Technology defeats tradition for world’s oldest newspaper

The world's oldest newspaper, Sweden's Post och Inrikes Tidningar, has embraced the digital age, ending its run as a print publication and opting to be published exclusively on the Internet.

Founded in 1645 by Queen Christina, the Post och Inrikes Tidningar (PoIT)- or Post and Domestic Newspapers – was a staple for readers in Sweden throughout the late 17th and 18th century.

But its readership dwindled as rival newspapers appeared, confining PoIT primarily to the publication of announcements from publicly listed companies, and financial and legal institutions by the 1900s.

While the paper has not covered news stories for more than 100 years, the World Association of Newspapers recognises PoIT as the world’s oldest still in publication.

In its electronic format, launched on January 1, PoIT remains the official news organ of the government – a role enshrined in Swedish law – as it has been since the 17th century.

“The change in format is of course a major departure, for some possibly a little sad, but it is also a natural step,” PoIT’s new editor-in-chief Roland Hägglund told AFP.

Hägglund said he believed the move to the Internet would breathe new life into the paper.

“It will definitely widen our readership. Now anyone with Internet access can read PoIT free of charge,” said Haegglund, the sole full-time employee of the paper since its incorporation into Bolagsverket, the Swedish Companies Registration Office, at the beginning of the year.

“You couldn’t just chance upon the print version. Now everyone has the chance to be informed.”

“It was Queen Christina and her chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, who started the paper in 1645,” said Hans Holm, the last editor-in-chief of the newsprint format.

Taxes levied by the Swedish government for its participation in The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) against what is now Germany had drained the population’s assets causing widespread misery.

“Oxenstierna realised there was discontent in the country. They were forced to report where all the money was going,” Holm said.

As information became more available, PoIT broadened its international and domestic news coverage and included information on illness, epidemics and the Swedish exchange rate.

The paper also published weather observations, poetry and serialised novels, but never pictures nor advertisements.

“By the 18th century it was a fully news-based paper,” Holm said.

PoIT enjoyed a monopoly in news coverage until the emergence of competitors such as Aftonbladet in 1879, which remains one of Sweden’s leading daily tabloids.

As the number of rival newspapers multiplied, PoIT reduced its news content and by the early 1900s it was no longer the paper of reference for Sweden’s news-reading public.

In its final years in print, public company announcements were taking up between 20 and 30 pages – often more than half the paper. The remainder was devoted to material such as announcements of legal proceedings and the Swedish royal family’s official engagements.

In 1978, the paper adopted the booklet format and the final print version of the paper – published on December 29, 2006 – had a circulation of some 1,500.

PoIT’s primary subscribers are banks, courts, lawyers, libraries, and local and national authorities.

With a view to cutting costs Sweden’s justice ministry launched an enquiry into PoIT’s future which led in October 2005 to a decision by parliament to transfer responsibility for the running of the paper to Bolagsverket.

The move also ushered in the paper’s changeover from its print version to a purely web-based edition from January 1, 2007.

Nicholas Chipperfield