Abstract

This article explores how economic information was turned into newsworthy content in Sweden during the 1960s and 1970s. Professional norms and identities of “business journalists” were during the 1960s yet to be developed, and there were concerns raised whether issues about the corporate world and the economy were suitable to turn into journalistic news content at all. Conceptualizing newsworthiness as a logic of appropriateness, the analysis focuses on the roles that professional norms and identities played in forming nascent economic news practice. The empirical findings show that there was not one way—or one place—that this newsworthiness was constructed. Instead, nascent economic news was produced in two highly separated organizational settings: one rooted in the journalistic world and one in the business world. Depending on the context, significantly different methods and ideas guided the nascent work of creating newsworthiness for economic information.

“A business newspaper”—the word sounds concrete but is vague, however—an empty sack that according to desire can be filled with varying content. A business newspaper—about what and for whom?

—Gustav von Platen, Prövningar i framgångstid: Resa till det förflutna II (1994)

With the birth of the business weekly Veckans Affärer (Weekly Business) in 1965, a new type of economic news emerged in Sweden. The epigraph by Gustav von Platen (1994), the first editor in chief of Veckans Affärer, reflects the ambiguity that surrounded the entire project of launching a new weekly in Sweden that was entirely to be about economic issues and the corporate life. Still, during the 1960s in Sweden, the newsworthiness of business issues and economic information was weak—or even questioned—and such information was perceived to concern only a limited group of experts. Professional norms and identities of “business journalists” were yet to be developed, and in discussions preceding the launch of Veckans Affärer, concerns were raised whether issues about the corporate world and the economy were suitable to turn into journalistic news content at all.

Longitudinal studies on business journalism in the Nordic countries show an expansion of economic news not only in specialized newspapers but also in the general media since the 1960s (Kjaer, Erkama, and Grafström 2007). General dailies in Sweden radically increased and developed their coverage of economic and business issues during the 1980s (Hvitfelt and Malmström 1990), and radio and television began to broadcast this type of news as a separate feature (Lindqvist 2001; Mårtensson 2003). Over the years, economic news has developed into its own genre and increasingly been given a popularized character, focusing on individuals, scandals, and even gossip from the corporate world. Thomas Peterssohn, former editor in chief of the Swedish business weekly Affärsvärlden, describes how “business” through the news coverage has become “show business” (Peterssohn, interview by author, Stockholm, October 17, 2001).

In this article, the term business journalism is understood broadly as including a wide range of issues such as the business and the corporate worlds, finance, and the macro economy, as well as personal finance. Even though news about companies and the stock market often have been the focus of economic news coverage (see, e.g., Kjaer, Erkama, and Grafström 2007), this focus has been changing: in times of financial crises and global economic instability, news about the macro economy in combination with personal finance has, for example, been given more space.

Given the prominent—and seemingly natural—position that economic news has in today's society, the quote by Platen reminds us that only about fifty or sixty years ago the term business journalism was nonexistent in a Swedish context. Even though business and economic information in the media has a long history and dates back as far as the Middle Ages and, for example, the existence of price-currents—people who served as precursors to our contemporary business press by traveling from place to place with information for merchants and other people (Lindberg 2004)—the development of what we today know as business journalism came rather late in a Swedish context. The business weekly Affärsvärlden had already been founded by 1901—and was preceded by a number of Swedish trade journals—and had a focus on economic and business issues from its inception. It was not, however, until the mid-1970s, when Affärsvärlden was restructured, that it developed into something we can begin to equate with journalism.

Explanations for why modern economic news developed as a genre in itself are often retrieved from the increased stock market activity during the late 1980s—as part of the deregulation of financial markets and intervention that created a more favorable tax system for shareholders (e.g., Fagerfjäll 2004; Hedman 2006). Greater turnover at the Stockholm Stock Exchange led, in turn, to increased demand for news about the economy, companies, and the financial world among members of the public, who had become direct or indirect shareholders, and an increased supply of economic information from which business journalists could generate news. The expansion of business journalism also relates to its advertising, which has proved to be a lucrative business.

Whereas such supply-and-demand-driven arguments are certainly a key part of the expansion story, they are not very informative for explaining how economic issues and the corporate life became newsworthy in the first place. To understand how and why ideas of newsworthiness were developed in a Swedish context, we need to go back to the 1960s and 1970s, to the time before it was possible to foresee the expansion of the stock market. In this article, I therefore analyze what characterized nascent business news practice in Sweden. How did economic information become newsworthy in the Swedish media landscape in the first place? Who was driving the development, where and why?

I discuss and develop answers to these questions with the help of a study of nascent economic news production in Sweden (Grafström 2006). The empirical findings show that there was not one way—or in one place—that this newsworthiness was constructed. Instead, this nascent news was produced in particularly two different—and highly separated—organizational settings: one rooted in the journalistic world and one in the world of business. Depending on the context, significantly different methods and ideas guided the nascent attempts to translate economic information into news content.

Also worth noticing is the long history of economists actively participating in the public debate and societal development in Sweden. One of the most well-known and often-mentioned economists is Assar Lindbeck, who played a key role in the international research world as well as being an opinion expert in Sweden. Together with Nils Lundgren, he founded the popular science journal Ekonomisk Debatt (Economic Debate), with the mission to make research in economics available to a broader audience and to strengthen the voice of economists in the society. In Sweden, economists have long played important roles as expert voices, and they have been and still are prominent in the media as commentators and opinion leaders. In the story of how economic information was translated into news and ascribed newsworthiness in Sweden during the 1960s and 1970s, however, they were less salient. Rather, the entrepreneurial initiatives behind nascent economic news practice were to be found among “magazine makers” with a history in the journalistic world or among business graduates interested in developing analytic models for the corporate world as well as building and managing a newspaper company themselves.

Newsworthiness as a Logic of Appropriateness

To unwrap how ideas of newsworthiness about economic information and the corporate world come to be, I understand them as a “logic of appropriateness.” The central question of what is considered newsworthy—what is considered legitimate and appropriate news content—has been extensively studied in the general media and in journalism studies (e.g., Schudson 2003; Strömbäck 2019). T. E. Cook (1998: 61) argues that “when reporters make choices on who and what to cover and how to cover it, these choices are governed . . . by ‘a logic of appropriateness’ based on their professional and craft-related roles as journalists.” Common norms about newsworthiness bear witness to the fact that journalists follow established rules and routines when producing news (Cook 1998; Tuchman 1973). Despite the unpredictable nature of journalism, and despite the fact that journalists rarely know exactly what is going to be turned into news beforehand, news production tends to be highly structured work—a work process expressively described by Gaye Tuchman's (1973) now classic wording, “routinising the unexpected.”

According to J. G. March and J. P. Olsen (2011), a logic of appropriateness—in contrast to a logic of consequences—carries the idea that much human behavior can be explained through trying to answer three basic questions: What kind of a situation is this? What kind of a person am I? What does a person such as I do in a situation such as this? This means that “to act appropriately is to proceed according to the institutionalized practices of a collectivity, based on mutual, and often tacit understandings of what is true, reasonable, natural, right, and good” (March and Olsen 2011: 2).

Today economic news production can be understood as routinized both within and across organizations, and has been long established as its own professional field (Duval 2005; Grafström 2006; Mazza and Strandgaard Pedersen 2004). During the 1960s and 1970s, however, the appropriate way to act as a journalist in Sweden was clearly not to be interested in and trying to produce economic news. The corporate and journalistic worlds were at the time also two separate spheres of practice. Here my attempt is to unwrap and shed light on how economic news journalism became an “appropriate practice” within the broader professional field of journalism in Sweden. Where and how did the economy and journalism meet, and how did ideas about newsworthiness emerge at the intersection of these two fields of practice?

The theoretical lens of a logic of appropriateness sets the focus on the institutional environment that gives structure and guidance for a practice to thrive but simultaneously also sets boundaries and constrains its development. Such a perspective places professional norms and values in the forefront of the analysis and emphasizes the contextual conditions for crafting newsworthiness: how was economic information ascribed with newsworthiness—how was it created—at a time when business journalism was rather nonexistent in Sweden. It is a perspective that zooms in on the role of professional identities of the individuals who engage in developing the practice. We know from previous research that new and innovative practices always need to be somewhat congruent with the past, and thus embracing and building on existing practices rather than delegitimizing past ways of thinking or doing things (e.g., Goodrick and Reay 2010). We can therefore expect nascent economic news practice to be developed out of established practices. Change is often made possible through individuals who “violate institutional boundaries, repurposing old tools or recombining past practices in an unusual manner” (Powell and Rerup 2017: 18). This also means that the mere mobility of professionals between different social spheres may create room for changing working norms and routines. Identifying professionals as key change agents also offers explanations for how norms change endogenously—and this change does not need to come from “outside” or through external pressures or shocks.

Ideas about what is appropriate and legitimate behavior in a certain setting is thus something that is being actively created by professionals—and is in itself a process governed by norms and values. In my analysis I set the focus on the contextual situatedness of nascent business news practice as well as the individual backgrounds and work identities of the people who engaged in this practice. The analysis shows that the way these people were crafting newsworthiness for economic information was highly dependent on the type of organizational contexts that they were part of as well as their professional backgrounds and whether they were educated in journalism or in a tradition of business studies and/or economics.

Method and Data

To develop an understanding for how ideas of newsworthiness of economic information and business issues in Sweden emerged and were formulated, we need to go back to when the first modern business newspapers were funded. Focus in this article is therefore on historical accounts of the two main business weeklies in Sweden: Veckans Affärer, founded in 1965, and Affärsvärlden, founded already in 1901 but restructured during the mid-1970s. In addition, the analysis also includes empirical accounts from the business desk at the main general daily in Sweden, Dagens Nyheter, that played a significant role as a platform for nascent economic news during the 1970s.

While neither Veckans Affärer nor Affärsvärlden, as weekly magazines, have stated any explicit political position, they have been rooted in strong ideas of the market economy. Affärsvärlden (2023) formulates, for example, on its website the mission of the weekly:

The society is better when:

  • Good companies are given resources to create wealth

  • Bad companies and phenomena are exposed

As Sweden's leading business magazine since 1901, Affärsvärlden contributes to this by illuminating, scrutinizing, and analyzing the corporate world and its important actors. This is the core of Affärsvärlden's mission and we do it because we believe it strengthens the market economy and thus the basis for our wealth.

In contrast to the weeklies, Dagens Nyheter—as a daily newspaper—has both an editorial board and an “editorial page.” The political position of Dagens Nyheter is independent liberal.

The analysis is based on interviews with individuals playing key roles in the development of modern Swedish business journalism as well as internal documents, memoirs, documentary books, and other written accounts. To empirically grasp how a logic of appropriateness was created and established in terms of newsworthiness, guiding questions have been: What type of knowledge and professional expertise was valued in the organizations and by the individuals engaged in nascent economic news practice? What was understood as important, prioritized, and successful behavior? And what motivated the professionals to engage in the nascent practice of business journalism? Empirical answers to these questions were explored through both (1) what competencies were considered necessary in order to produce nascent economic news; and (2) what was considered appropriate economic news content, and how that content should be presented to the audience.

The empirical data that I base my analysis on in this article were collected as part of my dissertation project during 2004–5 (see Grafström 2006). Empirical research on business journalism in Sweden has been rare (for some exceptions, see Bjur 2006; Haglund and Englund 2001; Löfgren-Nilsson and Öhlin 2006), and my historical accounts about nascent economic news practice have therefore been necessarily exploratory in character. In particular, it has been of key importance to combine different data sources, as it has not always been possible to find structured and comprehensive material or people to interview. Still, the core of the empirical data comprises interviews, and most of those interviewed have had leading positions in various media organizations, and many of them actively participated in nascent economic news work. I was able to identify twenty-seven key informants who have played important roles in the development of business journalism in Sweden. While the first interviews focused on basic questions about that development and economic news in general, later in my work I was able to develop certain themes and both identify key individuals and focus on certain questions about the development. In this way, the interviews provided sites for knowledge construction and, to use the words of Steinar Kvale (1996: 14), they constitute “inter-change of views between two persons conversing about a theme of mutual interest.” The absolute majority of the interviews were recorded and transcribed.

In addition to the interview data, I have used other sources, such as newspaper content, internal letters and documents from newspaper organizations, memoirs, and accounts written by business journalists and researchers. The actual newspapers themselves—the output of the work of business journalists—have been a key data source. And jubilee issues of business newspapers offer accounts on the historical development, and those have often been written by business journalists themselves. In the case of Veckans Affärer, I was able to access a selection of internal documents from the time of the early development. This written material has functioned as a supplementary source of data and a check on the statements made in interviews, memoirs, and other written accounts. However, internal written documents have not been available from Affärsvärlden and Dagens Nyheter, so memoirs and other written accounts (e.g., historical accounts of journalists as well as researchers, memoirs, and biographies) have functioned as important supplementary data and as checks on interview statements.

Two Separate Institutional Contexts—Business and Journalism

Until the birth of the business weekly Veckans Affärer in 1965, economic news in Sweden consisted more or less of plain trade and industry information. The only business weekly that existed at the time, mentioned above, was Affärsvärlden and consisted primarily of market information about freight, goods, corn, and money (Affärsvärlden 1991). From its inception, it emphasized international economic information, and until the 1960s, called itself “the trade journal of Sweden” (Affärsvärlden 1981: 12). It was the first to report daily stock alterations and to study bank reports, and it developed into a business weekly with “well informed analyses and comments” (Fagerfjäll 1991: 10). Economic news in general newspapers appeared as trade pages at the back end with small typefaces, no pictures, and overcrowded with facts (Grafström 2006).

When nascent economic news practice began to emerge in Sweden, people were recruited from one of two institutional contexts: either the world of journalistic education and experience or the corporate and financial world—the latter often being seen as synonymous with business school education. These two groups of professionals shared a desire to make news about economic issues and the corporate world in a way that differed dramatically from the dry information on the trade pages at the time. However, their reasons for engaging in business journalism differed, and their goals as well as the meaning they ascribed to the practice depended on their backgrounds and previous affiliations. Consequently, they did not share a common understanding of the nature of economic news and how to do it, and they did also create rather different understandings of newsworthiness. Below I develop empirical narratives from Veckans Affärer and Affärsvärlden that illustrate how nascent economic news production in Sweden was characterized by two rather different “logic[s] of appropriateness.” Thereafter, I briefly discuss how the initial meetings between professionals of the two spheres, business versus journalism, happened somewhere else: at the business desk of a general daily and with the founding of an association for “business journalists.”

Journalists Practicing Journalism—Veckans Affärer

The Bonnier-owned newspaper Veckans Affärer was born in a highly journalistic tradition of how to make a newspaper. The Bonnier Group is the largest newspaper owner in Sweden and has operations in some twenty countries, with an emphasis on northern Europe. The company publishes books, daily newspapers, and magazines, and produces and distributes film, music, radio, TV, and business information. Including as it does most of the newspapers read in Sweden, the Bonnier Group has played and continues to play a leading role in the development of editorial thinking on “how to make newspapers.” Hence, it is no surprise that Bonnier-owned newspapers were prominent in the formation of business journalism in Sweden.1 The 1960s was also a decade characterized by increased questioning among journalists, which was part of the changing face of a journalism peopled with young graduates from the newly founded Institutes of Journalism. In 2019, Veckans Affärer—fifty-four years after it was born—ceased to exist, and one part of it was instead integrated with its daily equivalent Dagens Industri (Daily Industry), founded by Bonnier in 1976.2

Nascent economic news practice at Veckans Affärer engaged individuals with previous affiliations in the newspaper profession almost exclusively. Journalistic competence and quality were valued highly within the Bonnier Group (Mats Hallvarsson, interview by author, Stockholm, November 8, 2005; Sören Larsson, interview by author, Stockholm, October 6, 2005; Bertil Torekull, telephone interview by author, May 31, 2005). The organizational culture was characterized by stressing and rewarding journalistic competence, and journalistic skills were seen as more valuable than expert knowledge. The key persons involved in the founding of Veckans Affärer all came to the project with journalistic experiences from a wide range of weeklies with widely differing themes, and none of them had previous experience from business news specifically. Their backgrounds were a mix of weeklies that covered different areas: Vi Föräldrar (We Parents), Allt om Mat (Everything about Food), Vecko-Revyn (The Weekly Revue),3 and Bildjournalen (The Picture Journal)4 (Erik Westerberg, interview by author, Stockholm, June 10, 2006; Larsson interview, 2005; Torekull interview; Larsson 2003).

During the first year of Veckans Affärer, the editorial office was populated entirely by people with a journalistic education or professional background. It was, however, difficult initially to find and recruit people to the business weekly project. Journalists hesitated to start working with business news at Veckans Affärer, and a long list of possible editors in chief turned down the offer (Torekull interview; Westerberg interview; Veckans Affärer 1990a). According to one of the founders, Erik Westerberg, the hesitation was partly tied to the fact that people did not think that Bonnier, which was known for magazines and entertaining weeklies, could make a “serious” business newspaper (Westerberg interview). In his memoirs, the first editor in chief, Platen (1994: 180), references a survey in which one of the respondents expressed additional hesitation: the respondent thought that things would go well initially, but that “it will become boring, because the Swedish industry is not sufficient for making a constantly exciting newspaper.”

Platen (1994: 179) described himself and the other journalists as a group of people who “had made a parachute landing in an unknown territory without map and compass.” Despite the skepticism of the journalistic profession toward economic news at the time, journalistic competence was seen as a key to success in the establishment of Veckans Affärer. The strong belief in journalistic competence is, for instance, illustrated by a quote in an essay written by Platen and published in Veckans Affärer:

From our experiences of the breadth of general journalism—reportage, news, sport accounts, celebrity portraits, and causeries gathered from the most widely differing working sites from AP [Associated Press, American news agency] to Vecko-Revyn—we could create a new journalistic costume and a new journalistic language at Veckans Affärer. When the managing editor at the time, Sören Larsson, and I went abroad to study the problems at Business Week, the) Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times, we found a pattern, which we without blinkers of a guild could apply to. (Veckans Affärer 1990b: 73)

Journalistic competence was also prominent in the recruitment of the editor in chief, and Westerberg described it in these words in an internal letter:

He [the editor in chief] should preferably be a journalist with expert knowledge, but if we cannot find any candidate who fulfills both requirements, then a journalist with talent and interest in the special fields of the newspaper should be chosen. (Veckans Affärer 1964)

The only business graduate who worked at Veckans Affärer from the start was “employed to check that we had the right numbers and counted correctly” (Torekull interview). She was to verify the facts; the task of the journalist was to transform these facts into a journalistic product. This research group of three was formed according to a US model and was supposed to compensate for the lack of knowledge in business and economics among the writing employees (Larsson interview, 2005; Veckans Affärer 1965; Platen 1994: 184). In addition, a stock market commentator, C. R. Pokorny, also had business knowledge, and according to Platen (1994), Pokorny was the only journalist in the beginning days of Veckans Affärer who could actually read accounts and financial statements. In his memoirs and in an article in Veckans Affärer, Platen discussed the lack of expert knowledge in business and economics among the journalists during the first years of Veckans Affärer. He argues that the “outsider's perspective” on the corporate and financial world was a competitive advantage for the editorial office:

Those journalists who gathered twenty-five years ago [in 1965] at Sveavägen had in fact an advantage over the trained experts. None of us had worked with business journalism. None of us knew anything about the tradition of writing and presenting so-called trade news. Nobody could read accounts. If the metaphor is not misunderstood, as the young child in “The Emperor's New Clothes” occupied with naïveté we could discover that the monarch was only wearing shirt and underpants. (Veckans Affärer 1990b: 73)

In his memoirs, Platen (1994: 183) also described insights into the structure of economic news articles that he received during his visits to Business Week and the Financial Times; the aim was to write business news in a comprehensive way, with a storytelling and dramaturgical approach, and with “human and business-like points.” The business journalistic language used in the United Kingdom and United States was believed to be better developed than was the language used by the Swedish journalists at the time. According to Platen, the English and US journalists used a prose characterized by storytelling and efficiency that could be employed for both in-depth analyses and humorous features. Platen described the language on the Swedish trade pages as “crackling dry,” and the language in economic trade journals as “semi-scientific mumbo jumbo” (183).

Much work was dedicated to the development of an individual form and style of Veckans Affärer, very much rooted in the journalistic tradition of Bonnier. The news content often dealt with tomorrow's events and tried to foresee future events. The Swedish corporate and financial world was described as “concealed,” and the journalists of Veckans Affärer were going to uncover it by looking behind the curtains that had hidden companies and corporate activities for so long. It was emphasized that the newspaper needed to be easily accessible to the readers, and those were described as being managers and decision-makers in the corporate world. In his memoirs Platen explains, however, that the target group of Veckans Affärer was debated internally—whether it should be for a broader group of economically interested or for more expert-oriented readers. According to Platen, it was decided that it was going to be a weekly for “the men in business,” and he explains that the journalists were going to “write about an excavator company in a way that a bank cashier would understand it and about a bank so that the men at the excavator company understand” (Platen 1994: 178). During Veckans Affärer's first year, its circulation was about twenty-five thousand copies, a number that was almost doubled before the end of the 1980s (Grafström 2006).

Based on experiences from the result of a newspaper dummy, it was stated that the format of the dummy demanded too much from the reader and had too much focus on “the experts” (Veckans Affärer 1964). According to the letter, the solution was to add a human face to the newspaper content. In the letter, Westerberg also outlined ideas about portraits of people in each issue, and portraits were always to be linked to the front pages:

In the article, the protagonist will have an initiated presentation, which gives his background and individual interests, his contributions to the corporations, and his view of the industry and the business world (as far as it is of general interest) etc. But other articles should preferably have a focus on a person and be developed from his point of view. This must be done without lowering the standard of factuality, information, and news value in the article. (Veckans Affärer 1964)

Initially, much work was dedicated to the development of an individual writing style and character for Veckans Affärer. A distinct discipline of presentation and structure of the articles was developed. Initially, some of the employees even had special “headline meetings” (Larsson interview, 2005) at which key words from the articles were highlighted and possible headlines were discussed. The use of illustrations was key to an easy and attractive style and layout of the business weekly, and much time and effort was devoted to developing good and clear figures (Larsson interview, 2005). The figures on traditional trade pages in Swedish general dailies were often difficult to understand and interpret, and professional graphic artists were consulted to rectify this problem.

The content of the business weekly was characterized by a mix of matter-of-factness and drama, with a focus on people in the business world. The employees at Veckans Affärer saw their task as opening up and “looking into” the corporate world, which had been largely concealed from the public (Henrik Frenkel, interview by author, Stockholm, March 10, 2006; Westerberg, interview; Veckans Affärer 1990b). According to Frenkel, Veckans Affärer wrote about the “bigwigs in the corporate life,” and he explains in the following quote how the weekly covered business celebrities:

We wrote about business in an intelligible way. Everyone was going to understand. The excitement in the game was going to be described. We chose exciting characters from corporate life. It showed that corporate life was an exciting scene that was just waiting for an audience. Veckans Affärer lighted this scene for its audience and directed the actor. Partly, we participated in creating the people of the business world. They began to act as Veckans Affärer wanted them to act. (Frenkel, interview)

The content and presentation of news in Veckans Affärer resulted in accusations that it was the “gossip newspaper” of Swedish corporate life (Torekull, interview; Veckans Affärer 1990b). Ulla Reinius, who was employed at the business weekly in the early 1980s, emphasized in our interview that Veckans Affärer was largely an “entertainment product” (Reinius, interview by author, Stockholm, June 1, 2006). Sören Larsson, who was at the weekly during its first years, wrote a memo in the mid-1970s about “the new journalism” and the changed relationship between corporations and the mass media, a development in which Veckans Affärer was central.

In summary, the common interest among the people who participated in founding the business weekly was to make newspapers and practice journalism; they had less interest in the fact that the paper was going to be about business issues and corporate activities. The first editor in chief, Platen, even disliked the whole idea of corporate news initially, and needed to be persuaded to work at the business weekly. The early recruitment policy at Veckans Affärer, therefore, was to employ journalists who could transform business and economic information into journalistic products, that is, articles and news stories in the weekly. Veckans Affärer was founded on the idea that it was better to employ a journalist who can be taught business than to teach an economics or business student to become a journalist. Moreover, the function of the research group, which employed people with business knowledge, emphasized a clear division of responsibilities between journalists and people with a business education.

Business Graduates Practicing Journalism

Unlike Veckans Affärer, Affärsvärlden has a longer history, as it was founded already in 1901 and still exists today as a weekly magazine (and nowadays also publishes articles and analysis on its website, affarsvarlden.se). The reorganization of Affärsvärlden in the mid-1970s paved the way for business graduates to develop ideas about economic news production in a newspaper permeated by a logic of appropriateness rooted in the world of economic-technical information and rather different from journalistic ideals. Also, historically, people with knowledge of corporate and economic issues had been in charge of Affärsvärlden. The organizational context was therefore significantly different from the Bonnier-owned Veckans Affärer. The restructuring was preceded by the recruitment of young business graduates to the editorial office. They came from the Stockholm School of Economics or the School of Business, Economics and Law in Gothenburg (Fagerfjäll 1991: 14), and they all shared an interest in corporate and financial analysis as well as in the functioning of the market and the economy in general. At the time of the restructuration of the weekly, the editorial office comprised only business graduates.

During the period of nascent economic news practice, the employees at the weekly were responsible both for producing newspaper content and for managing the company. The authorization for publishing Affärsvärlden was owned by the Newspaper Foundation of Industry, and the employees rented the publishing authorization from the foundation for a symbolic amount (Jan Andersson, interview by author, Stockholm, May 10, 2006). The organizational form was an unusual one in the journalistic world and was duly noted by other media. A journalist from Dagens Nyheter, who visited Affärsvärlden in 1979, wrote:

A newspaper where all co-workers have the same ascendancy, the same responsibility and the same salary, where the editorial office is totally independent of the owners and share the profit—that should be something vividly red, revolutionary and extremely left wing? However, it is not really so. The newspaper that has just been described is named Affärsvärlden. Owner and publisher: Näringslivets tidningsstiftelse. Address: Kungsgatan 4, Stockholm. It could not be more central, bright blue and more conservative than that. (Dagens Nyheter 1979: 2)

The empirical findings show that the practices of both making and managing the newspaper suited each other. As business journalists, they could interview leading corporate managers and gather interview data that laid the groundwork for upcoming articles, but that also provided new input and knowledge for managing the corporation. The form, however, also created a situation in which the editorial office had to prove that it was operating independent of the business sector and that it was no “megaphone in the propaganda chorus of the business life associations” (Fagerfjäll 1991: 24).

The work at Affärsvärlden at the time was motivated largely by a desire to learn more about corporations and about such corporate activities as accounting practices, organization and management theories, and analytic techniques and business ratios, in order to predict stock market developments and to evaluate companies. In the Tidningsstatistik (Newspaper Statistics) database of 1967, Affärsvärlden described its content as “comprehensive information about the Swedish and foreign economies; stock market development, the stock market index and investment indicators; analysis of annual reports for stock-listed companies” (Tidningsstatistik AB 1968), and in 1980, the weekly presented itself as an “economic newspaper for decision makers” (Tidningsstatistik AB 1981). Between 1967 and 1989, Affärsvärlden more than quadrupled its circulation from 5,600 copies to 26,000 copies, and the most significant increase came after the restructuring of the business weekly in 1975–76.

It was a newspaper that became known for its in-depth corporate analyses and therefore also became an attractive workplace for business students and graduates who were interested in finance. The employees at Affärsvärlden did not necessarily dream about a career in journalism; rather, they saw the editorial office as a good “nursery” for the expanding financial sector (e.g., Björn Franzon, interview by author, Stockholm, July 5, 2005; Lennart Låftman, telephone interview by author, February 17, 2005).

You can say that many who came to Affärsvärlden did not do it primarily in order to become journalists and writers, but in order to learn corporate analysis. Hence, many who came to Affärsvärlden did not think about a career as journalist, but rather to go on to the financial world, which they also did. Affärsvärlden became a recruiting base for what later, during the 1980s, developed into financial institutes and broker firms. (Lars-Eric Bränfeldt, interview by author, Stockholm, July 13, 2005)

In his dissertation, Karl-Erik Sveiby, who worked at Affärsvärlden between 1979 and 1983, compared Affärsvärlden and Veckans Affärer. Whereas layout and editing issues occupied several people at Veckans Affärer, the same task was reduced to half a person at Affärsvärlden during the late 1970s. Subsequently, layout and editing were accomplished cheaply and quickly at Affärsvärlden (Sveiby 1994: 70).

The economic-technical ideas that permeated and governed the nascent economic news practice at Affärsvärlden made the situation opposite to the Bonnier-owned newspapers. In contrast to Veckans Affärer, the most frequently mentioned model among the interviewed employees at Affärsvärlden was a British business weekly, the Economist. Some of the employees visited the editorial office of the Economist, and one of them explained in our interview that the journalists had the same attitude as those at Affärsvärlden, and that the visit strengthened the latter, as the Economist “showed that we didn't have to be ashamed if we lacked flashy layout” (Andersson, interview). Similar to the Economist, Affärsvärlden articles had no byline at this time. During one period, Affärsvärlden even used content purchased directly from the Economist translated into Swedish (Fagerfjäll 1991). Other prominent models were the Financial Times and, particularly for Ronald Fagerfjäll, the Far Eastern Economic Review.

Even though part of creating newsworthiness was still about layout and presentation of the newspaper, expert knowledge of economic issues and the business world was largely valued over journalistic competence. The business graduates at the editorial office were also in many ways seen as experts on the economy, the stock market, and the corporate world. For example, two of Affärsvärlden's journalists were engaged as experts in the government employee fund investigation during the late 1970s (see, e.g., an opinion piece about the stock market and the employee fund written by the two employees and published in the previously mentioned Ekonomisk debatt [1979]).

Consequently, only business graduates—with proven skills in writing—were initially recruited to the weekly. As all the initial employees at the relaunched Affärsvärlden had a business education, their ties back to the academic world were strong. Many of them continued their relationship with the Stockholm School of Economics after graduation and attended lectures in order to learn more about, for example, corporate analysis and business ratios. Some of the employees at Affärsvärlden even cooperated with researchers at the business school in joint efforts to develop corporate and financial analysis.

The relationship with the academic world was in this way also influenced by the interest in corporate and financial analyses. The employees at Affärsvärlden during the 1970s can be seen as precursors to the contemporary financial sector in Sweden. Many of those business graduates who left Affärsvärlden during the late 1980s were recruited into the financial sector. Fagerfjäll explains in our 2005 interview how the employees at Affärsvärlden can even be seen as precursors to today's stock market analysts. The analytic practice at Affärsvärlden was accomplished almost entirely on “virgin soil,” to use Ragnar Boman's words, and the working methods were developed partly by the employees themselves (Boman, interview with author, Stockholm, March 15, 2006).

Long corporate analyses with few headlines or photographs were common in Affärsvärlden. Along with other interviewees, Björn Franzon explained that Affärsvärlden was not well developed as a newspaper: “A five page analysis of Billerud could have the headline ‘Billerud.’” Another interviewee, Jan Andersson, describes a similar situation: if someone at the editorial office wanted a large headline, a typical comment from colleagues might be, “When you run short of arguments, you raise your voice instead.” Fagerfjäll emphasizes the same attitude in my 2005 interview with him: “We had no showy choice of words. Rather, we wrote in an understated manner. We became the newspaper that other journalists checked in order to get a feeling if their own information was reasonable.”

Three catchwords at the editorial office were “analysis,” “up-to-date,” and “independence.” The content of Affärsvärlden was to be up-to-date, but not necessarily new. Superior to every other decision was the common understanding of “importance.” If something had happened that garnered a great deal of attention in other news media but was considered unimportant by the employees at Affärsvärlden, it received no more than a short note (Fagerfjäll, interview, 2005). In this way, the employees and owners of Affärsvärlden developed their own model for news valuation. Inspired by their academic studies in business, they developed matrixes with industries and topics through which they kept track of the number of articles written about a certain company as well as the subject themes that they published. In my second interview with Fagerfjäll, he described these matrixes as “reminders” that allowed them to avoid neglecting particular companies, industries, or subject themes:

We had all the industries listed and ticked them all off. If we saw, for example, that we had done nothing about KF [a Swedish company] in two years, we did it. We thought that we ought to do it. Sometimes we looked [into a company such as KF] and nothing had happened, and in such cases we initially even had headlines such as “Nothing has happened at KF,” which of course did not work. Nobody read such articles. Over time, headlines like “Isn't it time to do something soon at KF?” were used instead. (Fagerfjäll, interview, 2005)

The newspaper content was selected and decided on through the matrices. Corporate analyses were often quite long and focused on one company at a time. Photographs were rare, and headlines were strictly informative rather than being designed to awaken interest. In a reader survey from 1977, the newspaper was described as well informed but heavy and difficult to read (Sveiby 1994: 71).

To sum up, Affärsvärlden was developed from and in an economic and business-technique-oriented environment that very much lacked professional knowledge about how to make journalism. Initially only business graduates with skills in analytic writing were recruited to the weekly. In sharp contrast to Veckans Affärer, the idea that it was easier to teach a business graduate to write than the other way around permeated the editorial office of Affärsvärlden. Some of the employees even had an ambivalent attitude toward journalism, as their plans were not to become business journalists but to learn about corporate and financial analyses in order to be able to work in the financial sector. The group of professionals at Affärsvärlden at the time can be seen as academics from business schools in Sweden who defined their own way of making a newspaper—a way that was much in line with academic methods.

Business + Journalism = The Emergence of a New Professional Identity

The Swedish case of business journalism shows that nascent ideas of how to craft out newsworthiness for business and economic information were developed in organizational contexts that not only were rooted in a journalistic world versus a business world but also upheld and even reinforced the separation between the two fields: nascent economic news in Sweden was thus very much a product of either journalists making news about the “un-known” corporate world or business-educated people developing financial models and corporate analysis in a newspaper format.

The strong separation between the journalistic organization and the economic/technical organization meant that individuals rarely switched between them, and this was particularly the case for the two weeklies, Veckans Affärer and Affärsvärlden. The business graduates at Affärsvärlden were perceived by the people at Veckans Affärer more as experts than as journalists. At Affärsvärlden, on the other hand, business news practice at Veckans Affärer was seen as too personalized and popularized. According to Boman, Veckans Affärer was thought of as too popularized in “how they treated companies, how they wrote about them, in their headlines, and how they used illustrations” (Boman interview). During the 1970s, journalists did not move from one business weekly to the other, which further illustrates the distinct separation of the two organizations.

In this way, the specialized newspaper organizations that I have studied were not open to all individuals who wanted to engage in the practice during the period. In general, people at Veckans Affärer wanted to make corporate life into a journalistic theme of interest, whereas the people at Affärsvärlden were more interested in learning and teaching about the corporate life, analyzing companies, and doing business. The newspaper organizations that individuals at the time entered into enabled nascent economic news practice—functioning as key platforms for the practice to thrive—but also set boundaries and constrained the practice.

The slow merging of the two professional spheres of business and journalism was instead taking place outside the niche newspapers: at the business desks of general dailies as well as in an association established in 1979 for Swedish business journalists. It was particularly at the main general daily in Sweden—Dagens Nyheter (also owned by the Bonnier family)—that professionals from journalism and business/economics actually met and started working together. The long history of Dagens Nyheter began during the latter part of the nineteenth century—and the deep embeddedness in the general journalistic world suggests that economic news production would be highly governed by journalistic logic. However, the development of economic news did go hand in hand with—and was probably also driven by—the idea of specialization that influenced the organization of the Swedish daily press at the time.

In contrast to the specialized newspapers, the business desks at the general dailies were part of larger editorial offices, which created a different organization and working situation in comparison with the specialized newspapers. Rarely was nascent economic news practice questioned at the Veckans Affärer and Affärsvärlden, and a mutual understanding existed among the employees at each editorial office. Some of the interviewees at Dagens Nyheter at the time, on the other hand, said that they were seen as strangers and sometimes questioned by other journalists at the editorial office. As stated by one of the business journalists then working at Dagens Nyheter, political journalism was prioritized and valued most highly. In the following quote from my interview with Sven-Ivan Sundqvist, he illustrates the atmosphere at the editorial office at Dagens Nyheter during the early 1970s:

[Business journalism was] a relatively rare phenomenon, because political journalism was the most important. So, when I received the Stora Journalistpriset [Great Journalist Prize] in 1974 as a business journalist, it was understood that something strange was going on with the newspaper world. The fact that a business educated person . . . received the prize and for groundbreaking business journalism . . . that I treated companies as exciting phenomena—that it was not only capitalists and directors and misery. Again, it was this left-wing view that resulted in no understanding of companies at the editorial offices. (Sundqvist, interview by author, Stockholm, October 26, 2004)

At the trade/business desk at Dagens Nyheter, general journalists interested in business and economic issues worked side by side with business graduates from the Stockholm School of Economics with an interest in writing. During the period, the journalistic work at the entire newspaper was permeated by ideas of specialization. To increase the level of knowledge and to produce a well-informed journalistic product, general journalists were going to become specialists in a specific topic. Therefore, journalists from the general editorial office who expressed interest in the corporate world came to the expanded trade desk. At the same time, business graduates were recruited to secure knowledge in the areas of business and economics.

One of the interviewees, working at the daily at the time, stressed how business journalists created a necessary power balance between journalists and corporate representatives:

You [the journalists] were in such a weak position relative to the sources that you needed people who knew more about the subject field than general experienced journalists did. Someone who knew how to ask questions—you needed to have, as in the politics, an opponent. [In political journalism] you could always ask the opposite party—but whom do you ask when it is about a company's development? There was nobody at the time. Therefore, you needed business expertise in order to make it [the corporate world] accessible to a larger number of readers. (Låftman, interview)

The empirical findings suggest, however, a separation of work tasks between general journalists and business graduates. The role of the general journalists was to bring journalistic values from previous work into the trade desks, and their task was to hunt for the news. The business graduates, on the other hand, were responsible for corporate analyses and stock exchange commentaries. The separation even resulted in different types of news material in the newspaper. Shorter news articles, often written by general journalists, coexisted with longer analyses of individual corporations and stock exchange comments, often written by business graduates.

Initially, one of the interviewees explained, it had also been quite difficult to recruit business journalists to Dagens Nyheter, as it was not possible to find people with experience in both journalism and business. Either journalists had to be taught about business and economics, or business graduates had to be taught about journalism. Not until the early 1980s, the interviewee explains, were there people with business journalism experience to recruit; thus we can understand it as the professional identity of being “business journalists” had then developed (Karl Ahlenius, interview by author, Stockholm, October 7, 2005).

The second key platform for professionals from the fields of business and journalism to meet was the association for Swedish business journalists: Ekonomijournalisternas Förening, founded in 1979. In the beginning, thirty-eight journalists were members (Sveiby 1994), and the main idea was to create a platform for exchanging experiences and knowledge about how to practice “modern” business journalism (Bränfeldt, interview; Franzon, interview; Olle Rossander, interview by author, Stockholm, November 4, 2004). During the years of radical expansion of business journalism in Sweden—around the 1980s and 1990s—the number of members in the association more than tripled from 60 individuals to about 140 (Sveiby 1994). Even though the membership does not include the total number of active business journalists in Sweden at the time, it does illustrate a significant increase in their numbers. The association did not survive beyond the early 1990s, interviewees reported, partly because the perceived need for such an association disappeared, partly because the association had become a difficult “power factor,” and partly because leadership was lacking (e.g., Låftman, interview; Rossander, interview). It is probable that the developed educational situation for business journalists in Sweden during the end of 1980s and 1990s became a substitute for the association.

The two platforms—the trade desk at Dagens Nyheter and the association—made it possible for the two groups of people from the journalism world and the business world to intermingle and learn from each other during the period of nascent economic news practice. Even though direct cooperation between business/economic experts and general journalists at the trade/business desk at Dagens Nyheter was not always well developed, the two groups met daily and worked in the same organization. This created opportunities for them to learn from each other and for common norms—a logic of appropriateness—about the newsworthiness of economic information and the corporate world to develop. This logic was, then, necessarily based on both business and economic expert knowledge and on journalistic methods and handcraft.

Concluding Remarks

The stories of Veckans Affärer and Affärsvärlden remind us about the ambiguity that permeated the work of making nascent economic news. As the newsworthiness of economic issues and the corporate world in itself was low, it had to be actively created—a practice that was heavily dependent on the organizational and professional contexts it was embedded in. The Swedish case of the development of business journalism reminds us therefore also about the nongiven nature of newsworthiness and emphasizes the important role that professional norms and routines play when it comes to developing a new type of practice. What is seen as “appropriate” news content and news formats today is not necessarily what we will be facing tomorrow. News production—just like any other social phenomenon—is a complex process, and ideas of newsworthiness are not to be understood as a mirror or answers to already defined and existing needs among audiences. Rather, the development of nascent business news practice developed in the absence of any clear requests or demands in society for such news.

The stories of Veckans Affärer and Affärsvärlden instead indicate that the crafting of newsworthiness was largely an endogenous process. The two groups of professionals had their own motives for engaging in developing business news practice. Clearly at the time, the appropriate thing to do as a trained journalist was not to engage in covering the corporate world. The journalists and editors who engaged in the task to create the business weekly Veckans Affärer all stressed the need to build it from an entirely journalistic perspective and initially even argued that the lack of economic and business knowledge was a strength for the project. In this way, they created legitimization for the project by downplaying the economic and business information side and stressing the journalistic side of “business journalism.” Newsworthiness for the corporate world was created through Veckans Affärer with existing knowledge about “how to make newspapers.” Business information was seen as yet another area in society that could “be dressed with the costume” of a weekly magazine.

On the other hand, Affärsvärlden created newsworthiness for economic information with a very different approach, drawing on economic-technical ideas and methods and close ties to the academic world at business schools in Sweden. The work by the business graduates at the newspaper was motivated by a desire to learn more about corporations and about accounting practices, organization and management theories, and analytic models and techniques as well as stock market predictions and corporate evaluations.

Paradoxically, the nascent economic news practice was undertaken in two separate contexts that enhanced the separation between business and journalism rather than helping these two worlds of expertise meet and intermingle. Instead, it was at the emerging business desk at the general daily Dagens Nyheter where journalists and business graduates began to work side by side (though with different tasks at the beginning). In combination with the founding of a special association for business journalists, slowly a professional identity of being a “business journalist” that expected and required skills from both journalism and business education developed, and subsequently also formed a logic of appropriateness that was built from both these spheres of expertise.

To conclude, while the expansion and popularization of economic news often is seen as a consequence of the increased general interest in economics and business issues—not least due to the growth of stock markets—the stories of Veckans Affärer and Affärsvärlden add to the complexity. Newsworthiness of economic information and the corporate world was not necessarily a consequence of increased demand for economic information but something that newspaper founders, journalists, and business graduates created long before the stock market became the center of corporate analysis.

The empirical part of this article is mainly based on my 2006 dissertation, “The Development of Business Journalism in Sweden: Historical Roots of an Organizational Field.” Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are mine.

Notes

1.

The success of Veckans Affärer paved the way for Bonnier to also invest in a daily business weekly.

2.

My focus here is on Veckans Affärer, as it was the first newspaper in Sweden with ambitions to make economic information and the corporate world newsworthy for a broader audience.

3.

At the time focusing on topics about “young families” (Larsson 2003).

4.

A weekly that covered news from the pop and rock world.

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