Pride of country and journalistic integrity

Photo: Kay Skaftun
Yep, that’s the steely-eyed gaze of your editor bringing you a very serious “gratulerer med dagen.”
Emily C. Skaftun
The Norwegian American

Another year has gone by, as measured in Syttende Mais. In this issue in particular we celebrate Norway, country of our ancestry. Hipp hipp hurra for deg, Norge!

But then, this paper celebrates Norway in pretty much every issue, doesn’t it? It’s no secret that our position is pro-Norway, but in what’s being called the “post-truth” era, when “fake news” and “alternate facts” abound, I’ve been thinking a lot about when a newspaper’s attempt to remain primarily positive crosses the line into propaganda.

The Norwegian American isn’t the newsiest of papers. We don’t rake muck. We don’t break stories. Given the realities of our production schedule, even our freshest news will be four days old by the time it gets to you—and that’s if the gods of postal delivery favor you! So news isn’t really our focus.

But that doesn’t mean that no thought goes into what news we choose to bring to you. We are limited by economics and location, but we still must narrow down the stories available to us to just a very few that we deem worthy of printing. And when we do, it’s true that we often choose happy ones.

Partially, this is a function of Norway actually being pretty awesome. Lately so many of the available news stories have been about the country being first in the world for something or other that it’s starting to get boring. In this very issue we’ve got a story about Norway’s exemplary freedom of the press. How could I not print that? As a member of the press and a fan of Norway (though not, crucially, a member of the Norwegian press), that story is catnip.

But being proud of one’s country doesn’t mean being uncritical of it. Just last issue we ran an editorial asking Norway to “skjerp deg” when it comes to certain environmental issues and treatment of the Sámi. No country is perfect, not even the Nordics, and we don’t intend to hide Norway’s warts.

But just as it’s easy for happy news to verge on propaganda, there is also a limit to how much criticism an outsider ought to do of a country. Despite my last few years’ immersion in all things Norwegian, I am still very much an outsider. I barely even qualify as Norwegian American, if I’m being honest. Oh sure, I can dig up embarrassing photos of myself in child-sized bunad (see above) to prove my cred, but in the years between forced parade attendance and becoming this paper’s editor, I neglected that heritage and only started paying it attention again when doing so was crucial for my job.

So I sometimes feel it isn’t my place to be too hard on Norway. I sometimes feel that if I were to criticize Norway I’d be throwing stones from inside my glass house.

And so we strive for balance. We strive to include what’s relevant to a mostly American audience. Things that make us think about the different yet often similar ways both our countries are handling the problems we face. Things that inspire. Things that make us proud of the country of our ancestors. And when appropriate, things that make us say, “Really, Norway? We expect better from you.”

Because that to me is the heart of patriotism. It isn’t an uncritical love of a country. It’s the love one has for a family member—proud of accomplishments, disappointed in failures, ready to lovingly but firmly demand the best from it and support efforts to improve it.

On Syttende Mai we Norwegian Americans get patriotic for a country some of us have never even visited. It’s an easy switch for us to make: the color scheme is the same as ours, as are the hotdogs and ice cream, and even some of the songs (see “Music, beating heart of Syttende Mai”)! The constitution we celebrate in May was modeled on the one we’ll celebrate in July, and the two of them are the oldest constitutions still in use.

And as you’ll read in our special Syttende Mai section, there’s much about Norway’s journey to independence to be proud of!

So wave your rød, hvit og blå enthusiastically this Syttende Mai. We will be too!

This article originally appeared in the May 5, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.