Janne Strang Editorial: The Slip & Slide of Swedish in Finland

As FNB Swedish-language news service closes down, Janne Strang looks at the wider decline of Swedish in Finland.

File photo of a chalkboard with the question talar du svenska?, do you speak Swedish? / Credit: iStock

The turn of the new year saw another domain loss for those who cherish the idea of Finland as a bilingual country, when news service FNB Finska notisbyrån, the Swedish language department of STT News Agency, closed for good.  

For 130 years FNB had been serving the Swedish language news media in Finland – as well as the Nordic countries – with the bulk of domestic and local daily news, but could no longer keep up with the times.

The true reasons for its demise in the context of economic and social history are yet to be properly analysed and understood, but it’s clear that FNB’s own customers – and owners –the Swedish-language newspapers had lost faith in the organisation’s capability to deliver.

For years already there had been gross dissatisfaction with FNB’s products and services. In September last year, the Swedish-language newspapers jointly announced their withdrawal from cooperation with FNB, effectively signing its death sentence and putting another ten Finnish journalists out of a job. 

Failure To Modernise

It would be foolish to apportion blame without deep insider knowledge of the deterioration process – FNB was a victim of several pressuring conditions. The marginalisation of the Swedish language in Finland and the inevitably following loss of interest in Swedish media at large, is perhaps the primary mega-trend at work here, but it seems to me from my own experience with the firm, there was also an inability to adjust to modern communication and moulding the content in a more contemporary way.

Where were the handy info videos and other social media-friendly formats? What was the edge setting FNB’s content apart from, and ahead of, the field? FNB went to its grave with poorly written, style-blind, lazy translations and cautiously-narrated 20th century news briefs, so dry ayou’d often fall asleep mid-sentence in the headlines. 

The story of FNB’s downfall is the story awaiting any enterprise stuck in its rut, lost in an age-old image of itself and blind to the evolving needs of their customers.

Again, without proper insight into the politics within STT/FNB and its relationship on executive level with the papers, it’s hard to pinpoint the culprits, but the fact that nothing radical was seemingly done in spite of years of mistrust and dissatisfaction, begs the question how well the leaders of media organisations actually perform within their core competence of communication. 

Swedish Declines

Whenever something Swedish is cut down or disappears from Finnish public life, there are cries of outrage and demands of compensation. It’s a gruesome fact, though, that hardly any Swedish enterprise is economically viable. The privately owned, well-off Fenno-Swedish culture funds are carrying an awful lot of the Swedish language public service and cultural life on their broad shoulders.

Every mainstream Swedish newspaper in Finland is owned by one of the funds, who also support the arts and artists, publishing houses, theatres, kindergartens, event organisers, education providers, think tanks, lobbyists and a vast range of projects all through the Southern and Western coastline. Without them, the Swedish language in Finland, now spoken natively by barely 5% of the population, would soon retreat into the private realm. 

It is more than cruel irony that, simultaneously, the Finnish Minister of Culture Sampo Terho (Blue) lists the eradication of the Swedish language from Finland as one of his main political goals and favourite pastimes. Still, this arguably pathetic resentment against Fenno-Swedish culture is but one line in his party’s greater ambition to impede the evolution of the multicultural society. 

New Media Model

But as the FNB old dog was taken behind the barn for a ride to a farm upstate, a puppy was delivered in the form of SPT, Svensk presstjänst – a new Swedish language news agency serving the main papers in Uusimaa and Ostrobothnia.

Ten agile journos carrying their laptops in backpacks and working from home or from coffee shops, went into action in November and have been steadily providing HBL, Vasabladet and their smaller affiliate papers with inter-regional news bits and reportage.

SPT does not aim to fill the void left by FNB regarding bulk news from Finland for export and domestic consumption. Their greater role, if one on the cusp of a new year is allowed to predict the future, is to spearhead the inevitable merger of all mainstream Finnish newspapers into one. 

This homogenization has been the dominant trend in the field during the last ten plus years, and just because the quality has gotten worse, budget losses grown bigger, staff reductions frequent and reader satisfaction has plummeted, it is no reason not soldier on toward the bottom. For as one of the many CEO’s who’ve come and gone during these tumultuous times so fittingly put it, describing both the state of Fenno-Swedes and their media, as well as the bleak, visionless incompetence at its helm: “We’ll just have to believe it will work”.