspapers with extremist political views. In general, journalists in Sweden work without any major constraints, and can generally express their opinions as they wish, notes Reporters Without Borders.
Fourteen profiles of digital native media organisations from Sweden are included in the directory. This includes eight profiles based on interviews and six profiles based on desk research.
Tech-savvy Sweden is host to a diverse and innovative independent digital media landscape, both in content and in form. Newsworthy, to name one, is a news service for local data-driven journalism. Its clients include local newsrooms and municipalities. With a stack of tools for process automation – including natural language generation – Newsworthy is able to produce over 300 local news feeds, publishing 40,000 articles in 2021 alone.
Many of the media outlets Project Oasis spoke to are able to reach a broader – and often younger – audience by shifting their focus from websites to social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. Another popular method employed to approach new audiences is making audiovisuals or podcasts front and centre.
And much like the established press in Sweden, most of these digital native platforms depend to a large extent on revenue from memberships or subscriptions. Blankspot’s founder Martin Schibbye says: “Around 2015, everybody would say that the media were in crisis, that nobody was willing to pay for journalism anymore. Only seven years ago there was a complete lack of confidence among the Swedish media. Me and my colleagues thought: we can’t sit around and complain, but should show that people are in fact prepared to pay for proper journalism. And they are.”
The majority of independent digital news media outlets receive state support, too, though this usually does not suffice for financial sustainability. Advertising is another source of revenue, though some of the independent media outlets choose to be “radically independent” and refuse to cooperate with a commercial third party.
Local media outlets are a prominent segment of online platforms in Sweden. Another recurring trend within the digital media landscape is news platforms directed at certain subgroups of society. Examples of this are the several outlets meant for (and often created by) the inhabitants of big cities’ suburbs, which over the last few years have received a lot of bad press for being so-called “breeding grounds” for criminal gangs. With these independent platforms, media leaders want to disclose a more balanced and human side to this handful of infamous neighbourhoods. “Many residents of Järva [outside Stockholm] do not recognise themselves in the coverage of their town. We wanted to change that. We believe in the power of local news. That’s where the real stories are”, says Kerstin Gustafsson Figueroa, the editor-in-chief of Nyhetsbyrån Järva.
Another digital niche is feminist and intersectionalist journalism. Platforms like FemPers regard traditional media as patriarchal, and intend to offer a different perspective by, for example, shedding light on implicit power structures.
As a conclusion, one can remark that, even though traditional media organisations remain dominant, Sweden’s digital market offers a wide range of independent media outlets with varied focal points, audiences and techniques. Ultimate press freedom is a hugely important ideal, which simultaneously carries the risk of offering a platform to extremist views and ideas.
Last updated: January 2023