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# Process of Becoming: A Digital Media Department's Place Within the Swedish Newspaper Industry

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In the Process of Becoming
A Digital Media Departments Place within the Swedish Newspaper Industry
Jacob Stenberg

Master of Applied Cultural Analysis
Supervisor
Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences
Thomas O'Dell

Abstract

In The Process of Becoming: A Digital Media Department’s Place within the Swedish
Newspaper Industry

Jacob Stenberg

I have in this thesis conducted fieldwork at the Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan's digital
media department. I was curious to find out how or if the financial instability that is currently
sweeping across the newspaper industry is embodied through praxis within a department
that many are eager to blame the instability for – that is, a digital media department. I wanted
to pinpoint and observe real characteristics and consequences of what I, and many others,
have labelled the new economy, i.e. a perhaps historical event in capitalism where (especially
in media) business, companies, entrepreneurs, producers, users and technologies come
together in unique, unexpected and almost promiscuous manners. I wanted to see how this
flux of people and things find stability within such a schizophrenic climate. By taking the
social constructivists' critique of never-static roles seriously and applying Nigel Thrift's
notion of place in order to find an understanding of stability within a given context, I argue
that the digital media department at Sydsvenskan is building stability through and with
objects that the new economy tends to hide and, consequently, that this place runs the risk of
creating and performing a media bubble by building products and systems that refer only to
what the actors inside the bubble regard as important, instead of building for the actual users (
what I will label digital narcissism). I will, through these conclusions, argue that this may
lead to a new form of newspaper production process that rely more on expertise from
completely new areas and perhaps less on in-house production and expertise. This study will
therefore provide useful insights for media departments wishing to gain better understandings
of (1) how to include factors that are not necessarily located within the popular media
discourse, (2) the possible risk of digital narcissism and (3) how this may affect newspaper
industries in general and digital media departments in particular.
Keywords: digitization; digital media; newspaper industry; Sydsvenskan; non-
representational theory; new economy; new media; ICT

ii
Acknowledgments

My deepest thanks to the digital media department at Sydsvenskan, Professor Thomas O'Dell,
Annie and the teachers, students and coordinators at the MACA-program.

Malmö, 2010-05-27
Jacob Stenberg

iii

1. Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 1
1.1 The Problem ............................................................................................................................ 2
1.2 Aim and Research Questions ................................................................................................... 4
1.3 Defining the New Digital Economy ......................................................................................... 5
1.4 Limitations .............................................................................................................................. 6
2. Theoretical backdrop ..................................................................................................................... 6
2.1 Non-representational Theory and Place-Making ....................................................................... 8
3. Method and Material ................................................................................................................... 11
3.1 Critique of Material................................................................................................................ 13
4. Previous Research ....................................................................................................................... 14
5. Structure of Thesis ....................................................................................................................... 15
A nalysis
6. Plan for the Worst But Expect the Best: A Short Story of a Digital Media Department ................. 17
6.1 The Story ............................................................................................................................... 17
6.2 Summary ............................................................................................................................... 19
7. Place-Making in the New Digital Economy ................................................................................. 20
7.1 Future Fetish .......................................................................................................................... 20
7.2 Summary ............................................................................................................................... 28
8. Performing in a Bubble ................................................................................................................ 30
8.1 Bursting the Bubble ............................................................................................................... 30
8.2 Summary ............................................................................................................................... 38
9. The (New) Laborers..................................................................................................................... 39
9.1 Displacement ......................................................................................................................... 39
9.2 Summary ............................................................................................................................... 44
10. Conclusions and Recommendations ........................................................................................... 46
11. References ................................................................................................................................. 50
12. Notes ......................................................................................................................................... 53

1

1. Introduction
The newspaper industry is struggling. The industry is currently seeking its sense of belonging
within a climate that used to be quite fixed and stable in terms of product sales, professional
roles and division of labor (Picard & Ots, 2008:57ff). Many portray this almost existential
wandering as a direct consequence of how digital media in general and information mediated
technologies (ICTs) in particular have in the last ten years reshaped how we produce and
consume media. Newspapers began experimenting with electronic publishing in the 1970s,
providing valuable information about the precursors to the current online news industry
(Boczkowski, 2002:271). However, five key newspaper companies have gone bust in the
early 21st century (Raviola, 2010:4) while others are struggling for their very survival
(Isaacson, 2009) – events that many see as a direct consequence of newspapers' entrance into
the digital arena. In Sweden, the situation is similar yet not overtly detrimental. When
Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet launched its digital edition in August 1994, others followed
shortly thereafter (Hedman, 2008:173). The industry soon became frustratingly aware of the
quite unstable implications of such a launch. In short: you cannot charge for your digital
edition (ibid. 172). Or even shorter, you will lose money. Sundsvallstidningen tried to charge
for its digital content, but failed (ibid).
The current consensus within the news industry in Sweden is therefore to hand over its news
content free of charge through the digital editions and generate ad revenues through newer,
looked less towards traditional and old media forms and more towards newer platforms and
progressive techniques to spread its brand and product – a phenomenon that media strategists
label convergence of media outlets. According to Teljas et al, convergence is when “different
areas within media develop in a way that draws them closer to each other. This can lead to
traditional media receiving new competition from actors that previously were associated with
completely  different  media  channels  and  media  areas”  (Teljas  et  al.,  2007:221).  This
reevaluation of positions within the greater newspaper landscape certainly brought fear and
anxiety amongst its practitioners. One need only recall media mogul Rupert Murdoch who, in
front of The American Society of Newspaper Editors, exclaimed in April 2005: “Scarcely a
day goes by without some claim that new technologies are fast writing newsprint's obituary.
Yet, as an industry, many of us have been remarkably, unaccountably complacent. Certainly,
I didn't do as much as I should have after all the excitement of the  late 1990's” (Murdoch,
2005). Even a giant like Murdoch was (and perhaps still is) out of answers in terms of the

emergence of a culture consisting of convergence and fluctuating uncertainty. And so was the
Swedish newspaper industry.
Yet the Swedish newspaper industry was quite reluctant at first in terms of the
implementation of the digital format within their company philosophies. According to
Alström and Hedman, due to the industry's monopolistic-like stability, all the new technology
and jurisprudence together with an increase in globalization flows came to shock the Nordic
media landscape in particular, perhaps more so than other regions or countries (Alström &
Hedman, 2007:109). The authors are referring to a paradigm shift within these countries: new
actors and new technology almost forced together in order to prevent the death of a complete
industry, the newspaper industry (ibid.). Due to the fluctuation of the industry and the
somewhat fragile (new) state of it, media companies in general were less keen on building
longstanding strategies (ibid. 114). However, since the late 1990's, Swedish newspapers have
been quite successful and quick in implementing new technology into their corporate affairs.
The intentions and strategies behind the web-launch of the Swedish newspaper products in
the mid 1990's were quite uncertain, developed somewhat sporadically and usually by a few
web enthusiasts within the company (ibid. 119). By the mid 1990's, digital media strategies
were hard to come by and the media landscape was hard for the professionals within the
industry to learn and to relate to. Nowadays, more than ten years later, the newspapers' digital
media departments have created their own knowledge of how to conduct business within a
heated and intense business climate. It does not resemble the newspapers golden days in the
late 1980's, an era with small investment sums, high subscription rates and customer loyalty
(Lithner, 1998:143).
1.1 The problem
In this thesis I will seek an understanding of how control and meaning is sought within an
environment where (1) humans and technology are intertwined in terms of work practices and
(2) where these fairly new practices construct or affect the newspaper industry. It is not,
however, a study of how technology (on the one hand) steers human beings and/or societies
(on the other hand). This is technological determinism – which will be defined as “given a set
of initial conditions, outcomes can be predicated with some amount of certainty” (Jackson et
al., 2002:237). What I am after is rather how these interactions construct meaning together,
how they are structured within a given spatial entity that is thickly inhabited by a particular
type of technology and how human beings together with digital media and ICTs seek to make

sense within a financially fragile industry. For technology in general and digital media and
ICTs in particular are often referred to as either utopian – in which the human is liberated
through their use – or as dystopian – where technology and machines isolate the individual
and/or deaden complete societies (Domingo, 2008:682-683). Perhaps Heidegger set the stage
for the great 20th century academic critique of technology:  “Everywhere we remain unfree
and chained to technology, whether we  passionately  affirm  or  deny  it”  (Heidegger,
1993:311). But even if we would presuppose that the use of digital media and ICTs may
constrain and perhaps burden our very Being (as Heidegger would label it) there is still
something being made from this interaction between humans and technology. Even if we are
chained, as Heidegger claimed, we are nevertheless chained to and within something out
there. And that something is important, for it means a great deal to the people involved in
these interactions.
But this sounds too broad for my current investigation. I will not be discussing Heideggerian
Beings (at least in any direct sense). In this thesis I will look into a particular field where
digital media and ICTs are forming new divisions of labor, ambivalence in terms of their use
and even financial frustration. These new processes are part of a grand structure that is
located within a constant flux of people, ideas, things, technology and so forth. Löfgren and
Willim labeled this the new economy and sought to understand it in terms of heat “in order to
describe a situation  of  acceleration  and  intensification”  (Löfgren  &  Willim,  2006:3).  The
authors note:
Economic heat can be produced by new energies and conversions that appear when capital,
technology and management are combined in new patterns. Such transformations may result
in quickened tempo of change as well as heightened intensity and a stronger emotional
charge. Energy is generated by the importance of speed and innovation, which creates
uncertainty and a constant fetishization of the future (ibid. 4).
Similarly,  and  more  concretely,  Alström  writes  that  “uncertainty  rather  than  security
suddenly covers the entire [newspaper] industry. Previous stable work places and traditional
professions are being replaced in a haste of changing work tasks. It is obvious that such a
paradigm change is putting a lot of pressure on the companies and the staff's innovative will
and ability (Alström, 2007:134, my translation). This is, I argue, a symptom of the new
economy and it is of importance for us to keep this in mind as it is the embodiment of this
economy we are seeking. It is fair to say that we can see the emergence of completely new

actors that newspaper companies have to size up, level with and listen to while seeking
understandings and construct new bodies of knowledge surrounding these new actors and
technologies and to find new modes of expressions and language to incorporate into its
company culture. What I am after is how stability is sought for and reached amongst
practitioners  and  actors  located  and  involved  within  this  messy  flux.  “Rapid  changes
accentuate the frailty of the present. But  how  do  you  control  the  future?”, they wondered
(ibid. 7). And so do I.
In order to grasp these questions I conducted fieldwork within Sydsvenskan's department that
deals purely with implementing and developing digital media products for the company. I
thus formulated a project description (see appendix) and sent it to the digital media manager
at the SDS-group in hope of being introduced to one of the group's departmentsi. The
manager responded promptly and told me he was curious regarding my research. A few days
later he and I were talking at the digital media department at Sydsvenskan, located in Malmö,
Sweden. One week later I was introduced to the team and began conducting my fieldwork
within the department.
1.2 Aim and research questions
The question is thus, how does Sydsvenskan seek to find its identity within a fragile media
landscape and how does the department seek to control this frailty of the present? Or in a
more concrete form, this thesis is seeking an understanding of the following questions:

How is the digital media department at Sydsvenskan seeking stability within a
fluctuating information media economy and how is this economy embodied in the praxis of
the employees?

How are innovation processes carried out and how are the users manifested within
this process?
And as time-space compression is becoming more pervasive through new technology tools,
together with a decrease of the producer/consumer-wall, can we even talk about place at all?
The following question is necessary to discuss:

How is time-space compression and the convergence of producer/consumer
manifested within the department and how does this affect our understanding of the term
place?

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