• 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
Presented by Invest Stockholm
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges

It’s no secret that Stockholm is serious about sustainability. We took a look at how the city's emerging startups are tackling global challenges, making the world a better place.

Warm weather melts H&M profits
An H&M store in central Stockholm. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

A warm autumn may be good news for Swedes, but it was bad news for Sweden's biggest clothing brand.

Rail delays after heavy winds batter Sweden
The weather is expected to clear up. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Commuters were advised to take it easy in traffic on Friday, after harsh winds toppled trees across roads and railways across Sweden.

Volvo recalls 127,000 cars worldwide
Volvo is recalling 127,000 cars. Photo: Björn Lindgren/TT

Do you own a Volvo? Read this.

The Local Recipes
Swedish food: How to make sweetened lingonberries
Sweetened lingonberries. Photo: John Duxbury/Swedish Food

Possibly the most Swedish food there is. Food writer John Duxbury shares his recipe with The Local's readers.

Opinion
Sweden bad, Norway good, Trump better? I'm confused
Photo: Jon Olav Nesvold/NTB scanpix/TT & Kristin Streff/AP/TT

Sweden is neither a socialist paradise nor an internationalist hell. The truth, argues The Local's reporter Lee Roden, lies somewhere in the middle.

Sweden loses fastest internet crown
Good luck untangling those. Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman /SvD /TT

Worse still, the new European king is Norway.

Where to see the Northern Lights in Sweden
The Northern Lights pictured in Sweden on Wednesday night. Photo: Norrsken Sverige

An unusually high level of solar activity means the spectacle could be visible from rare spots in the country.

The Local List
These are the brands Swedes love the most
What brands do the Swedes love the most? Photo: Per Groth/Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman/SvD/Pontus Lundahl/TT

Revealed: Swedes' top-20 favourite brands.

Spotify launches new karaoke style streaming in Japan
Can karaoke help Spotify to crack Japan? Photo: DocChewbacca/Flickr creative commons

The Swedish streaming giant has taken inspiration from Japan's love of karaoke with its launch in the country.

Sponsored Article
‘I view the world in a different way now’
Gallery
People-watching: September 28th
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
National
Aliens' sex lives? Why Swedes want Nasa to send a condom into space
Analysis & Opinion
'If Sweden really wants startups, drop the red tape on migration'
Blog updates

27 September

Cutting your nose …. (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Last week, Jeremy Browne, the Special Representative for the City of London, visited Sweden. Jeremy was…" READ »

 

7 September

Svensk or svenska? (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! My inbox is full of questions :-). Here’s one about when to use “svensk” and…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Expat finances in Sweden: the Common Reporting Standard
Gallery
Property of the week: Gotland
Sponsored Article
Let's Talk: a personal Swedish language tutor in your pocket
National
Trump an 'embarrassment' Springsteen tells Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 23rd-25th
Politics
Russian Sweden Democrat aide resigns over suspect deal
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
National
Muslim teacher leaves job after not shaking male colleague's hand
Sponsored Article
'Creating a sense of home': Collective living in Stockholm
Travel
Why we adore autumn in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 21st
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
Stockholmers hunt killer badger after attack on neighbourhood hipster cat
Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: 'So much more than beaches'
The Local Voices
Why this Russian developer is committed to helping refugees - with tech
National
Six key points in Sweden's budget plan
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
The Local Voices
How a Swedish name finally made recruiters notice this Iranian's CV
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Gallery
Property of the week: Luleå
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Gallery
People-watching: September 16th-18th
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
Culture
Why Swedish TV has given these kids' trucks a sex swap
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
National
TIMELINE: Everything you need to know about the Julian Assange case
Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden’s ’a-kassa’
Gallery
People-watching: September 14th
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Politics
Why Sweden is putting troops on holiday dream island Gotland
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
The Local Voices
'What I mean when I say: I came here to blow myself up'
Society
VIDEO: Are Swedes that unfriendly?
Features
INTERVIEW: How Arthur the jungle dog opened hearts and minds
Gallery
Property of the week: Smögen, Västra Götaland
Society
Sweden's ancient forest tongue Elfdalian fights for survival
The Local Voices
'Whenever I apply for jobs I’m treated like an unwanted stranger'
The Local Voices
Is Swedish bosses' ignorance keeping refugees out of jobs?
3,006
jobs available