When did the first Icelandic mass medium come into existence, and when was it launched?

Asked By

Einar Hafliðason


In order to answer the question, we must consider what we mean by mass media. We might say, for instance, that the vagabond women we meet in Njáls saga, who carried news from farm to farm, were the mass media of their time, or that the golden plover is the mass medium which tells the Icelanders that spring is on its way. But then we would be speaking metaphorically; in fact we use the term "mass media" only of those means invented by man to disseminate information to large numbers of people, which employ a certain degree of technology to do so (not older or more primitive than the printing press), and do so regularly. Thus we do not call an individual book a mass medium; but when a printed publication appears repeatedly under the same title and in numbered issues, this would normally be termed a mass medium. But perhaps a certain minimum standard of variety is required for the publication to be recognised as a mass medium. We would not term the telephone directory a mass medium, except perhaps in jest.

The first Icelandic publication which broadly meets this definition is Alþingisbókin (the Book of Parliament), which was first published in Skálholt in 1696-97. After a gap of some years the Book was published again in 1704 and in 1713-16; after that it appeared annually, with very few exceptions, until the old Alþingi at Þingvellir was abolished at the end of the 18th century. The Book of Parliament was similar to the modern Lögbirtingarblaðið or Law Gazette: it published new legislation and directives, along with verdicts in cases tried at the Alþingi.

If the content of the Book of Parliament seems too narrow to qualify it as a mass medium, our next candidate is the periodical Islandske Maaneds-Tidender (Icelandic Monthly News), launched on the island of Hrappsey in Breiðafjörður, western Iceland, in 1773. The first issue was for October, sixteen pages in small book-format, and written in Danish, as the title implies. It was a news magazine. Page 1 carries, after the title, simply the headline Nyheder (News) and beneath it Fra Sönderlandet (From the South). This is followed on page 6 by news from the North, and then from other regions of Iceland. The Icelandic Monthly News was published monthly for three years; for over two years it was printed on Hrappsey, and after that in Copenhagen. The final issue was for September 1776.

Hrappsey in Breiðafjörður - © Mats Wibe Lund.

A printing press was established on Hrappsey in 1773 on the initiative of a certain Ólafur Ólafsson who used the name Olavius; he played an important part in various progressive projects in 18th-century Iceland. His collaborator, and for a long time owner of the printing press, was farmer Bogi Benediktsson of Hrappsey, while he worked most closely with District Administrator Magnús Ketilsson, who is believed to have been editor of the Monthly News. The printing press had been established with the help of contributions from Danish benefactors; the Monthly News was published for them, and this is why it was in Danish.

Shortly after this periodicals began to be published in Icelandic, both in Copenhagen and in Iceland. The first is Rit þess Konúngliga íslenzka Lærdóms-Lista Félags (The Organ of the Royal Icelandic Society of Learning), published annually in Copenhagen 1781-98. But the first news medium in Icelandic was Íslensk sagnablöð (Icelandic Story Sheets), published by the Icelandic Literary Society in Copenhagen 1817-26. It was followed by Skírnir, which brought Icelanders foreign news once a year. At home in Iceland Reykjavíkurpósturinn (The Reykjavík Post) of 1846-49 was a precursor of the daily newspaper: published monthly, its 16 pages covered similar subjects to the newspapers of the 19th century, but it was still in book format. The first publication that resembled a newspaper, in a large periodical format, using newspaper-style columns, was Þjóðólfur, launched in Reykjavík in 1848, which was initially published every two weeks, increasing to weekly after some years. After Þjóðólfur the story of the Icelandic press and media is a continuous process leading to our own times.

It is up to the reader to choose which of these publications he/she regards as being Iceland's first mass medium. My choice would be Islandske Maaneds-Tidender, the Icelandic Monthly News.

Translated by Anna Yates.

Image: Mats: Myndasafn © Mats Wibe Lund.

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Answers in English


Gunnar Karlsson (1939-2019). „When did the first Icelandic mass medium come into existence, and when was it launched?“. The Icelandic Web of Science 20.1.2006. (Skoðað 18.7.2024).


Gunnar Karlsson (1939-2019)prófessor emeritus í sagnfræði við HÍ


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