• Sweden's news in English
 

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
Video
Hello! This Swedish cover of Adele's hit will blow you away
This is the real Adele. Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Hello! This Swedish cover of Adele's hit will blow you away
7 hours ago

What would Adele sound like if she were Swedish?

Ski region top in Sweden for chlamydia cases
Ski tourists at one of the resorts in Åre, Jämtland. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/SCANPIX

Ski region top in Sweden for chlamydia cases
8 hours ago

It is only February and already 2,728 Swedes have been treated for chlamydia.

Lisa Holm murder
Swedish girl's killer loses case in appeal court
Lisa Holm was killed in Blomberg. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT/Police

Swedish girl's killer loses case in appeal court
10 hours ago

Nerijus Bilevicius still faces life in prison for killing 17-year-old Lisa Holm.

'Naive' Swedes are renting homes to Airbnb hookers
File photo of a couple in a Swedish apartment. Photo: Sandra Qvist

'Naive' Swedes are renting homes to Airbnb hookers
11 hours ago

Is that respectable-looking couple subletting your apartment actually too good to be true?

Sacked Chelsea boss says he could 'not survive' in Sweden
José Mourinho in Arjeplog, Sweden. Photo: Gestifute

Sacked Chelsea boss says he could 'not survive' in Sweden
12 hours ago

What's José Mourinho's problem with Sweden?

Refugee crisis
Immigration concerns swell among Swedish voters
Refugees in southern Sweden in December. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Immigration concerns swell among Swedish voters
12 hours ago

40 percent of Swedes now believe 'integration and immigration' is the biggest issue facing the Nordic nation, a new poll suggests.

Swedish teen beats cocaine stir with 'French kiss' defence
The people pictured are not related to the story. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/Sandra Qvist/TT

Swedish teen beats cocaine stir with 'French kiss' defence
13 hours ago

You may snort at it, but a Swedish appeals court bought this defence hook, line and sinker.

Beyonce slots Stockholm into Formation world tour
Beyonce at the US Superbowl. Photo: Matt Slocum/TT/AP

Beyonce slots Stockholm into Formation world tour
17 hours ago

The Crazy in Love star is heading to Sweden in July.

My Swedish Career
'I was pretty lucky, I sort of just walked into it'
Scott Wallace is manager at a juice bar in Stockholm. Photo: Emma Lidman/The Local

'I was pretty lucky, I sort of just walked into it'
17 hours ago

Scott Wallace moved to Sweden in October 2014. Today he runs a busy juice bar in one of Stockholm's trendiest areas.

Man dies after falling four floors in Swedish nightclub
People queuing outside the Yaki-Da nightclub in Gothenburg last year. Photo: Yaki-Da Facebook

Man dies after falling four floors in Swedish nightclub
2 days ago

A man in his 30s has died after falling from the fourth floor inside the Yaki-Da nightclub in Gothenburg late on Friday night.

Sponsored Article
How to set up shop in the 'Silicon Valley of Sweden'
Culture
Ten fab Swedish hits for February
Sponsored Article
US taxes and FATCA: 'The time for hiding is over'
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: February 6th-7th
Lifestyle
VIDEO: What's the fuss about Sweden's semla bun?
Blog updates

5 February

Editor’s blog, February 5th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, A friend of mine wrote from abroad this week to ask me if international media…" READ »

 

4 February

City Runs (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Since moving to Stockholm I’ve been blessed to live next to the Djurgarden, and to be…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Swiss hospitality: The ladder to your international career
Travel
Stockholm's eight REAL no-go zones
Sponsored Article
Ice magic at north Sweden island lodges
Gallery
People-watching: February 3rd
National
'How confronting the man who robbed me gave me closure'
Analysis & Opinion
DEBATE: Why are Swedes so obsessed with Nordic skiing?
Sponsored Article
Just landed? Here's the secret to finding work in Stockholm
Culture
See which Swedish museums are now opening up for free
Sponsored Article
Stockholm's secret ski resort: Kungsberget
Gallery
Property of the week: Insjön, Nacka
National
VIDEO: Tensions caught on camera inside Swedish asylum home
Sponsored Article
Luleå: 8 winter must-dos in Sweden's far north
Gallery
People-Watching: January 29th - 31st
International
How will Sweden deport up to 80,000 failed asylum seekers?
Sport
When you gotta go... Swedish racing dog does poo and then takes gold
Sport
Guess who just got a HUGE pay rise?
Travel
WATCH: Five top tips for safe ice skating on Sweden's gorgeous lakes
Gallery
People-watching: January 27th
National
'Sweden could be at war within years'
Gallery
Property of the week: Öjersbo, Kungsbacka
International
Why is the Pope coming to Sweden?
Travel
Ten must-see Stockholm museums
National
He created Sweden's huge snow penis
Culture
The historic moment when Abba reunited on stage in Sweden
Analysis & Opinion
OPINION: Why I can't embrace Sweden's obsession with hugging
3,421
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