Schibsted ASA

Media companies still remain a mystery to me. Here's an industry whose livelihood is partially dependent upon unearthing and reporting information on people, places and things. Yet when the tables are turned they seem to clam up. A prime example: Back in 1987 the Wall Street Journal ran a front page story about my quirky odyssey. A year later I show up in New York City to visit Dow Jones & Company (the parent company) and nobody at the company would have anything to do with me. The list of media companies giving me poor receptions is littered with well known names such as Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, billionaire Newhouse's Advance Publications, Times Mirror (Los Angeles Times), Silvio Berlusconi's Finivest in Italy and Pearson (Financial Times) in London to name a few. So what does it all mean? I've learned not to expect much when visiting media companies.

Schibsted is Norway's largest media group and one of the biggest players in Scandinavia. Besides owning the two largest daily newspapers in Norway and the largest daily in Sweden, the company is the main owner of Scandinavia Online and a 1/3 owner in TV 2, Norway's leading commercial TV channel. Revenues total 890 million with over 5,300 employees.

Headquarters, a cool-looking, nine-story building in downtown Oslo, stands next door and across the street to two large buildings housing Schibsted's two separate flagship daily newspapers. What so cool about the head office? It was formerly a coffee roasting plant. Schibsted's done a terrific job restoring and modernizing the 1870's red brick structure.

Entering, you encounter a five-story atrium with quite a bit of art hanging on a stretch of wall. In one part of the lobby there's a weird scene of about 35 rocks and small boulders scattered about a wood floor (some are glued to the floor). Can't figure out if it's a piece of art or a mess of rocks that hasn't been cleaned up. I also spot a black antique delivery bike resting along a wall. The security guard/receptionist has a pretty nice set-up thanks to the television hanging down from the ceiling and strategically placed for his viewing pleasure. He answers "yes" when asked if he has free rein to watch whatever he pleases. Calls to find out where my letter of introduction sent a month earlier CEO Kjell Aamot turns up nothing so I leave background material with the receptionist and will return visit the next day.

The return visit finds me meeting with Sverre Martin Gunnerud. He says he's an editor but isn't more specific as to what he edits. My first question has to do with the item in the company's annual report saying, "Norwegian's read more newspapers than anybody else in the world". Along with the statement is graph showing the circulation per 1000 inhabitants. Norway ranks first with 600, Japan a close second with 580 followed by Finland and Sweden. I ask Gunnerud if he thinks the graph is true and why. Gunnerud agrees with it and says it's due to the long harsh winters. That would explain the three Nordic countries on the graph but not Japan.

About 50 people work here. Parking is at a premium in the city center and senior management gets free parking spots. Meeting rooms are named after coffees such as the Java and Mocha rooms. Smoking is allowed in offices and the company's art collection is modern and limited to Norwegian artists. Back in 1839, Christian Michael Schibsted (1812-1878) founded the company here in Oslo. Any employee perks? Free lunch.

Gunnerud grabs the keys and unlocks the door for a tour of the small company museum off to the side of the lobby. The boardroom features an oval-shaped table that seats 20 and not much else. I can't see CEO Aamot's top floor corner office because "he's not in".

Gunnerud pretty much goes through the motions and shows no interest in my trek. I tell him I'm going to drop by one of the newspapers to see if they want to do a story about my unusual odyssey and ask for a name of someone to contact. Surprisingly Gunnerud just brushes it off telling me to "try one of the papers in the two nearby buildings". Boy, this "editor" just let a good story get away to a competitor.