Interview / Politics

Reporting the Nordics: Richard Orange

Reporting for the English section of Sveriges Radio, working at The Local and writing for The Telegraph and The Guardian, RICHARD ORANGE says his workload doubled during the pandemic…

What’s it been like to report the pandemic in a country whose approach was much discussed?

It’s been extremely busy. Last year, I had twice as much work as I’d usually have. People were contacting me from various newspapers and magazines. Several weekends I had similar stories in The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph which isn’t usually allowed. They didn’t care because the interest was so strong. The stories came in arcs. First, it was “Mate, Sweden isn’t shutting down! Maybe they’re right? Maybe they’re the only country that hasn’t panicked?” Then it switched to “Sweden got it terribly wrong!”. When the second wave arrived, people wondered whether immunity would minimise it. It became clear it wouldn’t. At that point, the story was sort of over… we know what happened.

Without a lockdown, reporting in Sweden must have been easier.

Yes, but people are still careful so a lot of interviews I hoped to do face to face haven’t happened. For example, there’s a lot of really interesting green industrialisation going on in the north of Sweden and I’d love to do some site visits up there. I can’t because the sites aren’t accepting visitors.

What’s the response from Sweden’s neighbours?

There’s an element of schadenfreude I think… that ‘big brother, little brother’ feeling. To see Sweden take different approach, and for it not to work, many Norwegian and Danish papers became rather gleeful. Sweden’s death rate became front page news in Norway and Denmark but went unreported here in Sweden. Denmark had strict lockdowns, but to have proof it might have been worth it encourages them. Of course, there were voices in other direction too. Politiken, Denmark’s premier newspaper, interviewed an academic in September who suggested the pandemic was already over in Sweden. Obviously, he was proved wrong. But it created discussion.

And how have your readers back home reacted?

It mirrors the same pattern as immigration, I think. People use Sweden to argue for positions they want in their own countries. The reality isn’t so black and white. I wrote something for The Observer that suggested immunity might be playing a role, but when it became clear it wasn’t, they were more than happy for me to argue the other way.

RICHARD ORANGE is a freelance journalist, reporting for organisations including The Telegraph and The Guardian.

This article is a Fika Online exclusive.

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