On 9 May 2007 Finland’s first English-language weekly newspaper was published. The idea was to fill a demand for news about Finland in English. Finland has always been an open nation, but in 2007 a fundamental change was happening. There was a surge of immigrants who needed news in an international language. Native Finns were more outward-looking than ever. There was interest in Finland around the world, thanks to success in business and sport and social issues. All of this contributed to a need for English-language news from Finland.
Helsinki Times issue 1 had articles about the Finnish band HIM, the national hockey team, new Nokia mobile phone models and the economics of hosting Eurovision. I wrote the Eurovision story. Since that time I have either had a column or news story in every single issue. It didn’t matter if I was sick or on vacation or had writer’s block: for more than seven years I never missed an issue. Over 390 issues I wrote about economics, investing, politics, social welfare and business.
Now the Times has applied for bankruptcy. There were interested potential buyers, but the owners of the newspaper were afraid of it being used for propaganda purposes by foreign owners and decided to shut it down instead.
I was only a freelancer, so can’t claim to have any real inside knowledge about the happenings inside the Helsinki Times offices. But I do know what has been occurring in the publishing business. Around the world newspapers are shutting down or cutting staff. The digitisation of the industry makes it hard enough on traditional newspapers, but the ongoing economic slump makes it worse. Sometimes I’m not surprised that the Helsinki Times had to fold, but that it lasted as long as it did.
There are other English-language sources for news in Finland. The national broadcaster YLE has several services in English and Finlandtimes is a new online publisher, for instance. There are also many specialised publishers, some of which I write for, like Good News From Finland and thisisFINLAND. In this day and age many people probably get their English-language news about Finland from social media. Yet none of these sources try to cover the same ground of traditional news reporting like Helsinki Times did. The demise of Helsinki Times will leave a hole which will not be filled, and we are all the worse off for it.
Writing for Helsinki Times has been good for me. It allowed me to go on and write books for major publishers. If I hadn’t written for the Times I wouldn’t have gotten to write my first book, Mohamed 2.0. If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t have written my next books. I probably wouldn’t be in such demand to write articles about Finland. All of this is directly due to writing for Helsinki Times.
Alexis Kouros, the main owner and editor in chief, has been particularly good to me. Writing books and articles for other publishers took my time away from his paper, but instead of discouraging me he has freely given me advice and support, proofread my work, gave me his opinions and wrote letters of introduction. I can’t say enough how grateful I am for Alexis. He is a class act through-and-through.
Helsinki Times was a small, specialised operation, but I am continually surprised at how many people read it. I have received letters and emails from people around the world. I can’t count the number of times I’ve met someone who knew who I was from my columns. Once I was even recognised by a person in Chicago’s O’Hare airport.
Helsinki Times may have been small, but it did have its share of successes. It reported about racism and social injustices, particularly those wrongs committed on the immigrant population. This will probably be its legacy.
The paper had some traditional investigative reporting triumphs, too. I was part of one scoop where we reported that Nordea Bank took emergency funding from the Federal Reserve during the height of the financial crisis. No, it wasn’t of the same calibre as the Watergate scandal or Edward Snowden revelations, but the activities of Scandinavia’s largest bank during the crisis were certainly newsworthy and in the public interest. A scrappy little newspaper on a shoe-string budget pulled it off while the big publishers missed it entirely. I’m proud of what we achieved over the past seven years.