Between societal mission and market demands

A study of the role of editors-in-chief in leading Norwegian and Swedish media companies from 1985 to 2015 (Engelska)



The dissertation analyses changes in the role of editors-in-chief in ten leading Norwegian and Swedish media houses – today owned by either Bonnier or Schibsted – in light of the potential tensions between journalistic ideals and market demands. This duality is studied over a period of 30 years, from 1985 to 2015. The most defining changes in the structural framework under which editors-in-chief work are the ongoing technological revolution, the transformation from an analogue into a digital society, and structural, economic changes related to this development. Methodologically, the study builds on data from qualitative in-depth interviews, mainly with 33 past and present editors-in-chief. It also contains a study of how the role of editors-in-chief has been reported and discussed in the magazines of two media branch organisations. The changing role of editors-in-chief is analysed within an institutional perspective. The main empirical results are as follows: (1) Owners and company management have considered the recruitment of editors-in-chief to be highly important throughout the period, and they have used their influence actively. Internal recruitment processes are a standard procedure. Very few of those chosen are women; men recruit other men. The last decade shows a recruitment process becoming more centralized and professionalized. (2) Most editors-in-chief represented in the study have a background in the newsroom. This has traditionally been the main qualification. (3) Regular meetings have structured most of the working hours for editors-in-chief. From an institutional perspective, meetings have played a norm-setting and ritualised role. During the last decade, some of those meetings have included not only journalists but also employees from other departments. (4) Those respondents who were active during the last period investigated perceive the increased speed of work on a daily basis and the more complex editorial role as the main changes and challenges. (5) Many of the respondents are so-called ‘silent’ editors. Due to a lack of time, they do not write much in their own papers. Lately, this has changed to some extent, especially among Swedish editors. This finding is one of the major differences between Norwegian and Swedish editors-in-chief. (6) Editors are still responsible for journalistic content, but demands on the part of commercial management have gradually become more important, and strategic decisions have become more centralized. The metaphor about the need to balance the demands of the ‘Marketplace and Cathedral’ has been replaced by the metaphor ‘We are all in the same boat’. The journalistic institution is under pressure. (7) Despite the immense technological and economic changes in the business and in the structural framework, there is also stability in the role due to the robust nature of journalism as an institution. The role of editor-in-chief is complex, and during the last 30 years, it has become even more so. The structural conditions have affected the role in various ways. While the basic tasks of editors-in-chief remain rooted in editorial work, downsizing and market demands have simultaneously undermined the autonomy and power of editors-in-chief, especially in relation to central media group management.

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    Doctoral Thesis (peer reviewed)
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About the Author

Turid Borgen

Turid Borgen obtained har PhD in journalism from Stockholm University in May 2017. Her thesis has the title "Between societal mission and market demands. A study of the role of editors-in-chief in leading Norwegian and Swedish media companies fro... Read more


Borgen, T. (2017). Between societal mission and market demands: A study of the role of editors-in-chief in leading Norwegian and Swedish media companies from 1985 to 2015 (Engelska). Diss. Stockholm: Stockholms universitet.