News websites without news

Very recently, a new news website launched in Denmark – or at least, it calls itself a news website. The name of the site is Netavisen Pio [The News Website Pio], but “news website” might be overstating it. Rather, it looks like a debate site with a clear political bias.

Pio, however, is not the first Danish self-proclaimed news website of that kind. Earlier such websites include, most prominently, 180grader [180 degrees], launched in 2007. Pio is edited by the former press officer of a Danish labor union, and one of the central persons in its instanciation is Henrik Sass Larsen, a Member of Parliament for the Danish Social Democrats. 180grader is edited by Ole Birk Olesen, a Member of Parliament for the right wing party Liberal Alliance.

Pio and 180grader call themselves news websites, but what they have in common is an absense of news and a high priority given to opinion, commentary, analysis, and debate. There isn’t much journalism on these news websites, if any. Don’t Pio have proper news? Sure. But its newsy headlines lead to articles on, a news website owned partly by the Danish workers’ unions… – So why do they call themselves news websites? Most likely to tap into the legitimacy of the institution of the newspaper, providing some aura of credibility and objectivity to websites which are first and foremost blog universes that act as mouthpieces for certain political positions.

It’s not at all a problem that websites such as Pio and 180grader exist. On the contrary, I think they constitute an important part of a well-functioning digital public sphere as they provide platforms for political engagement and discourse (even if their obvious political inclinations might make them “echo chambers“). But calling these websites news websites is a misnomer. The use of that term (news website) implies journalistic ambitions and work and some actual news, and neither Pio nor 180grader have very much – if any – of just that. News website is simply a misleading trade description in this context.

In Danish, the word ‘avis’ means newspaper. In French, the word ‘avis’ means view or opinion. As far as I can see, 180grader and Pio are avis only in the French sense of the word.

Disclaimer: one of the main contributers to Pio, Rasmus Lynghøj Christensen, is an acquaintance of mine and was for several years a fellow student at the university.