Columnist rocks the kiosk!

One of the dearest words in Norwegian journalists’ vocabulary is “kioskvelter” – which can be translated (though admittedly not very elegantly) as “newsstand-overturner”. The dream of all journalists, to produce a piece of news so sensational that the public storm the kiosks and fight for copies.

Seeing the list of the 10 most read articles on in 2005, the kioskvelter image came to mind. On top of the list, columnist Maureen Dowd’s “What’s a Modern Girl to Do?”. An essay 95 percent of Norwegian editors would have dismissed as “long grass”, almost 30.000 characters, most read of all stories! OK, the topic – feminism, the relationship between the sexes – is a popular one, but the piece is very in-depth, written in a personal style, with lots of references to science, history, culture and society. That piece as no. 1 is a real surprise.

Or is it? In an essay in the anthology “Media and Media Power”, recently published by the Swedish Ax:son Johnson Foundation, Dagens Nyheter’s political editor Niklas Ekdal argues that gifted writers increasingly are today’s agenda-setters:

…I am convinced that in a media cacophony where everything is about soundbites, images and reflexes, the relative weight of the coherently written sentence increases dramatically.(…) You might call it the quality paradox of the modern media landscape. The more news muzak we are treated with, the more we crave for classical compositions. The more streamlined the media message, the bigger the impact of the truly original idea or the boldly stated opposing view.

Ekdal laments the commodification of news reporting, but to his credit he claims that “serious analysis and high quality reporting will not go away – the only question is where they will go when the old media behemoths crumble”.

On the top 10 list, four are columnist pieces and one an editorial. Without knowing the details of traffic structure, it would still be fair to guess that one of the reasons for the remarkable success of the Dowd article must be traffic generated by the ever increasing blog discussion. Over 17.000 blog posts indexed by Technorati contain the phrase “Maureen Dowd”. The discussion peaked around October 30, when the essay was published:

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The idea that the value of originality and creativity will increase in an age of cacophony is a favourite topic on this blog. And when you find someone agrees with you, it’s easy to get carried away. So let’s close this with a couple of eh, more problematic examples. Dagbladet’s top 100 list of 2005 is headed by a piece with the irresistible headline “This way you can get half price in hotels”. And over at our state broadcaster NRK kioskvelter no. 1 was simply – why beat about the bush – “Women expose their abdomen”.