Maddy Savage is a freelance journalist and the founder of The Stockholmer, a fantastic interview podcast that talks to Stockholm’s best and brightest artists, thinkers, and entrepreneurs. Maddy is an accomplished journalist, with a long career reporting for the BBC. She lives and works in Stockholm, and we caught up with Maddy to get her take on following your dreams, journalism in the age of Trump, and her advice for young creatives thinking of going abroad.
What inspired your interest in living and working in Sweden?
So basically I’ve been interested in Sweden and Scandinavia for about 10 years. My first ever foreign assignment was to Gothenburg and also Torsby in Värmland in 2006. I did a bunch of different reports over there for Newsbeat, a BBC radio show for young people, and really loved it, really loved the green environment. The good quality of life, good gender equality and I basically pitched a bunch of stories from around Scandinavia over the next few years because there is no permanent BBC presence in the region.
I had lots of discussions about whether I should quit my job and go freelance out here, that was something that was a really tough decision because I was doing very well in London and at the same time there was a concern from managers that, would there be enough stories, you know, and it’s an expensive part of the world, would I make a living, in the end I didn’t go down that route, and in 2014 I spotted a job as the editor of The Local Sweden, Sweden’s largest English language newspaper.
It reaches about a million people through the Swedish site every month, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to try to living in Sweden, try getting under the skin of it a bit more, and try expanding my media skills rather than just being a reporter for the same organization. So, I moved over and it was a really great experience at The Local Sweden in terms of gaining managerial experience, digital experience, social media experience in a different way to what I’d done working for one big company, but in the end it wasn’t creative enough for me, it was me and one other journalist writing 10 articles for the site every day, and I wanted the chance to explore things in more detail and get out and about and meet people in the way I’d been doing as a BBC journalist.
Alongside that, when I had started to make time in my hectic schedule to meet new connections I met so many interesting people that I thought I’d love to interview but I’m not sure quite where you would fit in the mainstream media landscape, and that’s when I came up with the idea for the Stockholmer podcast to showcase people in 10 minute interviews that were doing cool things in Stockholm.
Stockholm really has everything.
Going back to the very beginning what attracted you to journalism?
I’m one of those real geeks that knew I wanted to be a journalist from maybe the age of 12 or 13. I always loved to write, both creative writing and essays. I definitely have more skills in that area than maths and science. And, my parents are news junkies, they had the TV and radio on all the time, always watching national and international news, so I guess it was a combination of those things, also I think maybe being a fairly shy teenager but finding that I also enjoyed performing through dance and theatre and so the idea of broadcasting was something that allowed me to use those skills and the writing skills together. I didn’t have a particular media in mind, I volunteered at my school newspaper, volunteer radio station, and then went to university and did social and political science rather than journalism.
It’s quite common in the UK to do a bachelors in an arts subject first so you have more options in the future if you decide not to do journalism, then I did a postgraduate in journalism and got sponsored by the BBC to do that, and I think by that point it was clear that I wanted to go down the broadcasting route doing TV and radio, and what’s been interesting is that despite all that experience I have found that actually radio and online are the things that I love the most. I do love power of making videos but for me it was never about wanting to be famous or be on camera or be spotted or be some kind of face that people recognized, it was always about telling other people’s stories. I didn’t really feel comfortable on camera.
So it sounds like you fell in love with Stockholm quickly.
Well, the first trip was Gothenburg. But I guess I fell in love with Scandinavia.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it was. I’m not gonna lie, there was something strategic about it as well, knowing that there was less competition in this region as well. Whereas if you’re in love with France, and there are already three foreign correspondents in Paris and a massive lineup of people. But the more I visited the more I, like I said, just liked the vibe. How clean it is. The fact there is more gender equality. I’m a really outdoorsy person but I have become more outdoorsy since I’ve lived here, but I found it hard to find the time in London to go hiking on weekends, and to find people who want to do that with me in my 20’s, instead of going out to the pub. Whereas I could see that is a lifestyle really embraced by people here. So that really appealed to me. And as a capital city, Stockholm really has everything. Stockholm has that nature in your doorstep. I live 200 meters from the water. But I’ve also got access to fashion, music, and culture in Stockholm. Perhaps not to the same extent as London or Paris or New York but it is here and it’s so accessible. I can be home door-to-door back to London in five hours. I can hop on a plane to Barcelona like I did this weekend. So I feel really lucky to have had this experience in Europe as a Brit, and after Brexit I don’t know if that experience is going to be as easy for other journalists in the future.
When you’re settling somewhere completely new, it challenges you to sort things out by yourself.
When you moved to take that editor position had you already studied Swedish?
When I moved over here I had done maybe 10 hours of study at home. And The Local were great, they paid for me to have intense language training twice a week, for almost all of my first year. Then I took a break, then had another couple of months of lessons until I quit. Sweden’s great, it does offer free Swedish lessons for newcomers.
I’m not fluent, but I can do a whole night at a Swedish party speaking only Swedish. If it’s one-to-one and speaking about politics or business, it’s usually English. But it should no longer be the case that everyone at a dinner party is speaking English for my benefit.
How do you see the importance of journalism in the age of Trump and Brexit?
Journalism is an amazingly powerful tool to share information. I think a couple of years ago the debates were really strong about what would its future be in a digital age with social media but recent events in the US and the UK have really shown the importance of impartial journalism and I do think stations like NPR and networks like the BBC are going to remain absolutely invaluable because of the number of fact checks and source checks that are needed to get stories published.
How’s the expat community here?
The expat community is really welcoming here. The Swedish community does have a reputation for being quite shy. It can take a while to know Swedes. It wasn’t really my experience. I was really lucky, I knew one girl who was Swedish. I actually went to live with her for the first 6 weeks, because there’s a real accommodation squeeze in Stockholm, that’s one of the negative sides of living here. Um, so through her I met a lot of people, and I met a lot of people who were expats, so I felt I had a decent community pretty quickly. And since then I’ve met a lot of people through a running club, a lot of really interesting people.
So I found a lot of different ways to meet people. That is the secret, putting yourself out there. Some say the expat community is particularly warm since the Swedes have a reputation for being a bit colder.
It’s very common in the expat scene if people haven’t moved for big corporate jobs or work in the startup scene, probably the most common thing is they moved to be with a Swedish partner. You’re constantly asked that, ‘oh did you move here for love’? And I always just say, you know, kind of, but I was in love with the country rather than any particular person. I really feel quite empowered by that because I’m choosing to be here and I can go home any time I want. It’s not that I’m here to further my career, although I think I’m getting a whole bunch of skills, I’m here for the experience.
I’m not tied here through marriage or kids or anything like that.
Do you have any advice for anyone who is thinking of moving overseas?
Think about what the worst case scenario is. What is the worst that can happen?
I had some career coaching in London through a friend I met, we volunteered together, and she quit a big corporate job in the city to become a career coach, and I was one of her first guinea pigs, and that was something we talked about, what is the worst that can happen?
My parents are great, they’re both still around, we talked about it, can I come and live back in your spare room if it doesn’t work out, you know, even though I’m in my 30s. If that was really the worst case scenario, do that and freelance in London while I look for a job?
Of course it was a really scary decision, but it felt like ok, it’s now or never. Now I’m here, I view things in a slightly different way. Yeah, you’re more likely to be able to connect with a mobile group of people in your 20s early 30s than as you get older. But I think that is, you know, that’s changing. I’m still a millennial, just, born in 81. I’ve actually been very inspired by the people I’ve met here, some of them have lived in two or three different countries. And they’re already thinking about where they go next. I see myself staying in Sweden for a while, I don’t know if I’ll stay in Sweden forever, I don’t know if I’ll go home or try somewhere else next, but I thought it would be a year or two, then definitely go home, and actually being here has actually opened my eyes to a range of people who are doing things in a less conventional way.
The advice is it’s not as scary as it seems from the outside. Don’t do it if you’ve got 10 bucks in your bank account and nowhere to stay when you get home, but, you’ll always gain something from travel, whether you’re going to work in a coffee shop or like, Spotify.
When you’re settling somewhere completely new, it challenges you to sort things out by yourself. So, that’s been a great learning curve for me.
What’s next for Maddy Savage?
I’ve recently started writing for Monocle, one of my favourite magazines, launched Season 3 of my podcast The Stockholmer and been invited to moderate a range of panel discussions at business and tech events around Scandinavia. I’d like to do some more longer-form journalism too. It’s the variety of my work as a freelancer that keeps me energized and motivated.