The Hierta epoch, 1830-1851
Even in the "prospectus" that preceded the first issue, Hierta promised that his newspaper would "seek quick particulars on remarkable measures in the administration." To Hierta, the independence of his newspaper was a self-evident truth that "reveals itself better in words than in deeds."
Aftonbladet was not Sweden's first newspaper, but it is one of Sweden's oldest dailies. Its predecessors were uncritical and compliant toward the king, Karl XIV Johan, who ruled with the help of the nobility. One of Hierta's first targets of attack was the "bed chamber government" that surrounded the king.
Hierta fought for freedom of expression, free trade including lower import tariffs and a bicameral parliament with elected members. The ruling classes subjected him to devastating criticism. During its first four years, Aftonbladet was prosecuted five times.
As hated as Aftonbladet became among the powers that be, it was equally beloved and popular among the bourgeoisie. In particular, the "Kaleidoscope" section - written in a light, satirical tone, awakened enthusiasm. It marked the birth of the modern Swedish newspaper column. Also making her debut on Hierta's newspaper was Wendela Hebbe, Sweden's first full-time woman journalist.
Many names for the things we love
Eventually the king tried to halt publication of Aftonbladet, but Hierta was prepared. He had already obtained new authorization to publish it in the names of editors other than himself. He changed the name of the newspaper to The New Aftonbladet, The Second Aftonbladet, The Third... and so on. By the time he sold the newspaper in 1851 he had changed its title 26 times. During the Hierta years, Aftonbladet was Sweden's largest, most influential newspaper.
One of Hierta's fellow journalists, Anders Lindeberg, was condemned to death for lese-majesty when he accused the king of preventing Lindeberg from opening a theatre in order to further his own interests. The verdict was commuted to three years of imprisonment, but Lindeberg refused the offer of a pardon. He was finally tricked into leaving Waxholm Fortress, then the gate was locked behind him so he could not get back in!
Hierta wins circulation battleThe circulation of Aftonbladet quickly climbed to 2,500 copies, which was very large for the early 1830s. By the end of the decade, circulation was about 6,500 and during the 1840s it reached 7,500 copies.
Hierta was a pioneer in other respects as well. He bought one of the first high-speed presses in Sweden, a British-made Scanhope press. He had his own type foundry, and he ran a successful book publishing house. Even in his prospectus, he had declared that every day his newspaper would contain one page of advertisements. Aftonbladet evolved into a prosperous business, thereby gaining an independent role.
Harald Sohlman wrote only a few editorials during his years as Editor in Chief. He devoted most of his time to his favorite causes - Scandinavianism and the home guard movement.
Aftonbladet drifted further and further to the political right and toward Germany, especially after Sohlman persuaded Gustaf Retzius to sell the newspaper. After the sale, Retzius questioned whether Sohlman had kept his promise to "work toward achieving the true patriotic goals that, since the founding of Aftonbladet, have comprised the newspaper's programme." The Editor in Chief replied resentfully that of course he had followed the agreement. This was besy proven by the fact that "for many years I have been perhaps the man most hated in Sweden by the Social Democratic leadership."
A newspaper produced by strike breakers
Aftonbladet wrote about the General Strike of 1909 with contempt. Aided by strike breaking journalists and their relatives, it was able to continue publishing even when the typographers went out on strike. "Typographers' Strike a Fiasco!" the newspaper triumphantly declared in one headline in its first extra issue.
Harald Sohlman and Aftonbladet supported Germany during the First World War. In 1915 he and his brother Arvid sold a majority holding in the newspaper to the German government in order to enable Germany to create propaganda in Sweden. This contract was kept secret for many years.
The first popular weeklyBrokiga Blad (Motley Pages), who appeared between 1907 and 1930, was a Sunday supplement, unveiled as Sweden's first popular weekly magazine. It was distributed to subscribers with the newspaper but could be bought separately for five öre. Forerunners of Brokiga Blad were the French magazines Petit Journal and Petit Parisien. Together with the recently established newspaper Stockholms-Tidningen, Aftonbladet was among the winners of the circulation war during the Sohlman epoch. At the end of that period, its circulation stood at about 30,000 copies.
Journalistic decline during the 1920sHarald Sohlman resigned in 1921 but owned the newspaper until 1929. During the rest of the 1920s, Aftonbladet experienced a journalistic decline under Editor in Chief Teodor Telander, who became Editor in Chief of the Nazi newspaper Dagsposten during the Second World War. Circulation fell almost to 10,000 copies.
Torsten Kreuger bought Stockholms-Tidningen and Aftonbladet in 1932, but after his brother Ivar's suicide in Paris he surrendered his ownership rights. His name was regarded as harmful to the newspapers after his highly publicized trial in connection with alleged financial irregularities at Högbroforsen (a company he had headed in the 1920s). The trial took place in the wake of the Kreuger crash and ended with a prison sentence for Torsten Kreuger.
A modern layout for StockholmersUntil then, evening newspapers had largely resembled morning newspapers - with five or six stories of the same size squeezed onto on the front page. Aftonbladet was the first evening paper to use large photos and a single main headline. Given its smaller format, the newspaper had five columns per page instead of seven. This change was spearheaded by newspaper executive Gösta Sjöberg and technical editor Sven Jan Hanson, later a well-known film reviewer under the pen name "Filmson".
"Russian scare" a cheap excuse for supporting GermanyAftonbladet was labelled "neutral" after Kreuger bought it. In 1932 it supported the new Social Democratic government under Per Albin Hansson. By the mid-1930s, however, Aftonbladet was a liberal newspaper, with strong ties to the Liberal Party, which had reunited after a decade-long split. It may seem amazing that a newspaper like this supported Germany during the Second World War as well.
The newspaper's pliant attitude toward Germany had existed since the late 1920s, when foreign affairs commentator Valentin Sjöberg - under the pen name Sir W - called Hitler a guarantee "against our common enemies the Bolsheviks." The newspaper had been infiltrated by pro-Hitler and pro-German journalists, who remained on its editorial staff. The "Russian scare" was far from the only reason behind the editorial position adopted by Aftonbladet.
In 1937 Torsten Kreuger returned as head of the publishing company. During his remaining period as owner, he used Aftonbladet as a mouthpiece for his attempts to restore the shattered reputations of himself and his brother Ivar Kreuger.
The LO epoch, 1956-1996
On October 8, 1956, Torsten Kreuger sold Aftonbladet to LO right in front of the noses of more "natural" buyers. Both the Liberal Party and the Agrarian Party (Centre) had submitted offers.Cultural Affairs Editor Allan Fagerström, who had worked for Aftonbladet since 1944, became Editor in Chief. On its editorial and opinion pages, the newspaper would remain "politically neutral," according to LO. Not until the early 1960s did Aftonbladet declare its editorial page Social Democratic.
Many observers predicted the imminent death of the newspaper under this new regime, but its detractors were mistaken. Over the next few years, circulation dropped slightly, but later it turned upward again.
An unprecedented increase in circulationDuring the 1960s Aftonbladet underwent an expansion unprecedented in Swedish newspaper history. Circulation climbed by more than 300,000 copies, peaking at 507,000. Politically speaking, a strong leftist current was flowing, among other things confirmed by the 1968 elections, in which the Social Democrats turned in their best-ever performance. Aftonbladet was a newspaper that fit well with the spirit of the times. It was alert in capturing the youth revolt that was sweeping across Europe and farsighted about the liberation of Vietnam, the struggle for freedom in Eastern Europe and injustices in Swedish society.
The breakthrough of television during the 1950s and 1960s was a source of concern to many Swedish newspaper editors. Sven Sörmark, long-time Managing Editor and Editor in Chief, was the first leading newspaper journalist who realized that TV was not only a threat but also an opportunity. Aftonbladet provided coverage of the television medium and was the first to publish daily tables of the TV programs.
During the 1970s, circulation steadily declined. Aftonbladet became an unfocused newspaper that had a hard time keeping opinions and news apart. Its once cheerful, daring style was replaced by more of a whinging, loud one. The newspaper's graphic design also became blacker and cruder.
Threat to finances and circulationIn the early 1980s, the very existence of Aftonbladet was threatened by atrocious finances and declining circulation. A number of action programmes were implemented to restore financial order. This task has successfully continued in various forms until today. As a result, Aftonbladet is now a financially stable newspaper. Its circulation rebounded in 1983 after nine years of decline.
The Manager Editor, now Editor in Chief - Thorbjörn Larsson - implemented a total reorganization of the editorial staff and a revitalization of all journalistic departments. The result was not long in materializing. Aftonbladet again became an important newspaper that people talked about, on the strength of its numerous in-depth feature series.
Globen City - after a century in St. ClaraThe lighter style from the Hierta period had returned, especially to the Sunday newspaper Söndagsbladet, which boosted its circulation by 100,000 copies. Aftonbladet was the fastest-growing newspaper in the Swedish press for the next five years.
After a century in the St. Clara (Klara) district of downtown Stockholm, in November 1989 Aftonbladet moved to Globen City, an office complex located next to the Stockholm Globe Arena just south of central Stockholm. The newspaper has undergone a technical revolution since this move and today it is produced entirely electronically.
Aftonbladet has "reconquered" its history. Just as in the era of Lars Johan Hierta, it is a newspaper that actively scrutinizes the powers that be - both public and private - and stimulates debate. Aftonbladet is a newspaper for the broad mass of people.
The Schibsted/LO epoch, 1996-
On May 2, 1996 a new epoch in the history of Aftonbladet began when the Norway's Schibsted media group bought a 49.9 percent stake in Aftonbladet, while LO kept the remaining 50.1 percent of its shares.
Schibsted meanwhile assumed industrial and financial responsibility for the development of Aftonbladet. LO is retaining full control of the newspaper's political direction. This means that Aftonbladet continues to have a Social Democratic identity on its editorial page.
On November 1, 1997 Anders Gerdin became new Editor in Chief.