This article is part of our special report 20 Visions for Europe.
This opinion article is part of our Special Report 20 Visions for Europe, celebrating free, independent reporting with European values at its core. It is published just before the first #Media4Europe event, in association with the innovation exchange programme @stars4media.
Christophe Leclercq founded the EURACTIV Media Network and the think-and-do tank Fondation EURACTIV. His fiction piece illustrates media sector consolidation, changing journalist jobs, values, platform regulation, and the fate of the EU itself. Is it in fact a fiction? (Details available on trends / concepts, and media inquiries welcome).
Top floor of a large media building in Paris. On the terrace: a huge flag waves in the January breeze. Warm fronts from the Atlantic are no longer tempered by crossing the coastline, storms reach deep into the continent. The flag conveys Press4Europe Media Group, above logos from national newspapers and some networks of specialised websites.
Inside the spacious boardroom, the main comm screen indicates:
>> Monday Jan.15, EU Elections in 120 days <<
Around the huge board table, there are name plates with different media logos. Roxane, the Chief ModerEditor sits behind EURACTIV’s, in a corner.
She says loudly, to Jens, the Group Vice-President for Innovation & Expansion:
- Bonjour Jens! This room feels a bit like a Council of Ministers… We are still alone, please come over! By the way, I read your draft agenda for the Group’s board… 2040 will stretch our minds. Whaow!
Vision for Europe and media in 2040
– Bedankt! Well, following the takeover, I tried to bring to Group-level my previous experience at EURACTIV….
He then shows some bullet points:
OVERALL VISION FOR EUROPE & MEDIA 2040:
- There is still an EU. Not much larger or much smaller. UK in.
- Deeper policies in core ‘Euro-countries’, where democracy and the € prevailed
- Four legs for European Public Space / Democracy Infrastructure:
politics / civil society / media / platforms
- Democracy infrastructure has a mixed revenue model: private + public
- Media sector: still exists. More computers, but brains still supervise
- Fake news and foreign interference continue…with low visibility
- Better media economics reduce the power of oligarchs and governments
[democracy infrastructure =
parliaments + civil society + media + platforms]
The Press4Europe Group VP clicks to the next slide:
DRAFT ECOSYSTEM & FRAMEWORK:
- … Light ‘co-regulation’ (companies’ commitment, plus regulatory fall-back)
- Plus training & innovation programmes, stars4media, stars4politics, stars4data etc
- Fees from platforms: ©, fact-checking and Trust Indicators / source-checking.
- Legal definition of Systemic Publishing Platforms (‘SysPPees’): they are ‘essential facilities’, this allows lighter regulation for all others:
- Consolidation: several pan-European media groups, some with global outreach.
Consolidated media sector, plus systemic platforms
In front of a Brandenburger Tor image, appears on screen Anna, the EURACTIV publisher from Berlin. She adds:
- Toll! The point on journalists sounds reassuring ! But how will our media sector actually work?
Anna comes in again in Paris:
- You told us about concentration, media groups. Where do we stand today?
Now Daniel, the EURACTIV CEO, comes on screen from Brussels. He reminds everybody:
- Bien! Today’s situation is close to what the 2020 report had predicted on the ‘Sector strategy for the media ecosystem’. You recall this summary by our think-tank, Fondation EURACTIV?
12 to 20 media groups compete across Europe
MEDIA (& MEDIA-LIKE) LANDSCAPE: CONSOLIDATION AND INNOVATION
- Broadcasting: still mainly national and highly regulated, subsidized but declining
- Further consolidation of other media :
- Many titles disappearing: the main trend so far
- National concentration: will continue, harmful to journalists and diversity
- Cross-border cooperation booms, and increases diversity. Sometimes all the way to…
- … concentration: past bankruptcies, now pro-active investments
- 12 to 20 media-like groups compete fiercely across European borders:
- 4+ global groups with media roots
- 2+ non-profit networks (investigations etc), complement national agencies, feeding smaller national & regional media
- 4+ large European media groups (that’s where Press4Europe Group fits!)
- category ‘SysPPees’: Alphabet/Google/YouTube group, Facebook/WhatsApp group (+ Chinese and European challengers?)
- 2+ ‘new game’ media groups, tech-driven, yet to be invented.
- lively flow of start-ups, better financed, leveraging stars4media and larger media networks.
Jens knows this old slide by heart, and adds:
- What’s new in the pipeline are the proposed takeovers: YouTube buying Mediaset and Facebook purchasing Axel Springer from a US investment fund. If the EU’s DG Competition approves platforms buying some national media: this would create a new hybrid category. Worrying!
The ModerEditor Roxane adds:
- Bezos really helped the Washington Post. Some wealthy investors do play a useful role, when they respect journalistic independence. We fear traditional, tough oligarchs from the East. But are smiling tech-oligarchs across the Atlantic better?
Pioneering changing media for Europe
Daniel, the CEO, suggests from Brussels:
- EURACTIV is not huge, but it is a pioneer.. Should we look at how our operations go in the direction of that Vision?
Daniel shows the strategy for next year. Starting with the business side.
EVOLUTION OF EURACTIV REVENUE MODEL:
- Sponsored events & public interest funding growing fast
- Syndicated content from our 20 network countries: 70% of total published. Syndicated from other media: 20%. Syndicated ‘out’ to other media: half
- Translated Syndication licensing & training business: +50%
- Fees from SysPPees platforms: booming
- Investigation into Deepfakes, JFD: Joint Foundations for Democracy
Roxanes queries: This is about money. But how do you power all this? Just IT?
Daniel moves to his next point:
- Journalists focus on semi-automated drafting, editing, plus ‘traditional’ investigations
- New roles for journalists: section dataditors and community algomasters : Bridges between ‘AI-content’ and ‘HuQy’ (Human Quality)
- New roles for marketeers: brand licensors, community & event sponsoring, investigation crowdfunders, network managers
- Specialised networks across Europe: investigations, agencies, technology etc.
Media & Europe: both about values and trust
It’s now late afternoon. The rays of sunset float just above the cloudless skyline, reaching far into the cavernous boardroom. In the back, on the huge datawall, various graphs converge into the centerpiece: a dynamic pie chart forecasting the evolution toward the next European Parliament. As for the map of countries: it is littered with ? ? ?, question marks pointing to tied votes pro-EU or anti-EU.
Roxane observes the displays with a worried look, and comments:
- Is this the sunset of democracy as we know it?
- Well, look up there, there is hope!
- Best informed people tend to vote for European coalition parties more than others. And the sources matters as well: altogether, European mainstream parties gets only 40% of exclusive platform users. But 85%, for people also consuming independent journalism.
The ModerEditor is thrilled:
- Daniel, I was worried when you told me about IT-supported journalism. But, now, this democracy infrastructure is really needed. And there is still 120 days before elections…
Anna, the Publisher, takes the floor, still from Berlin:
- Jens, this discussion started with your draft board agenda. I think we should also report about our own values. Here is my quick ‘net take’:
OUR 5 VALUES TODAY, VERSUS 2019 UPDATE:
MEDIA INDEPENDENCE: stronger with business innovation, diversification
TRANSPARENCY: not a challenge any more, thanks to internet & AI
PRO-EUROPEAN: enhanced impact with network + joining a group
LANGUAGES: We were the ‘one eyed monster in the kingdom of the blind’. Now, AI + Post-Editing is finally efficient.
CONSTRUCTIVE: After Brexit talks and the Conference on the Future of Europe, people had enough of talks. Speeding-up policy-making is required.
- So, consolidation was not that bad after all. Even good, from the viewpoint of journalistic ethics!
Epilogue: when? Call to action
The warm wind blows even harder outside the Press4Europe building. Jens leaves Roxane to talk with her colleagues in Brussels and Berlin, he stands up and firmly pushes the terrace door open.
Having taken a breath of fresh air, he reflects:
- Media and democracy are a bit like climate and ecology. If you don’t heed the warnings, you get caught up in a vicious circle. And it becomes too late to redress.
Walking back to the large boardroom, he thinks:
- This indeed looks like EU meeting rooms. Except politicians decide more slowly than us in the media. Modernising the media, regulating platforms, enhancing Europe’s democracy: this is urgent!
- Otherwise the scenario for next May could be: ‘Media sinks, democracy sinks and politics stinks’. In other words, a populist take-over, powered by platforms.
* * *
This ‘fiction’ takes place before future EU elections. Of May 2024, in 5 years? Or could it be later, May 2029, in 10 years?
It has to be soon. During this EU mandate. And it can be soon, if publishers, editors and politicians get their acts together.
* * *
Other relevant article from @LeclercqEU:
In this area, utopia and dystopia are not far…
- A previous ‘fiction’ – April 15, 2016, before the first Brexit referendum… actually happened… (foresaw 52% Leave; senior roles for E. Macron, Th. May, U. von der Leyen; long negotiations, and… a second referendum)