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Seattle's Western Viking
By Roxana Arama

Western Viking, the oldest and largest Norwegian newspaper in North America, presents itself as “a weekly bilingual ethnic newspaper bringing the latest news from Scandinavia to America.” The newspaper has been in existence since May 17, 1889, the anniversary of Constitution Day, and it is credited with attracting many immigrants to the Puget Sound region in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Currently under the editorship of Kathleen Knudsen, who succeeded her father, Alf Knudsen, Western Viking has a readership that spans from Midwest to Europe. With more than twenty thousand subscribers, with correspondents in many European countries, with good relations with the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Western Viking “provides a link between the Norwegian communities – a link to each other and back to Norway,” Kathleen Knudsen says, and it also offers “learning resources about modern day Norway,” she says.

           Although it has been around for 117 years, the subscription-based Western Viking feels the pressure that the entire industry shares these days, when the Internet news is ubiquitous and people expect information to be free. For a paper targeted to a specific audience, every subscriber counts. However, the Western Viking gets passed around a lot, among neighbors and friends. Also, the word of mouth goes only so far, and the paper has to keep getting the news out that it exists, Knudsen explains.

           Western Viking keeps itself fresh and interesting by providing news from a multitude of sources, being a hub of information. It attends the big ethnical gatherings, Knudsen says, covers the events, and places ads in the national papers that reach the Norwegian-American readers. Providing coverage for the local communities’ events brings ads for future events in its pages. The ties with Norway brought the opportunity of covering the visits of the Norwegian Royal Family to the United States, in 1995 and 1999. That got the word out. Still, there is a continuous effort to reach new people, to attract new volunteers and to bridge the generation gap.

            Many Norwegian-American organizations are active in the Seattle area and they meet regularly at Leif Erikson Lodge in Ballard to celebrate their cultural heritage. The abundance of Norwegian groups looks very impressive, but, Knudsen says, it has a downside. “Norwegians don’t always play well together,” she says. Western Viking has a role in getting the groups to be “mutually supportive,” and in “developing cooperation” among them.

As recently as March 11, 2006, Western Viking covered “The Tastes of Norway – Norwegian Cultural and Heritage Day,” organized by The Sons of Norway in Seattle. On June 30, 2006, at the Benaroya Hall, The Sons of Norway in Seattle will be the host of the Annual Summer Festival with choruses coming from all over the country, from the Canadian to the Mexican border. Western Viking publicizes and covers that as well. “The ethnic heritage we bring to this country is so important,” Knudsen says. “We have to be careful about it because, if we take it for granted, it’s going to disappear.” 

The question is how to enlarge your volunteer group, and not just talk to your existing membership, Knudsen says. Since not only Norwegians read the newspaper, but many Scandinavians, the paper is on all Scandinavian flights out of Seattle, and it is available at the International Media Hub in Copenhagen.

           In the early 1990s, when the paper reintroduced the bilingual columns, people were skeptic about the initiative. But soon, the bilingual articles were adopted as teaching tools: for students learning Norwegian and for Norwegians learning English.

Many European readers are exchange professors and students, or researchers, Knudsen says. Once they leave the United States, they cancel their subscriptions, but invariably call back to renew them because “Norwegian-America has a different approach to the news than Norway,” Knudsen says. It has a “unique perspective that they don’t get anywhere else,” she says.

 “They say America is a melting pot,” Knudsen says. “The way I see it, it is not a melting pot, but a kaleidoscope.” Any way you turn it, you see different colors and images. It is important “to maintain your ethnicity and bring your color to your corner of the world,” she says. And that is what Western Viking does best.

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