Thursday, 11 March 2010

Journalists in Brussels: Rats desert a sinking ship?

Journalists are fleeing Brussels, Michael from la com européene reports based on an article by the International Press Association (API).

The API report was also taken up by Le Monde (via @LB2S), and the figures reported there say that within five years, the number of journalists accredited at the Commission fell from 1300 in 2005 to 752 in 2010.

I am not sure whether these figures are necessarily just related to the Brussels environment. The general situation for the professional journalism over the last years hasn't been overly positive either.

I also don't share the critical remarks by Michael regarding the fact that the Commission isn't very friendly to journalists by providing free photos and live videos and by holding press conferences in its representations in the member states instead of centralising everything in Brussels.

These developments are positive.

These developments lead to a necessary decentralisation and eases it to follow EU politics on the national level, both for citizens, as well as for national journalists and national news outlets that do not have the budget to pay correspondents in Brussels. And I have the feeling the the amount of EU coverage, at least in Germany, both in print as on TV, has significantly boosted over the last year.

It doesn't mean that I don't think we need enough journalists in Brussels to have an eye on the backroom deals, interinstitutional power fights, and lobby influences that aren't visible without professional journalists keeping track of what is going on.

But let's be honest:

How much investigative reporting do we get from Brussels? How much interest have national editors-in-chief paid to the Brussels correspondents in the past? Isn't the fact that most of the standard reporting (press conferences, documents etc.) can now be done at distance thanks to the net a big advantage? Aren't those journalists back in Brussels now forced to concentrate on discovering what is not accessible instead of reporting the obvious?

In other words: Are less Brussels-based journalists really this bad as the figures suggest?


Michael said...


On my point that the Commission isn't very friendly to journalists, I was stating what, in the point of view of these journalists, was considered as « aggressive », to quote their association based in Brussels. Like you, I do consider that decentralized communication may improve information on Europe.

As regard to your questions : How much investigative reporting do we get from Brussels? How much interest have national editors-in-chief paid to the Brussels correspondents in the past? I would say for the first, that it depends on personnal contacts, experience and knowledge journalists-based in Brussels have, which needs time and money and for the second, few editors have a real interest in their Brussels correspondents, due to a inadequacy between national journalist machinery and the EU (see the project : Adequate Information Management in Europe).

Moreover, I feel that because of both the communication strategy of the EU which intends to communicate directly to citizens and the new habits of people, who are more and more informed through their personnal networks on social media, any journalists have difficulties to keep their place.

Mia said...

Decline in the number of journalists in Brussels represents a general trend in the industry as you said Julien. At least in the UK, magazines and newspapers are closing down so there just are less journalists out there. With all the downsizing and restructing happening in the industry, I can well imagine them being more inclined to report on the goings on in Bxl from a distance.

Once again, I can only say from the British perspective, but I know from talking to journalists from major newspapers that they simply don't focus on the EU. I remember one correspondent for BBC Europe said they have to struggle to justify any airtime for their stories. A writer for The Economist admitted the magazine's editor is far more interested in American politics.

But as with everything, it's not the quantity but the quality that matters.

I think some of the bad press EU accumulates in the UK is a result of bad journalism from people who have no knowledge of how the EU works and would genuinely benefit from being stationed in Brussels. But decentralisation and bringing the EU to the member states seems like the way forward in terms of making it more relatable to both the people and the journalists.

bouillaud said...

As for France, it's really linked to the collapse of French press : no budgets for anything! Only the celebrities get more coverage these days (e.g. 'Paris Hilton' and so on). Brussels made decisions are far too complicated for French television to explain to the general public, so why bother?

Being on the spot is very, very, important, if you're using your time cleverly. As for all old style foreign correspondents in many capitals, it was not always the case (e.g. just reading a few good local newspapers after the meal before sending an article home); in the near future, the only journalists left will be more "spy-style" with all the dangerous consequences it implies.

Julien Frisch said...

Well, then we might need a new style of journalism, one that knows to dig in deep into the BXL structures and explain the relevance of the news for their audience(s).

I usually just here problems, nobody talks solutions. Not even the top-ranking journos who have taken up the topic on their blogs, too:édias-désertent-bruxelles.html

By the way: They do so, after the topic has been discussed on Twitter, in other blogs, and even in some online news. What is their added value?