60 years old | Elina Grundström has paved the way as a journalist – “Some 70’s brash upbringing must be behind it”

“If something is fun to do, then we do it”, is the life model given to Elina Grundström by her mother. He has also tried to live by it.

Nonfiction writer and editor Elina Grundström tells a funny childhood memory. It has to do with mother and the summer of 1975.

“We took a daring car vacation with our white Simca 1100 in the Soviet Union via Moscow to Minsk and back. Mom drove, and we girls sat in the back seat. And no one spoke a word of Russian,” says Grundström and laughs.

The memory comes to the fore when Grundström recounts his life and career. The path has been solid in journalism in various positions.

Often what has been needed is exactly the tenacity and determination that was also found in the mother, Grundström thinks.

“Mother is like that: if something is fun to do, then we do it.”

Grundström grew up in Tampere. After his parents divorced, he stayed to live with his mother and two sisters. Mother worked as the head cashier of the Tampere Workers’ Theatre. Grundström also spent a lot of time at the theater in certain years.

“It was very exciting. I especially admired dramaturgs, and that must have influenced my interest in becoming a journalist and writer.”

Along with theater and piano playing, scouting became an important hobby. Grundström says that he was an active backpacker who enjoyed both scouting competitions and rafting.

“In general, it was a milieu where it was quite clear that girls and boys could do the same things. In hindsight, I noticed that maybe it wasn’t so common at the time.”

When In time, Grundström became Ylioppilaslehti’s first female editor-in-chief since 1947, and the gender bias of the media circles hit me in the face.

“In the interviews, they asked if I was chosen because I am a woman or in spite of that. It was confusing. Fortunately, these things are already a thing of the past. It still took a long time.”

Years later, Grundström was elected chairman of the Public Word Council. She was the first woman to hold the position.

Have you consciously tried to clear the way?

“Well, it wasn’t an accident. I must have had a 70s-style upbringing in the background,” says Grundström.

“When I asked my old scout friends about it, one of my friends answered that we are independent women who manage to cope, with a tolerance for discomfort that sometimes manifests itself as a disadvantage. It may have contributed to me not being the first to give up.”

“There would have been time and awareness to slow down the climate change process. It’s even a bit of a failure of journalism that this didn’t happen.”

About journalism Grundström has plenty to say. Of all its different aspects, the most important have been narrative journalism and climate journalism. Both have emerged in the 21st century as somewhat new things, although both have been around for a long time.

“Back in 1989, I wrote an article for Ylioppilaslehti, which dealt with climate change. I’ve come back to it often in recent years, and I’m puzzled by the picture that the experts give in the story. Climate change has progressed just like that or even more drastically,” says Grundström.

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“Everything is known then. There would have been time and awareness to slow down the climate change process. It’s even a bit of a failure of journalism that this didn’t happen.”

Narrative journalism is not a new invention either, Grundström points out.

“Back then, we just called it dramaturgical journalism.”

Where in a single assignment do you feel you learned the most about doing journalism?

Hard to say, says Grundström. There have been enough interesting plays in which he has been able to make an impact. As chairman of JSN, he feels that he has succeeded in making the institution and its mission better known.

“But perhaps one of the most important things for me has been the renewal of the Green Thread.”

Grundström was the editor-in-chief of Vrihäinen Langa in 2006–2010.

“It was a really wonderful stage. We had many motivated, young and skilled writers. We developed that journalism together. At the same time, my tenure as editor-in-chief coincided with the peak of the climate debate in Finland.”

Since then, Vihreya Lanka suffered the same fate as many other magazines in recent years: it was closed in 2019.

Did the hard work go to waste? Grundström doesn’t believe that, even though he considers the termination of organization magazines edited from journalistic points of view to be short-sighted decisions that weaken the versatility of the media.

The media Grundström’s next non-fiction book project is also related to versatility. He is involved in the two-year project funded by the Kone Foundation, Tyhjenevet mediat? -project, where he is working on a narrative non-fiction book about the concentration of Finnish media by two researchers, Lauri Haapanen and Ville Manninenwith

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The pace is tight, because Grundström’s latest non-fiction book was only published at the beginning of the year. Ukrainian black soil deals with major themes: Ukraine’s importance as Europe’s granary, climate change and food security. It is thematically a continuation of Grundström Black Orchid (2011), which deals with the environmental effects of globalization through a woman from Borneo who protects orchids.

“I write in such a way that I always choose a big theme first and only then look for the people, the place and the story.”

  • Born in 1963 in Tampere.

  • Master of Political Science, majoring in sociology, University of Helsinki 1992.

  • Chairman of JSN 2016–2019. The first woman in the position.

  • Visiting professor of journalism, University of Tampere 2013–2014.

  • Worked both as a freelance journalist and in various media. Editor-in-chief at Vihreya langa 2006–2010 and Ylioppilaslehti 1990–1992. As an editorial manager, editorial secretary, producer and editor in several different magazines, e.g. Hiidenkivi, Marketing & Advertising, Foreign Policy, We Women, Your Home.

  • Has published several non-fiction books, e.g. Ukrainian black soil (2023), The prospectors (2016), Black Orchid (2013), Country of origin unknown (2002).

  • Special interest in India and Southeast Asia. Engages extensively in culture.

  • Lives in Helsinki. Spouse Timo Kaartinen, professor of social and cultural anthropology, and two adult children.

  • Turns 60 on Tuesday, May 30.

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