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Sweden
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Creative ferment, experiments with 24/7 news sites and economic turmoil mark the online news scene in Sweden.

"The situation in Sweden for online news is a bit uncertain," says Torbj?rn von Krogh, editor of Pressens Tidning (Press Journal), a fortnightly newsmagazine about the media. "Very few publishers make money on the Net, but many want to. The specialized business press is beginning to charge for content or make it available only to the subscribers of the print paper."

These times are less about innovation than about payback. Online newspapers that have been free are now trying to charge for content.

The tabloid Aftonbladet, Sweden's largest newspaper with a daily circulation of about 400,000, is the country's biggest online news success story, with 1.4 million visitors a month. The news site, which burst onto the Web in the primordial days of 1994, has managed to avoid the tabloid tag, attracting a raft of young readers, winning a number of news site awards, and performing well financially.

Von Krogh points to Sourze as an inspired site aimed at young people who want to debate the social and political issues of the day. Pay a small fee (about $10) and you can have your article published, sometimes next to articles by more established writers. If your piece is the best-read article of the month, you win a prize of almost $1,000. "Everyone has something to tell," as the site owners put it.

Paul Frigyes, a reporter for the magazine Journalisten (The Journalist), recently wrote several articles about online publishing in Sweden. "To be frank," he says by e-mail, "these times are less about innovation than about payback. Online newspapers that have been free are now trying to charge for content, since the ad market plummeted last autumn.

"First up are the online business magazines, which are trying to sign up paying subscribers in a win-or-disappear effort this spring. The Web-only daily E24 is trying this route (charging a bit under 50 cents a day or about $86 a year), and we'll see the results by April. They've signed up only 5,000 Web subscribers so far, and in February they announced they are considering launching a print publication. Dagens Industri, a daily newspaper and Web site, has a very refined functionality, which makes it the most interesting online publication in Sweden in my eyes. Click on a business's name in a news story and it will take you to a backgrounder with stats on the company. In February they introduced tiered pricing for premium content like this."

Clouding the financial outlook for content sites is the recent decision by SVT, the state-controlled public television network, to become a major news player by publishing 24-hour breaking news and Web versions of their broadcast programs. "It's caused controversy because it makes it very difficult for other Swedish news sites to charge for journalism when they provide it free," Frigyes says.

All in all, he says, "There's a major shakeout going on. As far as journalists in general, I don't think they put much faith or trust in online journalism nowadays."

Karl-Erik Tallmo, a lecturer, publisher of the cultural Web magazine The Art Bin and author of three books, including Sweden's first hypertext novel (1992), takes a similar view. He notes that a number of newspapers have begun scaling back their Web editions, removing search functionality and steering users toward paid archives. Some, like the big daily Svenska Dagbladet, are considering subscription models.

IDG-owned Computer Sweden, published three times a week, has a large site that recently staked out a novel approach by limiting access to readers of the print newspaper. But Tallmo calls it "restriction light" because the password is printed in the print edition and changed once a month, so many non-subscribers obtain the password easily.

Interesting things are also cropping up in small way stations on the Net. Journalists who dream of breaking free and setting up shop online should stop by journalist Ulf Wigh's own news service, which he runs with his wife and associates in the town of Norrk?ping. Another modest-sized news service comes from the Web portal Spray. And two alternative news sites with a leftist-anarchist slant are Flashback and Yelah.net.

Cultural magazines offer a few cooperative efforts online, Tallmo notes. Swedish Web-only zines provide samples of their articles at the super-directory Tidskrift Nu. And Eurozine offers a network of cultural magazines from all over Europe.

Noteworthy sites

Aftonbladet
SVT24 24-hour news channel
(and English version)Sourze
Dagens Industri

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