Saturday 9 May 2009

EU news and European blogging: Between domination and ignorance

This week I am guest blogging on TH!NK ABOUT IT. I will publish the articles here, too, but I would like to kindly ask you to comment on TH!NK09. This is my fourth article, which you also can find here.

I usually don't write about Europe-related things that make it on the first pages of newspapers or that get the attention of national newscasters.

The attention of the public is regularly attracted to some specific European topics - like the "new" Eastern Partnership this week - because all major broadcasters and newspaper report about it.

On these days, you can find hundreds of commentators, media "insiders", interviewees, and the rest of the "racaille" (to use a famous quote of Nicolas Sarkozy) jumping into the pool and then crying for the attention of the public as compensation for their inability to swim.

All you can do as a blogger with these topics is to commentate, drop a little sarcastic remark into the rain forest of noise and hope that a little Golden Lion Tamarin will find and play with it to forget for a moment that it belongs to an endangered species.

There is no need to join the masses, to obey to cries of help of a fast-moving industry. European blogging - which too often, even in my case, becomes EU blogging - is of no added value when it follows the rhythms set by others.

European blogging should try to set agendas off the beaten tracks.

We all have a limited capacity to digest new information, although my generation is forcing up the amount of (diverse) information consumed, although some media junkies like us are following several hundred sources daily. This is why we make choices. The difference to the past is that we expose ourselves to a larger amount of choices, but we still just chose a limited number of news for more thorough scrutiny.

When I read big news, news that is repeated over a number of news sources, I usually just read the headline, maybe one article, rarely more. Why? Because I know that since it has made it into the sphere of public attention, it will be repeated over and over again, so the combination of different headlines I scan will give me the overview I need.

The problem is that big news, especially big news on European topics, is quickly dominating the agenda, it occults all "minor" stories. If EU blogs join this media round dance, we will just reenforce the present gap between a complex reality and the journalistic herd instinct towards big stories.

If you read my blog, you will often find little quotes from documents that seem unimportant, minor, hardly relevant. Boring administrative stuff, not worth of attention. You can call it geekish, but the truth is that unimportant administrative stuff of today quite often becomes big news tomorrow.

Take, just as an example, my recent article on the restructuring of the European Parliament secretariat. Sure, during this week, the attention on European matters was on the last session of the European Parliament and on the Eastern Partnership. But the little details quoted in my article - e.g. the remark on information technologies - might influence the work of the new European Parliament more than one or another MEP elected into the next EP.

In fact, I don't know.

But I can make guesses. As a blogger, I can take the risk to report about details irrelevant by now, just based on the assumption that they could have an effect in the future. I can allow myself to deviate from the highway of big news and just walk right across the meadow. Either I find a shorter track to the destination than those stuck in the highway jams or at least I will be able to listen to the crickets chirp and smell the perfume of fresh grass.

European blogging for me is a way to add little bits of cricket chirr to the noise of the information highway. Most of the time, it is not heard, and that's perfectly okay. But sometimes, somebody like me will come to my meadow and listen, just like I come and listen to the chirps of others. And if the highway noise stops at night, and when one day we all chirp together, the residents nearby won't be able to sleep.

What I want to say with this incredible chain of cliché metaphors, forbidden in most journalistic texts and even hard to stand in a blog article, is that we should take the risk to blog about little details of European affairs. When I read other blogs, I appreciate the hint to a little event that tells more about the state of the Union than a pathetic comment to the diplomatically ironed conclusion of a European Council.

The ignored detail is the true basis of democracy, of social life, while the big news is just a momentary wave crest. Europe and the European Union have too many ignored details, and we bloggers can give meaning to them by creating relations, by showing how little events or seemingly unimportant administrative documents relate to each other and to the big news.

If European blogging becomes the related writing on ignored details, it might be able to counterbalance the weight of a few major news sources reporting about the big EU issues, mostly singular events based on years of ignorance. We would be able to tell that we cared about the details long before they reached the surface, and we would be able to object to all those who will interpret these events as if there was no past and no background.

But the best thing is: If it doesn't work, it doesn't matter.

The ignored stories we write and read can still be entertaining, funny, shocking. European blogging and reading European blogs is first and foremost a matter of fun, of interest. It doesn't hurt if this is not big news. For me it is enough to know that there are more things going on beside the heads of state and government are meeting.

And in the end, reading ignored but interesting European blogs is also a way to ignore dominant EU news. I use it as a silent personal critique to those journalists and bloggers who follow the stream, by not paying attention to them, by not devoting my precious time to their uncreativeness, and instead offering it to a bunch of active citizens investing their free time in caring for smaller and larger details.