NordMedia21 Conference Summarized: Lessons Learned from Iceland

NordMedia21 was a virtual conference, held 18–20 August 2021. The local conference hosts at the University of Iceland and University of Akureyri originally intended for it to be held in Reykjavík, but the Covid-19 situation forced them to take it online. These are the summarising words of local committee chair Valgerður Jóhannsdóttir.


The responsibility for arranging the conferences is divided into two parts. General questions, such as the theme, keynote speakers, working groups and fees, are discussed and decided by the Nordic Planning Committee, whose members are appointed by the national media and communication research associations and Nordicom. A local Organising Committee at the University of Iceland and University of Akureyri was responsible for the arrangements and details for the 2021 conference.

NordMedia, as a conference, has grown over time, both in terms of the number of participants and the number of papers. There was concern that fewer scholars would take part in the 2021 conference than previously – as people might be weary of virtual conferences and meetings – but as seen in the figure below, registered participants were at an all-time high, or 396. In Malmö in 2019, participants numbered 345, and in Tampere in 2017, they numbered 357. There were, however, slightly fewer papers than in Tampere 2017, or 253, compared with 287.

Number of participants and papers in NordMedia 1975-2021.
Note: The data is from Ingela Wadbring´s introduction to the documentation of NordMedia 2017 in Nordicom Information, 2017 (2), with data from the 2019 and 2021 conferences added.

Crisis and Resilience

The overall theme for the NordMedia 2021 conference was Crisis and Resilience: Nordic Media Research on the Frontline.

When the Planning Committee started dicussing a possible theme at the end of 2019, the Covid-19 crisis was only dawning, but by early 2020, it became clear that this was no ordinary pandemic, and its effects were multifaceted. It seemed, therefore, unavoidable to address it somehow, even though at the time none of us thought it would last as long as it has, and would eventually lead us to make the conference a virtual one in August 2021.  The conference theme text can be found here.

As the conference programme shows, the conference proceedings included one keynote speaker and one plenary panel, in addition to the divisions and temporary working groups.

Professor Eugenia Siapera presented the keynote lecture, and Jón Gunnar Ólafsson, post doctoral researcher at the University of Iceland, moderated.

In her lecture, professor Siapera addressed three distinct but interrelated crises she said recent events have made impossible to ignore: an environmental crisis, a refugee crisis and intensified racism, and a health crisis represented by the Covid-19 pandemic. She said that despite the narrative of “we are in this together”, the reality was that these crises have affected – and will continue to affect – communities in unequal ways, revealing deep structures of inequality within, across and between nations. In turn, these crises had themselves been precipitated by the unequal structure of the world system. Siapera argued that for the media to be able to function as media of communication, they have to thematise and address inequalities, and in so doing, become responsive to and engaged with the needs of different communities.

The plenary panel was composed of four scholars from the Nordic countries and the US: Brita Ytre-Arne from the University of Bergen, Norway; Kari Karppinen from the University of Helsinki, Finland; Victor Pickard from the University of Pennsylvania, US; and Ida Willig from Roskilde University, Denmark.

In most Western countries, governments responded to the Covid-19 crisis with active public interference in both economy and social life, signifying an apparent shift regarding the state’s role and the media. All the Nordic states introduced or increased public support for media and journalism as an important part of the frontline defence against the pandemic. The panelists addressed the question of whether there was a renewal emerging in classic Nordic media welfare state values, and they discussed the impact of the crisis and the resilience of different types of media systems.

Breadth of divisions and working groups

NordMedia is a rather small, informal and friendly conference, compared with ECREA or ICA. Nevertheless, it has a breadth of divisions and working groups. In total, there were 121 sessions held at the conference, which meant 254 hours of live content streamed. There were eleven divisions – one more than in Malmö in 2019, as Audience Studies was made a permanent division in 2019.  Temporary working groups (TWG) were four, compared to eight in Tampere (2017) and seven in Malmö (2019). And as always, most of the business at the conference took place in the different divisions and TWGs. They were as follows (with the number of papers given in parentheses):

  • Division 1. Audience Studies (21)
  • Division 2. Environment, science and risk communication (14) 
  • Division 3. Journalism studies (39)  
  • Division 4. Media and communication history (18)
  • Division 5. Media, globalization and social change (17)
  • Division 6. Media Industries (18)
  • Division 7. Media literacy and media education (24)
  • Division 8. Organization, communication and promotion  (12) 
  • Division 9. Political communication (20)
  • Division 10. Television and film studies (13)
  • Division 11. Theory, philosophy and ethics of communication (10)
  • TWG1. Game studies (14)
  • TWG2. Gender and the media (6)
  • TWG3. Media, Communication and Health (15)
  • TWG4. Visual communication and culture (12) 

The papers varied widely regarding subject, theoretical perspectives and methodologies, but as expected, many touched upon the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects in one way or another. Of the 253 papers presented, 27 had Covid-19 explicitly in their title.

In addition to the keynote lecture, plenary panel, divisions and working groups, Nordicom arranged three sessions at the conference. In the first one, delegates got an update on Nordicom’s academic publishing options with editors Johannes Bjerling and Karin H. Zelano. The second session was an article discussion about a comparative study published in Nordicom Review by Jan Fredrik Hovden, professor of media studies at the University of Bergen, and Jari Väliverronen, researcher in journalism at the University of Tampere. In the third and last Nordicom session, Maarit Jaakkola, editor-in-chief of NordMedia Network, told about the background, development and future plans of the digital platform, which was launched in 2019 to host the Nordic media researcher community between the physical NordMedia conferences.

A Nordic conference with an international flavour

As noted in Wadbring´s (2017) documentation of the NordMedia conference in Tampere 2017,  the Nordic languages were the dominant languages used in the conference until the turn of the century. In the last decade and a half, English has become the overall conference language, and in 2021, all the papers were written in English. This reflects a general trend of internationalisation in the research commu­nity, and NordMedia also attracts more scholars from countries outside the Nordics than it did a decade ago. A few participants from outside the Nordic countries were registered in Akureyri (2011) and Oslo (2013). That number grew to 28 in Copenhagen (2015) and to 41 in Tampere (2017). Information about non-Nordic participants in Malmö (2019) are not available, but they were 36 at the virtual 2021 conference, among them participants from China, Estonia, Germany and the UK, to name a few.

Organising social events for people to mingle and enjoy themselves has always been an integral part of NordMedia conferences, but are a challange to arrange on a virtual platform. The conference organisers encourged participants to meet locally, if possible, as well as make use of the conference social media platforms.  Participants were surveyed about their all-time favourite song, and a Nordic media researchers playlist was created on Spotify, and on Wednesday, 18 August, Dr. Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen, from the University of Iceland, analysed Nordic media researchers’ music taste.

A photo contest was also held, and delegates were asked to share a picture that captured the essence of being a virtual guest at a virtual conference on either Twitter or Facebook. The winner was Randa Romanova, a postgraduate student in media and communication studies at Helsinki University, and the reward was a flight ticket to Iceland.

Pre-conference for doctoral students

The pre-conference, a one-day academic workshop for doctoral students in media and communication studies, was held one day before the main conference. This was the third pre-conference for doctoral students, which was first held in connection with NordMedia in Tampere in 2017, and can be said to have established itself as an integral part of NordMedia. It offers doctoral students a possibility to receive feedback from senior scholars in a collegial atmosphere, and it is also a forum for doctoral students to network with other Nordic scholars and scholars-to-be. In 2019, it was decided that Nordicom would henceforth assume the responsibility of the pre-conference, and in 2021, it was organised by Maarit Jaakkola, co-director of Nordicom, and Karen H. Zelano, an editor of Nordicom’s academic publications. There were 38 PhD participants, and 31 invited senior scholars also contributed to the event.


The next NordMedia Conference will be organised in 2023 in Bergen, Norway. Watch the invitation video below.