Rural citizen journalism and fake news in the spotlight
Who takes over when local reporters are no longer able to cover certain areas? Radio Sweden visited the northern county of Jämtland, where citizen initiatives as well as right-wing extremist propaganda websites have sprung up in the absence of journalists.
In Sweden, as many as one in eight local councils lack continuous media coverage. And these blank spots for journalism risk increasing, according to the government's recently-presented media inquiry.
Earlier this year an article about a small village in the northern county of Jämtland started spreading in social media. It claimed that village schoolgirls had been assaulted by a group of young refugees.
Fredrik Vestberg, a reporter at Swedish Radio's local news channel in Jämtland, and his colleagues decided to look into the story, but no-one in the village was able to confirm the story as true. The reporters found instead that the website that had reported on the alleged assault was linked to a right-wing extremist organisation called the Nordic Resistance Movement. Reporting on local news is part of the movement's strategy for spreading propaganda.
But propaganda websites are not the only alternative that has cropped up when local journalists disappear. Many of the villages in the Jämtland county have their own Facebook groups – and these groups make up a valuable news source for Karin Jonsson, culture editor at the regional newspaper Östersunds-Posten.
This type of citizen journalism could help nuance the sometimes stereotypical image of rural areas as portrayed in traditional media, according to journalist Lisa Bjurwald. She has spent the past autumn scrutinising the state of Swedish local news on behalf of the Blank Spot Project, a platform for journalists investigating overlooked corners of the world.
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