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IMPALA hands outstanding contribution award to Norwegian journalist who broke Tidal scandal

By | Published on Monday 4 March 2019

Markus Tobiassen and Helen Smith

Pan-European indie label trade group IMPALA has handed its annual Outstanding Contribution To Independent Music award to Markus Tobiassen, the journalist who broke the Tidal data manipulation story for Norwegian business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv. The prize was presented at last week’s by:Larm festival in Olso.

“In a world of fake news and post-truth politics, facts can be hard to catch”, says IMPALA Executive Chair Helen Smith. “The truth is out there, sure, but it’s difficult to get. That’s why good journalism must be recognised even more. The work of Markus and his colleagues as well as the commitment of DN on investigating streaming data at Tidal is truly outstanding”.

The core allegation in that DN report was that Tidal skewed the streaming stats around the release of Kanye West’s ‘Life Of Pablo’ and Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’, both albums over which the streaming firm enjoyed exclusives. The newspaper said that it investigated after chatter to the effect that the official number of plays for both albums in the weeks following release seemed very high given the size of Tidal’s global userbase.

It then got its hands on some internal data from the streaming firm and got in touch with a bunch of Tidal subscribers which the system said had been heavily playing the Beyonce or West releases. DN alleges that some of those subscribers then denied playing either album as often as the official figures suggested. The journalists also got some academics to scrutinise the data it had acquired and they concluded it had been tampered with.

This all led to a criminal investigation in Norway, although Tidal strongly denies all of the claims made against it by DN, and has been quite disparaging about the newspaper and its reporting on this story. The streaming firm has also claimed that DN may have acted illegally in acquiring its usage data and that the data may have been falsified.

With that in mind, it’s interesting to see the indie label community praising the newspaper for its reporting on this story, which, IMPALA adds, “was exceptional in pursuing basic principles of transparency and fairness in the online world”.

DN Editor Amund Djuve says of the award: “It is nice that our journalism is valued in this way. The flow economy and the new challenges it has given to practitioners and businesses are a new and demanding area for investigative journalism. We expect to have a lot to write about in the next few years”.

Tobiassen himself adds: “I’m grateful for the gesture, but more than that I owe thanks to IMPALA and others who’ve been willing to speak with me along the way and help me shed light on a business plagued by non-disclosure agreements and lack of transparency”.

Particular interest in and scrutiny of Tidal’s business in Norway stems from the fact that Jay-Z entered the streaming music business by buying the Nordic company WiMP and its Tidal brand back in 2015.