On February 13, 1995, Metro launched its first ever free newspaper edition in Stockholm. Twenty years on, the newspaper has expanded across the globe to become the world’s largest global newspaper with over 20 million readers.
Sakari Pitkänen, a former long-time employee of Metro, who since the mid-1990s served as editor of Metro Stockholm and then global editor-in-chief of Metro International, tells us the success story of the worldwide media group.
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Twenty years ago, Metro began its newspaper story with its first edition launched in Stockholm. At the time did you ever envision the paper becoming the global player it is today?
— Personally, I was too busy with getting Metro Stockholm off its feet! But certainly, the founders of the newspaper did have plans for an international expansion early on. There were already negotiations with paper transportation companies and printers around the world.
In an ever-changing media landscape, what has made Metro stand out for these last two decades?
— Being free of charge, certainly. Pay-for newspapers across Europe were and are in decline, so it was very difficult for them to compete with Metro. On the advent of the internet age, we were the first organization to say that news is a commodity that you could get for free.
Another key factor that has helped Metro has been the role of big cities. All over the world, cities have continued to expand and the new influx of people tend not to have a relationship with an established, traditional newspaper. That’s where Metro came in. What’s more, unlike old newspapers, we followed the needs of the modern reader. We recognized that the reader now is much younger and more female. We felt we were geniuses!
To coincide with the 20th anniversary, you have written a book published in Swedish on the history of the newspaper. The book title is a curious one: “The art of making enemies in the whole world”. Is this what Metro has been about?
— Certainly in the first ten years since we launched, wherever we started a new Metro edition, we were met with fierce resistance, from lawyers, from industrial action – even bikers were blocking our advertising in the U.S. I recall what our CEO in the early 2000s, Pelle Törnberg, said – and I am paraphrasing here: “If you want powerful enemies and a bad reputation, start a newspaper. If you want powerful enemies all over the world and need massive bad press everywhere, start a global newspaper.”
While we made many enemies, we still have made 20 million friends – our readers across the world. I’d rather have readers as friends, I couldn’t care else about anyone else.
How do you think Metro has managed to cross cultural borders and been a success story across so many diverse countries?
— I think the strongest proof of the concept of Metro was what the founders had in mind, and something that still holds true today: that the paper should not be a tabloid one based on sex, showbiz and gossip, but one based on news with a neutral voice. The paper has gone on to become a role model for all other free newspaper groups around the globe. The fact that Metro has been so well-received by readers wherever we went is the best thing.