The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

John Grönvall, Mats Nylund: Government and collaborative media as platforms - New democratic initiatives in Helsinki

John Grönvall, Arcada University of Applied Science and Helsinki University

Mats Nylund

The digitalization of our society has meant a major paradigm shift for the news media industry. We see a declining in sales of printed newspapers and an intensified competition for advertising revenue on the whole. The discourse of the crisis of journalism is comprehensive (GrЎnvall, 2015; Picard et al., 2010; Spyridou et al., 2013; Wurff and Schoenbach, 2014; Zelizer, 2013). Most media houses are in a situation where new disruptive business models are needed to ensure the future of their success. They either have to adapt and change, or seize to exist (Lehman-Wilzig and Cohen-Avigdor, 2004).

Moreover, the traditional public service media are currently under scrutiny in many European countries. The critique is coming partly from the commercial media who do not qualify for state support and consider public service as competitors (Syvertsen et al., 2014: 124). Most of these developments build on the advance of social media platforms (Hermida et al., 2012) and a diverse range of mobile technology applications that effectively remove the need for the middlemen and thus foreshorten the distance between producer and consumer.

News about global affairs is available free via Twitter, Google and Facebook. Since most of national news is also easily obtainable from the web, the only remaining market potential for today’s news media industry resides in covering news at the hyper-local level. So far this is a segment that underutilized and also challenging for the global platform conglomerates to control.

Concurrently, the whole sociology of consumption in general and the media consumption culture in particular are changing. We are moving from a traditional one-to-many model of mass-media content production towards a many-to-many collaborative social model where sharing and peer-to-peer communication is becoming the norm. In the process, the traditional way of understanding media content as product is giving way to new conducts of interacting with media as a vehicle for provision of services and as an enabler of new experiences, moving from a traditional manufacturing mind-set towards a more service-dominant media logic (Viljakainen, 2015).

Meanwhile, the growing sharing economy has grown into a disruptive force that further challenge these traditional business models by offering platforms that create opportunities for micro work, crowdsourcing and a multitude of online businesses. Consequently, there has been an upsurge of recent scholarly interest in sharing economy concepts (see: Botsman & Rogers 2010; John 2013; Rosen et al. 2011; Lahti & Selosmaa 2013; Rifkin 2014; Teubner 2014; Harmaala 2015). We assume, in accordance with Jenkins et al. (2013), that these sharing activities are connected to value creation. However, the majority of media companies have yet to discover how to benefit from the pluralism of networked activities that these platforms offer (Margetts et al., 2015).

Research objectives

Finland has long been on the forefront of the global open source movement, and constitutes an excellent laboratory for studying government as platforms. Now the city of Helsinki is opening databases through restful-api’s that allow the harnessing of a wide range of big data sets. These experiments have led to an increasing plethora of beneficial service-platforms for the citizens. Some of the media related ones offer interesting hyper-local journalism-like functions.

Based on the above, we study how the notion of government and collaborative media as platforms manifest themselves in the city and what opportunities they bring for the society. The study aims to answer the following research question:

How do local collaborative and municipal platforms empower the citizens of Helsinki?


We analyse resource exchange activities on a number of sharing economy and peer-to-peer initiatives located in the Helsinki region. The analysis is based on semi structured in-depth interviews (Tracy, 2012) with executive level people representing the platforms. Furthermore an extensive net-ethnographic study was conducted to complement the interviews (Hine, 2000).


Out of the platforms studied, emerged as a particularly interesting case that in several ways is breaking new ground, both for government as platforms, sharing economy and automatic journalism. The city’s open data are utilized in a clever way that automatically provides relevant news from the municipalities to the specific neighbourhood concerned. The platform also functions as a peer-to-peer citizen forum where opinions, goods and services are exchanged on a super local level. However, as a bottom line: in order for the services to succeed it will be necessary for the citizens of Helsinki to show a keener interest in what is going on within their neighbourhood.


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John Grönvall, Mats Nylund