Fréttablaðið, Iceland’s First Freely Distributed Newspaper, Shuttered

Fréttablaðið

The publication of Fréttablaðið, the first newspaper to be distributed for free in Iceland, has ceased. All broadcasts on the television station Hringbraut will also come to a close. Approximately 100 people have been laid off in what the editor of Fréttablaðið has called “a shock for democracy in Iceland.”

Decision caught many by surprise

In a press release this morning, the company Torg (which operates Fréttablaðið, Hringbraut, and DV) announced that a decision had been made to shutter Fréttablaðið, which has been published continuously since 2001. Furthermore, all broadcasts from the television station Hringbraut will cease.

As noted by Vísir, a staff meeting was called at Torg’s office in Hafnartorg, Reykjavík, this morning, where employees were informed of the pending changes. According to Vísir’s sources, there had been “great uncertainty about the future of Fréttablaðið among the employees for some time.” The news, nonetheless, caught many by surprise – not least those who were off duty or were engaged in projects out of town.

An announcement from Torg cites “various reasons” why the operations had failed:

“There are many reasons why Fréttablaðið’s business is unsustainable. Partly it is down to bad luck and partly it is an unavoidable development, as the publication of print media has rapidly subsided, not least in this country. Digital media is gradually taking over. Also, the operating environment of private media in Iceland is uninviting. There is nothing to do but face these facts. All employees of Torg were paid their salaries today.”

The announcement further cites the pandemic as a reason for Fréttablaðið’s operational troubles, as well as a dramatic decline in ad revenues: “During the epidemic, government support for private media was introduced, which was appreciated, although it did not suffice to sustain larger media companies. Subsequently, the government has provided financial support to the activities of the media, but that contribution has dwindled.”

Torg’s announcement states that the operation of the websites DV.is and Hringbraut.is would continue alongside the publication of Iceland Magazine.

Editor speaks out

After the news broke, Sigmundur Ernir Rúnarsson, editor of Fréttablaðið, stated that this was “a sad day” for his colleagues at Torg, who had collaborated on the publication of the newspaper, the operation of its website, alongside the production of television programmes and podcasts. According to Vísir, twelve employees of DV.is will keep their jobs.

Sigmundur Ernir told Vísir that employees had worked hard to “revive Fréttablaðið under very difficult conditions, after the pandemic, after the war in Ukraine, which has had a great impact on the operation, and, in fact, the operation of all private media. There is a cross-political agreement to foster one media outlet – that of the state media. The others can do what they want. Everyone who runs a private media company today knows that they are very heavily targeted by the public sector. [It remains to be seen whether there is any] interest in running a democratic, vigorous media in the country.”

As noted by Vísir, Fréttablaðið was first published on Monday, April 23, 2001. Its first editor was Einar Karl Haraldsson. The publication of the paper marked a turning point in Icelandic media history, as the paper was distributed free of charge to homes and advertising revenue served as the basis for its operations. As a result, the paper soon became the most widely read in the country.

Record Number of Overnight Stays in Iceland in February

Tourists hiking to Sapphire Ice Cave.

A record number of overnight stays were registered in Iceland in February or 575,300. This is a 45% increase from 2022 and a 9.4% increase from 2018, the previous record year.

Hotel accommodation increased in all parts of the country

As noted by Statistics Iceland, a record number of overnight stays were registered in Iceland in February or 575,300. This is a 45% increase from 2022 and a 9.4% increase from 2018, which was the previous record year.

The number of overnight stays in February by foreign tourists accounted for ca. 79% of the total, or around 455,100. This is a 55% increase from February 2022 (i.e. 396,400). By comparison, the overnight stays by Icelanders were ca. 120,100, which is a 15% increase from February 2022 (104,500).

Statistics Iceland also notes that of the 575,300 total overnight stays, 435,700 were spent in hotels and guesthouses and about 139,600 in other types of registered accommodation (apartment accommodation, holiday homes, campsites, etc.). The estimated number of foreign overnight stays in home accommodation, outside the traditional overnight registration, in February was around 75,000.

Overnight stays in hotels in February were 371,900, which is a 37% increase from last year (270,900). Hotel accommodation increased in all parts of the country compared to February 2022. Foreign tourists accounted for 304,900 of overnight stays in hotels, or 82% of the total, while the number of nights spent by Icelanders was 62,300 (18%). The overnight stays of foreign tourists increased by 46% and the overnight stays of Icelanders by 8% when compared to last year.

Lastly, the availability of hotel rooms in February increased by 5% from February 2022. Room occupancy in hotels was 65.9% and increased by 14.9% from the previous year.

Partial Easing of Evacuation Orders in East Fjords Announced

East Iceland March 2023

About 800 people have had to leave their homes due to the risk of avalanches in East Iceland. After reevaluating conditions this morning, the local authorities have announced a partial easing of evacuation orders, Vísir reports.

800 people forced to evacuate their homes

As noted yesterday, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management issued evacuation orders for parts of Eskifjörður, Stöðvarfjörður, and Fáskrúðsfjörður, three towns in the East Fjords region, due to the risk of slush floods. Evacuation orders were also in effect for nearby Neskaupstaður and Seyðisfjörður.

Local authorities have now decided to ease some of the evacuation orders, given that the greatest risk of avalanches has passed – although there remains a risk of slush floods. Avalanche experts have been assessing the conditions this morning and will continue to monitor the situation today, according to Víðis Reynisson, a senior police officer with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

“The night was pretty uneventful. We received information about two slush floods spilling over roads but nothing serious. Nonetheless, the situation is such that there are about 800 people who have had to leave their homes these days and are still away from home. The situation is being fully assessed at the moment,” Víðir told RÚV this morning.

Very few forced to seek refuge at public shelters

Although partial evacuation orders have been lifted, it is clear that not everyone will be allowed to return to their homes today. Víðir told RÚV that the vast majority of the 800 people who had been made to leave their homes had been taken in by friends and family and that, in some places, public shelters had been closed last night as no one had sought refuge. The shelters have, however, been reopened this morning.

As noted by RÚV, the roads in and out of the east fjords remain closed: Fjarðarheiði, Fagridalur, the road from the tunnels to Neskaupstaður, and east Vatnsskarð. Víðir stated that work was being done to open the main roads.

Update: The Icelandic MET Office has decided to lift the evacuation orders for several areas in Seyðisfjörður, Eskifjörður, and Neskaupstaður.

This article was updated at 09.59 AM.

National Football Team Parts Ways with Head Coach Arnar Þór

Football, head coach

The board of the Football Association of Iceland (KSÍ) has fired the head coach of the men’s national football team, Arnar Þór Viðarsson. KSÍ Chairperson Vanda Sigurgeirsdóttir has stated that the association was not convinced Arnar Þór was “the right person” to take the team forward.

A “difficult decision”

As noted in a press release on KSÍ’s website yesterday, the association’s board has decided to terminate the head coach of the men’s national football team, Arnar Þór Viðarsson. According to the statement, KSÍ considers the termination a “necessary step, taken with the team’s interest in mind, so as to return the team to the forefront of the sport.”

The press release quotes Chair of KSÍ, Vanda Sigurgeirsdóttir: “This is, of course, a difficult decision, but we consider it necessary and correct with the interests of the team in mind. Arnar has done many good things here at KSÍ ​​and deserves praise for his work, which was often carried out in challenging situations. We will now immediately turn our attention to finding his successor, in order to start preparations for the team’s next matches, which will take place this summer.”

As noted by Vísir.is, Arnar was appointed head coach of the Icelandic national team at the end of 2020. He managed the team for 31 games. Under his direction, the team won six games, drew thirteen, and lost twelve (a win percentage of 19.4%). Before Arnar was hired as the national team coach, he led the U-21 national team and, among other things, reached the European Championship finals.

Arnar led the Icelandic national team for the last time in two matches in the UEFA Euro 2024 qualifying tournament earlier this month. Iceland lost its first match to Bosnia, 3-0, prior to dispatching Liechtenstein in quite comfortable fashion, 7-0.

“Not the right person”

After the news broke, Chair Vanda Sigurgeirsdóttir spoke to a reporter for the TV channel Stöð 2: “The board convened yesterday, and we started discussing these issues, and it just became clear that there was no faith in the project and there was no faith that Arnar Þór was the right person. We had another meeting earlier today and the decision was made.”

Vanda added that the decision to sack Arnar was not discussed with the players, but the board stood by its decision: “We stand behind our decision. But no, we didn’t discuss this with the players.”

Deep North Episode 19: Nothing to Speak Of

icelandic language education

With a growing economy, Iceland is home to more foreign-born residents than ever. And although Icelandic is often described as an “impossible” language to learn, the barriers to learning Icelandic are more often social and economic. We look at the shortcomings of Icelandic as a second language education, and ask what’s to be done.

Read the whole story here.