• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

The fuzzy hamster that took Sweden for a ride

The Local · 31 Jan 2014, 18:04

Published: 31 Jan 2014 18:04 GMT+01:00

Börje burst onto the Swedish news scene last Tuesday when an odd wire story came across the TT news agency feed that supplies news to just about every news outlet in Sweden.

"Börje can't be municipality hamster" the headline read. In the brief telegram that followed, news editors could read that the city of Kalmar in southern Sweden had decided the Börje the hamster could not be a municipality hamster.

Readers learned that owner Bo-Göran Sunesson had tried to get rid of little Börje by turning him into a public record (allmän handling). Authorities refused, but laughed about the matter, and Sweden laughed along with them over the cute little unwanted creature.

Soon after the item hit the TT wires, Börje's plight was plastered on news websites across the country. (After considering the item at The Local -- how often does one get to write a story about a hamster -- we ultimately decided to pass as the details were a bit, er, fuzzy).

As it turns out, Börje has one even more remarkable trait than being a Swedish media darling:

He doesn't actually exist. 

For that matter, neither does owner Bo-Göran. They are both figments of the imagination of 21-year-old journalism student Dan Eliasson. Curiosity led Eliasson to employ Börje in a little experiment to learn more about public records in Sweden. But instead, he ended up learning more about the behaviour of Swedish media. 

“In Sweden we have this principle that some things are public, and these public records are very important for a journalist,” Eliasson tells The Local, referring to Sweden’s right to information act (offentlighetsprincipen). “Understanding these documents is one of the keys to journalism. I was also curious about how news travels."

Reflecting on Sweden's information laws and open access to certain types of public records, Eliasson decided to write an email to Kalmar municipality and test the rules “just for fun”.

"I have tried to get rid of Börje but unfortunately nobody wants the sweet little rodent,"  Eliasson wrote, posing as hamster owner Bo-Göran in the email. "Then the thought hit me that if I give him to you, he can be registered (as a public record) and then he can make many people happy."

Municipality officials refused, however, saying that a hamster could not be a public record - and Börje would not become a municipality hamster. The humorous story reached local media and then spread across Sweden via TT's quick summary of local news reports.

Eliasson marveled at how news of Börje spread like wildfire across news sites and social media. Suddenly, it seemed, Sweden was talking about Börje.

But the budding  journalist was even more surprised when only five journalists - and no one from TT - actually tried to track down the original source and speak with mythical owner Bo-Göran Sunesson, even though his email address was readily available.

So on Wednesday, Eliasson went public and let the media know: There is no hamster.

“At first I was just surprised that the story became this big,” Eliasson, who is in his final year of studies at Linné Univesity in Kalmar, told The Local. “And then I became confused, and then almost frustrated that no more than five people tried to find the original source. I was very surprised.”

Eliasson believes the story’s popularity was thanks to the way it tickled Swedish readers – probably in a way that it wouldn’t have if it had been about a dog or a more generic animal.

“I don’t know why I chose a hamster, it just felt right," Eliasson mused. "Maybe because it’s so specific, a gold hamster. But it’s a funny story, and (media) want to get hits on their webpages. It’s funny news stories that gets clicks. The hamster adds something, though; I can’t understand what.”

But the desire for clicks can be dangerous, and Eliasson said the most important thing he learned from the little experiment was to always go back to the original source.

Story continues below…

“It’s not just a Swedish problem, but a problem with media in general,” Eliasson said. “As a journalist you are stressed, and you have to produce a lot in a short amount of time. You might not always find that you have the time to check everything, so you start trusting other media. And that is the centre of the problem. As it’s called in the scientific world, it’s cannibalization…you take someone else’s story and make it your own, so to speak. You trust the other media too much.”

At any rate, Eliasson achieved his goal of learning about public records and Swedish media, and the project turned out to be both entertaining and educational. But Eliasson isn't quite sure he's ready to put Börje to rest. 

“I have actually gotten quite attached to this hamster that everybody finds so interesting,” Eliasson laughed. “So I’ve thought about getting a hamster. He would definitely be called Börje. And I wouldn't give him up, there’s no way he’d be sitting in an archive.”

SEE ALSO: Sweden's most dangerous wildlife - revealed

Editor's Note: The Local's Swede of the Week is someone in the news who - for good or ill - has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as Swede of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

Solveig Rundquist
Follow Solveig on Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
IN PICTURES
Fire rips through apartment block, 157 homes evacuated
The fire on Sunday night. Photo: Anna Hållams/TT

There's a risk the whole building could collapse, emergency services say.

Say 'hej hej hej' to some Swedish sunshine
Stockholmers enjoying a previous spring heatwave in 2014. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

UPDATED: Temperatures are set to top 20C in parts of Sweden this week.

'This would not have happened if I was white'
Yasri Khan. Photo: Marc Femenia/SCANPIX

Former Swedish Muslim politician explains reluctance to shake hands with women as "about my struggle to be allowed to be myself".

Teen boy in sex assault at Swedish asylum home
Silbodalshemmet, the large asylum centre in Årjäng, Värmland. Police have not yet named the centre. Photo: Google Maps

Five men have been arrested after a teenage boy was assaulted.

Presented by Stockholm Business Region
How Stockholm startups help new employees feel at home
Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

Sweden is famous for work-life balance. So what do startups do to make sure expat employees are happy with life in Stockholm?

My Swedish Career
Meet the expat who is now Sweden's youngest PhD
Stefan Buijsman. Photo: Anna-Karin Landin

Stefan Buijsman, 20, just finished a PhD in the philosophy of mathematics. He tells The Local what his work is all about, and why Stockholm was the best place to do it.

Border checks
Sweden fights for EU border controls to stay
Checks on passengers at Kastrup airport in Copenhagen, close to the border with Sweden. Photo: Emil Langvad/TT

The Nordic nation is among six countries asking the European Commission to extend temporary border controls.

Swedish premier pledges 5,000 'emergency' jobs
Swedish prime minister, Stefan Löfven, speaking in Gothenburg. Photo: TT

Swedish prime minister, Stefan Löfven, speaking in Gothenburg, announced a initiative to create 5,000 new 'emergency' jobs for new arrivals to the country.

Sweden's king celebrates on his 70th birthday
King Carl XVI Gustaf joins in with a rendition of All You Need Is Love with the Tensta Gospel Choir and their leader Cedwin Sandanam. Photo: TT

But Norwegian royals stay at home after deadly helicopter crash.

'Disgusted' Swedish boxer retains world crown
Badou Jack (right) catches Lucian Bute with a right-hand. Photo: TT

Badou Jack drew bout but kept World Boxing Council title.

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: Stockholm's secret dating scene
Features
How to be a cool Swede during a hot summer
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Gallery
People-watching: April 29th - May 1st
Analysis & Opinion
Why Sweden's fretting about Brexit
Blog updates

29 April

Editor’s blog, April 29th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Relations between Sweden and Russia went from slightly strained to full-on James Bond this…" READ »

 

18 April

A day as a guard (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Life as an Ambassador. Driven around in the Jaguar. Visits all planned so you go straight…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Kista: The best office space in Sweden?
National
INTERVIEW: Swedish police officer 'beat me up and used racial slurs'
Sponsored Article
Becoming an expat: where to start
Gallery
People-watching: April 27th
National
Öresund bridge border checks net record number of drink drivers
National
Swedes bid farewell to iconic Volvo
Sponsored Article
Why international researchers love to call Malmö home
Gallery
Property of the week: Enköping
Sponsored Article
‘Life in Stockholm’s suburbs is better than people realize’
Gallery
People-watching: April 22nd-24th
Politics
Could Brits in Europe stop Brexit?
Sponsored Article
'I may work at a Swedish company, but we’re global'
National
The first official picture of Sweden's new royal Prince Alexander
Sponsored Article
'A sustainable Sweden must embrace diversity'
National
Sweden's Sami reindeer still live in the shadow of Chernobyl
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 20th
Sponsored Article
What's the best way for expats to transfer money abroad?
National
Why was a Nazi flag hoisted in a Swedish town on Hitler's birthday?
Sponsored Article
Sigtunaskolan: 'The best of what Sweden has to offer'
National
How did Sweden's deputy PM get in trouble over New York comments?
Sponsored Article
'I may work at a Swedish company, but we’re global'
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 16th-17th
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: Stockholm's secret dating scene
Culture
Sweden finally axes historic dancing ban
Sponsored Article
'Swedes must realize only soft power can defeat radicalism'
International
Have you phoned Sweden yet?
Sponsored Article
How to launch your international career
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 13th
Sponsored Article
How Stockholm startups help new employees feel at home
National
Is booze going up in Sweden?
National
How Sweden's fake 'smombie' traffic sign is being used for real
Culture
Sweden's Tarzan drops trousers
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 9th-10th
3,230
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se