The Future of Journalism

This was the question at a recent workshop for 14 ‘up and coming’ young journalists from across Europe during an intensive one-week seminar organised by Fondation EurActiv [1]. Leading journalists, trainers and a major European NGO gave their candid views on EU news coverage.

Background: Media across Europe are facing major challenges: economic, technological and lack of trust. As many traditional print media suffer falling revenues, they are reducing employment and this is having a consequential effect on press agencies, which have also cut jobs and positions.

Online media do not (yet) enjoy a rise in revenues even nearly equivalent to the fall in print revenues. Meanwhile, the financial and political crisis affecting the EU is triggering an increase of euroscepticism across Europe.

The demand for quality journalism on European topics is falling as a result of these trends, while paradoxically there is an increasing supply of online entertainment journalism or ‘crack journalism’ often boosted by social media.

Recent trends: While there are many national variations within Europe, some general trends affecting national media are common across the continent:

  • Print media are bleeding red-ink and editorial budgets and jobs are being cut to compensate;
  • Digital content is expanding rapidly with mobile overtaking PCs, laptops etc;
  • Advertising revenues are stagnating in total and mobile revenues are even lower than PC;
  • Younger adults are less likely to buy or trust traditional national media, relying more on social media for more personalised news;
  • Major national governments and the EU institutions, as well as providing traditional subsidies to the media, still command more communication resources than many private media groups, but the market for their messages is more crowded and channels more diverse;
  • While it is now cheaper than ever to disseminate existing information, the quantity of digital content produced in the last decade likely exceeds all the editorial content of the previous 100 years. Making the tsunami of content intelligible to specific audiences is a much sought after skill requiring considerable investment in human curators.

Eight Ways the EU Can Help Journalism, a blogpost published by the European Journalism Centre, EJC, explores why the European Union is so ineffective when it comes to supporting press freedom and media pluralism. Director of the EJC (an independent mid-career training school), Wilfried Rueten, briefly described how the EU has made sporadic attempts to facilitate a better understanding of what the EU does and how interested media can connect. Investment by the EU in communications in recent years has been modest and limited to traditional tv and radio and print:

  • Euronews, the public sector consortium that broadcasts on TV, has received subsidies/grants since 1993;
  • Euranet, a consortium of radio stations, since 2008; and,
  • PressEurop.eu, which publishes translations of national newspapers, since 2009;

All three get direct funds from the European Commission since year quoted.

Some have argued that there is a lack of a European polity despite an embryonic EU media, but that there is only a limited scope for the EU institutions to act. The European Union arena is a niche market, much of it highly technical and relating to specific sectors.

However, others, notably a blogger Ronny Patz, made reference to the ‘EU foam.’ Patz noticed that the way European topics occur in blogs do not only relate to Europe and are written in many different languages, rather than only English and French—the ‘de rigueur lingos of the EU Brussels bubble’. His diagnosis: Once you can be bothered actively to look for them, European topics actually permeate the wider blogosphere. What makes them foam rather than a bubble is their lack of interconnection – they rarely link to each other and hardly ever engage in an actual debate.

However, there has been little direct help to improve cross-border access or training in new media. EJC publishes a blog and a daily digest EU Media News. EurActiv also publishes a multilingual blog platform BlogActiv.eu.

New journalists arriving in Brussels also find the dominant tradition of many EU officials only willing to speak ‘off the record’ alien to domestic political practices, so that many EU reports end up quoting ‘EU sources’ or ‘a senior EU official’. This reflects the still embryonic status of the EU institutions and their nervousness of being misunderstood and/or of offending the powerful national communication machines run by member states.

Ann Cahill, President of the International Press Association (and Brussels correspondent of the Irish Examiner) was skeptical of the need for the EU to invest in journalism. “The European project is fascinating and does not require taxpayer support” was her opening succinct message.

Queried about the increasing use of social media by governments and the EU and whether these helped or hindered, she explained how while it was useful to be able to scan the flood of tweets that now appear during EU summits a good journalist should still ask themselves “What are they trying to sell me now?” adding that there was no real substitute for asking direct questions, rather than accepting spoon-fed tweets or obvious leaks.

Daniela Vincenti, EurActiv’s editor-in-chief, reacted by noting how much the job of a journalist has changed. In a normal day, they are asked to report, write for the Web edition, write for the published edition (in print), tweet, update the web edition, report more, track other people’s tweets, report more, do a web-video spot and then write a more in-depth, analytical story. They have to work harder, smarter and develop new skills faster. That puts them under tremendous pressure, which at times pushes them to take shortcuts, impacting on the quality of journalism.

This is why it is important to impose rules, she said, adding that EurActiv publishes information only when it is confirmed by a second or third source.

Joachim Weidemann, Deutsche Press Agentur – leading German press agency and former director of the Holtzbrinck School of Economic Journalism – highlighted the fact that the EU is much more about the process of European integration rather than specific news, as such. This presents journalists with a regular challenge of how much history and context is needed to explain the latest step in a long march. Thus it is useful to study the history and to understand the EU processes, timetables and procedures, as these are often complex and unique.

The European Movement International is a respected NGO with an active history of intermediating between political leaders and citizens in over 40 European democracies. While sharing many of the same challenges of media covering the EU, the European Movement can, however, count on access to, and, support from many politicians across different parties.

In answer to a question on where an EU correspondent should focus: Commission, Council or Parliament the answer given was that there are three golden rules:

  • follow the action, wherever that is;
  • follow your editor’s priorities; and,
  • in the event of a conflict between i) & ii) follow your editor’s priorities; unless you want to go freelance: instantly.

Conclusions

  • The continuing decline in the number of media accredited to the EU is a concern, fewer and fewer turn up to routine daily press conferences. While an average EU summit will attract up to 3,500 journalists, a crisis EU summit can see this double, though most are national reporters who come to follow and report on the performance of their national head of state or government, rather on EU policy as such.
  • The EU institutions are often hampered by the consensus nature of its decision-making: for example, on external affairs, the High Representative can rarely make policy initiatives and is often restrained from commenting unless there is a consensus among the 27, shortly to be 28, foreign ministers (by which time the urgency and immediacy of such comments has often been lost).
  • Nevertheless and despite often being to some extent in competition with the leader writers and op-ed columnists sitting in national capitals, good journalists who understand Brussels can be influential. Having the perspective of watching both what is happening in the four main EU seats (Brussels, Strasbourg, Luxembourg and increasingly Frankfurt) as well as their national capital can often be highly effective.
  • People matter: strong and credible leaders can and do make a difference at the EU level, strong and credible journalists can and do bring local issues to the attention of European leaders and European issues to local audiences.

This workshop concluded with a clear response to the opening question: Are Brussels and Europe worth covering in the media? Yes.


[1] The EU Journalism Fellowship is supported by the Robert Bosch foundation of Germany and Fondation Hippocrène of France and provides opportunities to learn how to report on the EU from a distance for up to six weeks via intensive learning and practical experience. 2013 is the 3rd year of this programme.

Links and additional references

In Europe, circulation of free newspapers declined by 9% in 2012 (15.8 million) compared to 2011 (17.4 million)

If Facebook builds a personalized newspaper, will it suffer the same fate newspapers have?

Norway: Amedia: Only 6% people under 40 agree that newspapers bring relevant news, 98% can’t identify with the newspaper

The quantity of content that is available today online is daunting. In the last 10 years, more editorial content has been distributed on the Internet than in all other forms of media over the previous 100 years. Traditional publishers, bloggers, curators, aggregators and even automated programs are filling the Web with billions of pieces of content every day. Some of it is designed simply to grab the attention of search engines in order to produce page views against which ads can be sold. That content can be vapid and transparent for its intent. http://www.digiday.com/publishers/algorithms-cant-replace-editorial-judgment/

In Spain, almost 9,000 journalists are unemployed – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. On a local level, initiatives such as those promoted by the press association of Seville hope to find a solution to the job instability that professionals in this sector often suffer; it also hopes to strengthen the group mentality of those working in journalism. Source: http://www.cafebabel.co.uk/article/43688/spain-journalists-emergency-fund-crisis-seville.html

Mail Online is like “journalism crack” says editor Martin Clarke

Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, has described the Daily Mail’s all-conquering website as the “crack cocaine” of journalism.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Clarke said people are addicted to it as he talked about the success of the paper that has beaten The New York Times and The Guardian to become the world’s biggest newspaper online.

Clarke said: “People are addicted to it. It’s like journalism crack,” as the FT reported how the Mail Online was planning to aggressively expand its international digital media empire, with plans to hire teams of reporters and ad executives across the US.

The expansion comes after the Mail Online started the New Year with a record high of 126,753,431 global monthly unique browsers in January, according to ABC figures.

That’s an increase of 12,716,350 additional browsers from December’s 114,037,081, growth of 11%. Mail Online also passed nine million unique browsers in a single day for the first time.

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Comments

  1. Dear friends, in spite of crisis I remain positive. There are very good journalists in Europe , sometimes it looks as if are poets or writers. I love very much to read. Yesterday I was at place de Brouckère in Brussels and I was delighted to see all international press in the libraries. It is pity that there are people who do not buy newspapers too much, however it is a pleasure to read a newspaper
    Have a nice day
    Anna

  2. This workshop worked well, congratulations Julian and Daniela! Sorry I was travelling that day.
    I suggested this session in continuation of the spirit of this fellowship programme: do practical things, not just training. Hence do debate coverage, and write articles, rather than just sit in a seminar.

    One point worth exploring further in future is media funding. Unlike what happens at national level, the EU support is reserved mainly to some ‘Brussels conceived’ channels focusing on European matters. Rather than getting Europe topics where they belong: in the countries, as part of normal coverage.

    Preparation of EU elections could be an opportunity to use ideas that have worked at national level?

    Dear fellows and almuni of this programme: keep it up!

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